Did you know that a well-researched European herb butterbur prevents migraines and is as effective as a natural remedy for allergies similar to Allegra and Zyrtec—without the side effects?
More than 50 million Americans—1 of 5—suffer from allergies, which rank 5th among chronic diseases in the U.S. Over the past 30 years that number has risen steadily. For many, autumn (rather than spring) is the time of year when allergies are most severe and debilitating.
Allergies can lead to a daily sentence of expensive and often ineffective drugs laden with side effects. As a result, many allergy sufferers are realizing that the best relief may come from Mother Nature rather than the pharmacy.
“Using nature-based products can be a very useful way to handle mild allergies,” says Mary Hardy, M.D., director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
One of the most promising natural remedies for allergies is a herb known as butterbur. Unlike most natural allergy remedies (or natural remedies in general, for that matter!), butterbur has been extensively evaluated in scientific studies. Indeed, Hardy specifically points to butterbur for it proven track record, stating that the herb “has had some very impressive clinical trial results.”
One of the most thorough butterbur studies was carried out by a group of Swiss researchers and published in the British Medical Journal. Just one tablet of butterbur administered 4 times daily was just as effective in controlling symptoms of hay fever as cetrizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec.
What is butterbur?
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a large-leafed shrub plant native to Europe as well as some parts of Africa and Asia. This herbal remedies for allergies is also known as butter-dock or bog rhubarb.
Extracts from its roots, leaves, and stem have been used to treat conditions such as…
- Migraine headaches
- Stomach ulcers
Butterbur has also been used in the traditional medicine practices of the Greeks and Native Americans against pain, inflammation, and skin sores.
In the 14th century, butterbur was even used to ward off the plague!
With regards to allergies and asthma, butterbur has a long history as an effective medication. Its anti-inflammatory effects decrease histamine and leukotrienes—two of the main chemicals responsible for the body’s allergic reaction.
Butterbur provides allergy symptom relief without side effects
Several studies have shown that butterbur blocks the action of inflammatory chemicals—such as histamines—released during allergy attacks. Scientists believe butterbur’s mechanism is similar to synthetic antihistamines like Zyrtec and Allegra.
A study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy indicated that butterbur is as effective as fexofenadrine (Allegra) in treating hay fever. Another study showed similar results when butterbur was compared to Zyrtec.
The Swiss researchers noted that participants given butterbur experienced none of the usual drowsiness or other side effects of allergy medications.
Furthermore, two human studies have shown that butterbur is an effective preventive treatment for migraines, including one study published in the journal Neurology.
Butterbur for migraine headaches
The Migraine Research Foundation reports that migraine ranks among the world’s top 20 most disabling illnesses. About 14 million people experience migraine attacks on a near-daily basis.
More than 90% of sufferers can’t work or function normally during migraine attacks, and the Foundation says, “… sufferers live in fear that an attack could disrupt their ability to work or go to school, care for their families, or enjoy social activities.”
Many migraine patients abandon preventive treatments due to side effects. Butterbur may offer an exciting alternative. Not only has butterbur been used historically against migraine, but research also shows that the root prevents migraines more effectively than placebo.
In the Neurology study, 200 migraine sufferers were randomly assigned to either 75 mg of butterbur, 50 mg of butterbur, or placebo. People receiving higher doses of butterbur experienced a 48% reduction in migraine frequency compared to a 36% reduction for lower doses and a mere 26% reduction for placebo.
Dosage and common concerns with butterbur
Typically, butterbur is taken in the form of tablets. However, it’s also available as teas, extracts, and capsules containing raw herbs.
Doctors from Mayo Clinic have compiled this list of important considerations for those interested in taking butterbur to treat their seasonal allergies or to prevent migraines:
- Look for standardized butterbur supplements. A butterbur supplement labeled “standardized” has a consistent measured amount of the active ingredient. The U.S. Pharmacopeia’s “USP Dietary Supplement Verified” seal on an herbal supplement is another label to look for when buying supplements.
- Make sure it’s PA-free. Butterbur that’s PA-free has had the pyrrolizidine alkaloids—potentially harmful toxins—removed during processing. Only use a butterbur supplement that’s labeled PA-free.
- Follow dosage instructions. Only take as much butterbur as directed—taking more could lead to increased complications and serious side effects.
- Record your use. Keep track of how much and how often you use butterbur. This will help you measure any positive outcomes or adverse side effects.
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