The largest trial so far conducted using Butterbur extract to treat intermittent allergic rhinitis (hay fever) shows that this plant extract is as effective as a commonly used antihistamine (Telfast 180).
In recent years there have been a few reports of small research trials that give a mixed view about the effectiveness of Butterbur extract for treating intermittent allergic rhinitis (IAR). Now researchers from Germany and Switzerland have published results from a randomised, double-blind, parallel group comparison study involving 330 patients in 11 centres. They found that treatment with butterbur extract was as effective at combating symptoms of IAR as treatment with a conventional antihistamine (Telfast 180). In addition they found that Butterbur extract did not cause drowsiness.
'Despite being a herbal drug, Butterbur Ze339 has now been subject to a series of well controlled trials and should be considered as an alternative treatment for IAR,' says lead researcher Andreas Schapowal.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a plant found throughout Europe and Asia and parts of North America. The roots of this plant have been used in herbal remedies for centuries while the leaves have only been introduced recently as a new herbal medicine. An extract can inhibit the body's ability to produce leukotrienes, biomolecules that are involved in the inflammatory response to allergens. They also help stimulate the body's production of prostaglandins, chemicals that play a role in reducing inflammation.
Finding an alternative therapy for IAR is important partly because up to 20 per cent of people living in Western countries suffer from it.
'Because Butterbur does not cause the sort of drowsiness that is so often associated with other anti-histamines it could be particularly useful for patients who can not tolerate other therapies,' says Schapowal.
"Treating Intermittent Allergic Rhinitis: A Prospective, Randomized, Placebo & Antihistamine-Controlled Study of Butterbur Extract," by Schapowal, Phytotherapy Research, Published Online: August 22, 2005. Available via Wiley InterScience at http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ptr.