Butterbur Extract Reduces Migraine

February 7, 2005

MIGRAINE: It starts when you see spots or lines that aren't really there. This is followed by a headache, usually on one side of the head only. Lights, noises and moving around make the headache worse. The headache may last a few hours or even for a few days.

Scientists believe that migraines are caused by an abnormality in the brain's blood supply. Some people find relief from migraine with over-the-counter pain medicines or antiseizure and antidepressant drugs. Even botox has been used against headache pain. Researchers have recently turned their attention to a plant called butterbur (Petasites hybridus) for a possible herbal treatment for migraine.

Although butterbur has been used in herbal medicines for centuries, well-designed experiments about the effectiveness of this plant to treat migraine had not been conducted.
Petasites hybridus (Butterbur)

2004 Dr. Amadej Trnkoczy.
Therefore, Dr. Richard Lipton led a team of American and German researchers to investigate the effects of butterbur on migraine.

A total of 202 people who suffered from migraine were divided into three groups:

  • Group 1 (68 subjects): received capsules containing 75-milligrams of a butterbur extract.
  • Group 2 (71 subjects): received capsules containing 50-milligrams of a butterbur extract.
  • Group 3 (63 subjects): received placebo capsules without any butterbur extract.

This experiment was "double-blinded" because both the researchers and the subjects did not know which group each subject was in. Also, the effects of butterbur were compared to a placebo. A placebo is a drug or treatment that has no active ingredient. It is important to have some subjects in an experiment receive a placebo treatment because this allows researchers to separate the "real" effects of a drug or treatment from the effects of merely being in the experiment. Also, some illnesses will cure themselves. For example, the common cold will get better in about 7-10 days without any treatment.

The number of migraine attacks during a 4-month treatment period was recorded for each subject and compared to the number of attacks the subjects suffered before treatment. Those people who received 75-milligrams of butterbur extract had an average of 45% fewer migraine attacks per month. The 50-milligram butterbur dose resulted in 32% fewer migraine attacks per month. People who received the placebo had 28% fewer migraines. The only significant side effect of butterbur was more frequent burping.

Dr. Lipton and his co-workers suggest two ways that butterbur may reduce migraines:

  1. Butterbur may decrease inflammation of blood vessels and other tissues that cause pain.
  2. Calcium channels on neurons help regulate the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Some migraines may be caused by abnormalities in calcium channels. Butterbur may work on calcium channels to alter abnormal neurotransmitter release.
You may have butterbur growing in your garden. However, raw butterbur root is TOXIC! The dangerous chemicals in the butterbur plant were removed from the extracts used in the migraine experiment.

References and Links:

  1. Lipton, R.B., Gobel, H., Einhaupl, K.M., Wilks, K., Mauskop, A. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine, Neurology,63:2240-2244, 2004.

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