The herbal remedy butterbur has recently gained attention as a first-line defense for preventing migraines, giving hope for those suffering from the debilitating headaches.

Although classified as an herbal remedy and available for purchase at health food stores in the U.S., butterbur is available by prescription in Germany to fight migraine headaches.

In 2012, the American Academy of Neurologists (AAN) classified the herb as a preventative treatment for migraines, cementing the still-alternative medicine’s place in a headache-fighting arsenal. Butterbur is “the only supplement shown to be effective in preventing migraine,” according to Neurology Now, AAN’s official magazine.

The herb has been gaining in popularity. “I’ve had patients who have used it with great success,” says Dr. Beth Cheney, with Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. Butterbur comes from a shrub that’s indigenous to wet, marshy areas of North America, Asia, and Europe.

Migraine sufferers using butterbur should try to use products labeled PA-free. 

Some butterbur formulations contain potentially harmful chemicals known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) that may lead to liver damage or other serious health effects. Purchasing certified products that are labeled PA-free ensures the pills don’t have these compounds.

For the maximum benefit, recommended doses are at least 75 mg twice each day, although doses as low as 50 mg, twice each day, may also be effective, according to WebMD. Migraine prevention may be achieved when taking the pills for at least 16 weeks.

Several studies have been done to evaluate butterbur’s benefits. A study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found people taking butterbur reduced their migraine attacks by as much as 60%. Study participants took 50 mg of butterbur extract twice daily over a period of 12 weeks.

Another study, published in the journal Neurology, found that butterbur worked to halve the number of migraine attacks for nearly 70% of study participants.

Butterbur extract may prevent half—or more—of a patient’s migraine attacks, studies say. 

In the Neurology study, patients experiencing the most benefit took 75 mg of butterbur daily.

Have you ever taken butterbur to prevent migraines? 

Image by Craig Hopton via Flickr

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