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Why Should We Use Butterbur to Treat Migraines ?

Posted in Migraines

In 2005, a study conducted by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York involved 24,000 individuals in the United States who suffered from headaches and migraines. The study aimed to examine the types of medications used for headache relief, particularly focusing on those diagnosed with fewer than 15 headache days per month to assess their risk of developing chronic migraines.

The findings revealed that individuals using barbiturates and caffeine-containing medications for pain relief were at risk of experiencing rebound headaches, also known as medication-overuse headaches. Misuse of these medications could lead to an escalation in the frequency and intensity of the original migraines, making them more challenging to treat. By 2006, 209 participants from the study had transitioned to chronic migraines.

Additionally, the use of these medications posed potential risks for individuals with conditions like cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcers, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and could exacerbate their health issues.

While several medications are available to prevent migraines, they often come with side effects and may not be entirely effective. One commonly prescribed type is antidepressants like Amitriptyline, which can be highly addictive.  Discontinuing these medications without medical supervision may result in severe withdrawal symptoms lasting several months.

Many migraine sufferers have come to realize that prescription drugs often require increasing doses to maintain effectiveness and are accompanied by numerous uncomfortable side effects. Consequently, many are turning to natural remedies that focus on overall body health rather than just addressing pain.


Butterbur Can be Used to Treat Migraines

One such natural remedy is butterbur. Butterbur, a plant that grows in Europe, Asia, and parts of North America, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for various conditions, including allergies, asthma, stomach cramps, and migraines. Modern research suggests that butterbur may work by relaxing muscle spasms and reducing inflammation in blood vessel walls.

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A study published in Neurology examined the use of a butterbur extract called Petodolex to reduce migraine frequency. Participants in the study had experienced 2 to 6 migraine attacks per month in the three months prior to the trial, during which they discontinued their regular migraine-prevention medications for at least three months to eliminate chemical toxins from their system.

The trial compared the effects of taking butterbur extract at 50mg and 75mg doses twice daily with a placebo over four months. The results indicated a 48% reduction in migraine frequency for those taking the 75mg dose, a 26% reduction for the placebo group, and a 36% reduction for the 50mg dose, which was not significantly different from the placebo. Significantly more participants in the 75mg dose group experienced a 50% reduction in monthly migraine attacks compared to the placebo group.

Butterbur is associated with mild side effects such as indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. However, reports from the studies suggest that these side effects were generally mild, with the most common being burping.

When considering natural alternatives for migraine treatment, it is advisable to consult with a qualified practitioner for guidance and personalized care.

What is  Butterbur?

Common Names: Butterbur, Petasites, Purple Butterbur

Latin Names: Petasites hybridus (also known as Petasites officinalis or Tussilago hybrida)

Background: Butterbur is a shrub that grows in various regions, including Europe, Asia, and North America. It derives its name from its historical use of large leaves to wrap butter in warm weather. In the past, butterbur was employed for various medicinal purposes, such as treating plague, fever, cough, asthma, and skin wounds. More recently, it has gained attention as a dietary supplement for addressing conditions like urinary tract symptoms, stomach upset, headaches (including migraines), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and other ailments.

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How Much Do We Know? There have been a limited number of studies investigating the effects of butterbur on migraines and allergic rhinitis (hay fever) in humans, providing some insights into its potential benefits and risks.

What Have We Learned?

  1. Migraines: Butterbur has shown promise in reducing the frequency of migraines in both adults and children. In 2012, the American Academy of Neurology recommended its use for migraine prevention. However, this recommendation was revoked in 2015 due to concerns about potential liver toxicity associated with butterbur consumption.
  2. Allergic Rhinitis: While some studies suggest that butterbur root or leaf extracts may help alleviate symptoms of hay fever (allergic rhinitis), the overall evidence is not conclusive.
  3. Somatoform Disorders: There is one study indicating that a combination product containing butterbur might have a positive impact on anxiety and depression in individuals with somatoform disorders, which involve physical complaints without a clear physiological basis.
  4. Other Conditions: Butterbur has not demonstrated significant efficacy in treating conditions such as allergic skin reactions, chronic obstructive bronchitis, insomnia, upset stomach, urinary tract symptoms, asthma, and other health issues.

What Do We Know About Safety?

  • Some butterbur products contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can be harmful to the liver, lungs, and blood circulation and may potentially lead to cancer. Only butterbur products that have undergone processing to remove PAs and are certified as PA-free should be considered safe for use.
  • In some countries, concerns about liver toxicity have led to the withdrawal of butterbur products from the market.
  • Due to safety concerns, some experts recommend against the use of butterbur for migraine treatment.
  • The safety of applying butterbur products to the skin is not well established.
  • Studies, including those involving children and adolescents, have suggested that PA-free butterbur products taken orally at recommended doses for up to 16 weeks are generally safe. However, not all products claiming to be PA-free may truly be so. For instance, Petadolex, marketed as a PA-free butterbur product, has been associated with liver damage in some cases, raising questions about its actual PA content. The long-term safety of butterbur use remains uncertain.
  • Butterbur products containing PAs should not be used during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, as they may pose risks of birth defects or liver damage. The safety of using PA-free butterbur during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is not well understood.
  • PA-free butterbur is typically well tolerated but can lead to side effects such as belching, headache, itchy eyes, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, fatigue, upset stomach, and drowsiness.
  • Individuals with sensitivities to plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies may experience allergic reactions to butterbur.
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Keep in Mind: If you plan to use butterbur or give it to your child, it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider. They may consider monitoring liver function in individuals using butterbur. Taking an active role in your health and having open discussions with your healthcare providers about complementary health approaches can help ensure well-informed decisions and safe use.


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