Allergy Headaches? I Tried Butterbur—It Helps!

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on February 25, 2014 • views: 3027

Headaches-Butterbur 2I’ve suffered from allergies for years, but it’s only been in the last decade or so that they’ve manifested into painful and frequent migraine headaches.

Spring, summer, fall, winter—doesn’t matter.

For the longest time, regular over-the-counter antihistamines worked fine for me, but then came the day when the regular dosage just wasn’t touching my headaches anymore. I went to the allergy doctor. He gave me two choices—more antihistamines, or allergy shots. Oh, and after a year of going into the doctor to get a shot three times a week, I had like a 50 percent chance of feeling any better.

I chose the extra antihistamines. For awhile, taking two a day worked, but then I needed more, and more, and pretty soon the side effects were catching up with me. One day, I decided enough was enough, and I stopped.

It was nice to be rid of the fatigue, brain fog, and antihistamine-induced couple pounds of extra weight (antihistamines have been linked with weight gain), but I still had my allergy headaches to contend with.

Well, there are some advantages to being a health writer. I had often researched natural solutions to allergy headaches, but had yet to find one that really helped. Now, I’m happy to say I have! It’s called “butterbur.”

Butterbur Proves Its Worth in Studies

Scientifically named Petasites hybridus, butterbur is also called bog rhubarb, butterdock, and a number of other weird names. A perennial shrub, it grows naturally throughout Europe as well as parts of North America and Asia. It likes wet, marshy ground, so you’re likely to find it near rivers and streams or in damp forest areas.

Traditionally used as a pain reliever and as a natural solution to digestive ailments, butterbur has shown in a number of scientific studies to help relieve migraine headaches (whatever the cause) and to tame allergies. Here are just a few of those:

  • 2000: Researchers gave participants either 100 mg per day of butterbur extract or a placebo for four weeks. Results showed that those taking the butterbur reduced frequency of migraine attacks by 60 percent compared to placebo.
  • 2002: Research gave participants with seasonal allergies either butterbur extract or the over-the-counter allergy medication Zyrtec (cetirizine) for two weeks. Results showed that both treatments provided similar benefits, but that the butterbur caused fewer troublesome side effects.
  • 2004: Researchers gave participants with hay fever and sensitivity to house mite dust either butterbur extract at 50 mg twice daily or the over-the-counter antihistamine, fexofenadine (Allegra). Results showed that both treatments were equally effective, and both were more effective than placebo.
  • 2004: Research split 245 participants aged 18 to 65 into three groups—those who received 75 mg of butterbur extract a day, those who received 50 mg of the extract, and those who received a placebo. The study lasted for four months. Results showed that those taking 75 mg experienced a reduced frequency of migraine attacks by 48 percent. Those taking 50 mg reduced frequency by 36 percent. Those in the placebo group experienced a reduction of 26 percent. Researchers concluded that the 75 mg dosage provided significant benefits over placebo.
  • 2005: Researchers gave children an adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17 who had suffered from migraines for at least one year a dosage of 50 to 150 mg of butterbur root extract (depending on age) for four months. Results showed that 77 percent of patients experienced a reduction in the frequency of migraine attacks of at least 50 percent. About 90 percent reported improved well-being.

You see this research and you can see why I was curious. I headed to my Natural Health store and bought my first bottle of butterbur.

Butterbur Worked for Me

Frankly, I was amazed. We were trapped under an inversion with super low clouds—days I would have usually been suffering—and I felt perfectly fine. I was taking one tablet containing 50 mg of butterbur root extract (standardized to 15 percent or 7.5 mg of sesquiterpenes, the active compound) three times a day.

Absolutely no antihistamines. And no headaches.

I kept mum for awhile, afraid it was a fluke. I waited one week, two. The effects continued. It’s now been about six weeks, and I can say with confidence that like the participants in the studies mentioned above, I have experienced at least a 75 percent reduction in headaches. I’ve had exactly one since I started, and that one lasted about half as long as mine usually do.

Maybe you can see why I’m so excited to spread the word about this supplement!

Recommended Dosage: Butterbur for Headaches

If you want to try butterbur for yourself, I highly recommend it. The University of Wisconsin suggests adults take 75-150 mg of the root extract a day. Make sure the product is pyrrolizidine alkaloid free. The alkaloid is found naturally in the root and can have toxic effects on the liver. Most supplements that I’ve seen are free of this concern.

Otherwise, there’s little reason to worry. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), several studies, including a few on children and adolescents, have reported that PA-free butterbur products are safe and well tolerated when taken by mouth in recommended doses for up to 12 to 16 weeks. Longer-term use hasn’t been studied yet, but so far, there are no indications of problems.

If you are allergic to plants like marigolds, daisies, chrysanthemums, and ragweed, you may also experience a reaction to butterbur. Check with your doctor. I am allergic to some of these, so I tried the smallest dosage first to be sure, and experienced no ill effects.

Other possible side effects are belching, itchy eyes, digestive issues, drowsiness, fatigue, headaches, and asthma. (Although studies have shown butterbur to help enhance the anti-inflammatory power of asthma inhalers and to help reduce the frequency of asthma attacks.)

I plan to continue following the research on this supplement, but for now, just wanted to let you know—if headaches are getting you down, butterbur may be your key to getting back up.

Have you tried butterbur for headaches and/or allergies? Please share your story.

© Viktorivanovich | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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