Butterbur for Migraines

By: Li Ming Wong

Migraineurs would prefer not to have migraines at all. If headache cannot be eliminated, reducing the number of migraine episodes they experience would certainly be an improvement. It would be even better if it could be done without synthetic pharmacologicals.

Migraineurs, 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.

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.

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