Free Your Mind from Migraines
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (February 10, 2005)—An extract from the herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, according to a study published in Neurology (2004;63:2240–4).
Rapid changes in the blood flow to the head are believed to cause migraines, which are characterized by episodes of severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Treatments include pain relievers and medicines that affect the openness of the blood vessels. Although these medications can provide immediate migraine relief, long-term frequent use can result in additional headaches, known as medication-overuse headaches, which are far more difficult to treat than common migraines. Furthermore, these medicines can cause problems in people with conditions such as gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and cardiovascular disease, as well as in pregnant or breast-feeding women. Other medications are available for preventing migraine, but they are usually only partially successful, and also have side effects.
Butterbur is a plant that grows in Europe and Asia. The roots, leaves, and flowers have been used traditionally to treat coughs due to asthma, allergies, and infections. It has also been used historically to prevent migraine headaches. In one study, an extract from butterbur root prevented migraines more effectively than placebo. It is reported that butterbur has anti-inflammatory effects that could prevent the blood vessels from constricting and initiating a migraine.
Two hundred-two people who had experienced two to six migraine attacks per month during the three months before the beginning of the trial, and who had stopped any migraine-prevention medications at least three months before the trial participated in the current study. They were randomly assigned to receive either 75 mg of butterbur extract two times per day, 50 mg of butterbur extract two times per day, or placebo. The frequency and severity of migraine attacks were recorded by the participants every day for 4 weeks prior to treatment and during the 16-week trial. People using the higher amount of butterbur experienced a significantly greater reduction in the frequency of migraine attacks (48%) than those using the smaller amount (36%) and those receiving placebo (26%).
The results of this study suggest that an extract of butterbur root might effectively prevent migraines. They further suggest that 75 mg two times per day might be necessary for significant improvement, however, a previous study found that 50 mg two times per day was more effective than a placebo.
It is important to note that several cases of liver damage due to the use of butterbur have been reported. Special extraction techniques are believed to reduce the potential for toxicity; nonetheless, butterbur should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional trained in the use of herbal medicines.
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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