Butterbur Extract: Effective as an Antihistamine

Butterbur Extract: Effective as an Antihistamine

By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (October 6, 2005)—An extract of butterbur leaf works as well as an antihistamine in reducing allergy symptoms, according to a study published in Phytotherapy Research(2005;19:530–7).

Allergies are immune system overreactions to substances in the air or in foods. The classic symptoms of allergies to airborne substances include runny nose (rhinitis), sneezing, coughing, and itching of the eyes, ears, mouth, or skin. Reactions to pollens generally cause seasonal allergies, while dust, dust mites, and animal dander are common causes of year-round allergies. Allergies are often treated with antihistamines, decongestants, and sometimes corticosteroids (cortisone-like drugs). Some of these medications can cause side effects, such as sleepiness, overstimulation, and some heart irregularities. Air purifiers and household dust-control measures can reduce the amount of allergens in the immediate environment and reduce the need for medications in some people.

Butterbur is a plant native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Extracts from the roots, leaves, and flowers have been used traditionally to treat headaches, and coughs due to asthma, allergies, and infections. Specific constituents have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties in laboratory studies. Studies have found that an extract from butterbur root can effectively prevent migraines and can reduce the symptoms of asthma and allergies.

In the current study, 330 adults with untreated seasonal allergies, who were otherwise healthy, were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: one group was treated with a standardized butterbur extract providing 8 mg of petasine (an active chemical from the plant) three times per day; another group was treated with the 180 mg of antihistamine fexofenadine (Allerga, Telfast) once per day; and the last group received a placebo.

Each participant underwent a physical exam and laboratory tests at the beginning of the study and again after two weeks of treatment. The people in the butterbur and antihistamine groups experienced significantly more improvement in the major allergy-related symptoms than those in the placebo group. Furthermore, 32 to 33% of those in each group had a 50% or greater symptom reduction. The butterbur extract and the antihistamine were equally effective at relieving symptoms.

The results of this study add to the growing evidence that butterbur can relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. They further demonstrate that a standardized extract of butterbur is as effective as an antihistamine medication. Further research is needed to determine whether butterbur is safe and effective when used long-term to treat year-round allergies, such as to dust, mold, and animal dander. It is important to note that butterbur contains alkaloid chemicals that can have toxic effects on the liver. A special extraction method must be used to eliminate these alkaloids. For this reason it is important to consult a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about herbs before using a butterbur extract.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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