In a dreamworld migraineurs would not have migraines at all. If you can’t cure your migraine headache, cutting down the number of migraine attacks they get would of cause be a great improvement. If it could be done with butterbur, and without synthetic pharmacologicals, it would be even better.
What is butterbur?
Butterbur is an English name for Petasites hybridus, a herbaceous plant which is found in Europe and parts of North Africa and Asia. Another species, Petasites japonicus, is sometimes called Japanese butterbur or fuki. The plant grows in damp, marshy areas and along riverbanks with large heart-shaped leaves and is also sometimes called bog rhubarb. It flowers in early spring, the red/pink flowers appearing on tubular stalks before the leaves develop. The name butterbur comes from the reported practice of using the leaves to wrap butter, despite their quite unpleasant smell.
Modern butterbur products use extracts from the plant which have to be processed to remove any toxic and carcinogenic alkaloids. Nevertheless, they are not recommended for young people, those with kidney or liver problems, or pregnant or lactating women.
Butterbur for migraines
If you suffer from migraines, take a look and meet butterbur (Petasites hybridus). Butterbur is a shrub native to southwestern Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. It is not what’s above ground that makes it interesting though, it’s the root. Several studies have shown that daily doses of extract of butterbur root reduced the frequency of migraine episodes by approximately 50% in almost 80% of the participants.
Butterbur is used in Europe and Asia, but only in the last decade have American doctors looked at it as a viable herbal preventative for migraineurs. Double blind, placebo-controlled studies conducted in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 all confirmed the herb’s efficacy.
Butterbur has been used as a herbal remedy at least since the Middle Ages and possibly much earlier. It was used to treat fevers and plague, and as an external poultice on wounds. Later it came to be used as a painkiller for stomach cramps and headaches and to treat chronic coughing and even asthma.
More recent scientific studies suggest that the herb extracts have anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Muscle spasms are associated with stomach cramps, coughs and some types of back pain, as well as migraine and tension headaches. A course of treatment comprising two daily 50mg doses of butterbur extract has been shown to be very effective in reducing the occurrence and severity of attacks in long-term migraine sufferers. Less evidence exists however regarding its effectiveness for other painful conditions, or for asthma.
A new study, conducted by Swiss researchers, was carried out on 125 hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) sufferers. The results are published in the British Medical Journal. Over two weeks, the subjects were given either cetirizine (an anti-histamine often used for hay fever treatment) or butterbur extract. Both treatments were shown to be equally effective but the cetirizine patients had more symptoms of drowsiness as a side effect of the drug. The trial was funded by Zeller AG, who supplied the butterbur extract tested.
Butterbur side effects
Migraine frequency reduction ranged from 37% – 62% among study participants, with almost no side effects. The only side effect reported was minor gastrointestinal upset, and that was in a small portion of both the herb and placebo groups. Butterbur is currently considered to be safe, as of this writing, to take with other migraine medications. A healthcare professional should always be included in the decision to add herbal products to any treatment regimen.
Crude butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). These alkaloids are known to be toxic in humans, particularly to the liver. When choosing butterbur, make sure the product is labeled PA-free.
The amount of alkaloids in butterbur root is minimal, less than 0.01% concentration. Most butterbur treatment regimens recommend taking the supplement for a maximum of for to six months. If migraine frequency increases, it is safe to take again for another 4-6 months, but at least a month needs to separate each course of treatment.