By Darrell Miller
If you suffer from frequent migraine headaches or maybe just once every few months, you know how painful and disruptive a migraine can be. You might have had to call off work early or take the entire day off from work or miss a family social event due to a migraine headache. You may have tried to take OTC drugs to help stop a migraine before it starts or reduce the pain while it was occurring with little luck maybe even going as far as getting a prescription drug from the doctor. Many prescription drugs prescribed for migraines have side effects such as nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, weight gain, low blood pressure, decreased sex drive and even insomnia yet the prescriptions do little to alleviate the pain.
If you seem to be in this category dont lose hope, there is good news regarding migraine prevention. Butterbur extract is an all natural herbal supplement that can help prevent migraines with out serious side effects. In Germany, this herb has been used for many years successfully to prevent migraines. Now available in the United States for several years, Butterbur Standardized Extract has been validated by clinical studies. Large multi-center studies involving hundreds of migraine suffers have found Butterbur extract to prevent or significantly reduce the effects of a migraine when taking on a regular basis. (3,5) In this article we will discuss how Butterbur extract prevents migraines and its safety.
You might have asked your self already, what exactly is Butterbur? Butterburs common name is Petasites hybridus which is a member of a large family of flowers, herbs and shrubs in the plant kingdom. The key component in Butterbur researchers believe reduces migraines is called Sesquiterpenes (Petasin). Petasin has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory activity which helps prevent migraines from starting. (6-7) All the clinical trials done on Butterbur used a standardized extract of 7.5mg Petasin per 50mg of the extract.
Lets look at what the difference is between migraine and headache tension. The Journal of American Medical Association Migraine Education Center says there are several differences in the two types of headaches. Tension headaches can span from hours to days and is usually located over the entire head. The intensity of tension headaches is usually mild to moderate as a dull or pressing pain in the head. Generally tension headaches have minimal to no symptoms. Migraine headaches on the other hand can last for at least 4 hours to as long as 72 hours or 3 days. Generally, migraine headaches are located on the sides of the head and are often sever in pain. Migraines can be pounding, throbbing, and increase with intensity with physical activity. Migraines are usually followed by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, with sensitivity to light, sound and odors.
Migraine headaches are usually caused by blood vessels swelling and expanding with inflammation in surrounding tissues in the brain. Researchers know what happens when a migraine attack happens, but have yet to conclude what causes the migraine originally (what is the trigger point). Most people who experience migraines have family members who experience migraines as well. Migraines headache episodes decline as people get older (1,5) With migraines, individuals sometimes experience unique symptoms; 20% of individuals experience and Aura prior to an attack. Most Auras are flashes of light or zigzagging lines making reading difficult and are followed by a migraine headache. Trigger factors are usually what cause the migraine and discovering ones trigger point can help one greatly reduce there occurrence of a migraine. Certain foods or events can cause a trigger of the migraine. Documenting dietary habits such as chocolate, alcohol, and skipping a meal can help you determine what your trigger might be. Sometimes very bright lights and strong odors, stress such as job loss or divorce can also be a trigger, even hormone factors like menstruation can trigger a migraine. (1,2)
Butterbur extract can help prevent a migraine. Scientists discovered Butterbur extract has the ability to prevent blood vessel expansion during a migraine, while also preventing inflammation which can intensify the migraine experience.
A double blind placebo-controlled clinical trail showed where Butterbur extract actually works to reduce migraine suffering. This study provided accurate and verifiable results and reproducible results. One study with 58 people who experienced 3 or more migraines each month consumed butterbur extract standardized to 7.5mg of Petasin twice a day compared to the placebo group, experienced significant reduction in occurrence and frequency of migraine attacks. (3) While the study was being conducted, members of each group were asked how they felt and 74% of the butterbur extract group stated they had no occurrence of migraines compared to the placebo group.
The individuals who were recruited for these studies were required to discontinue the medications they were taking for migraines to effectively eliminate the possibility of any effect from other medications while the studies are conducted.
Another study conducted divided the butterbur extract group in two and half the group received 100mg total extract and the other group received 150mg total extract each day to see if there was any benefit to taking more butterbur. The group of people who received the 150mg each day of butterbur extract experienced a sixty two percent reduction in the number of attacks compared to the placebo group and less frequency then the 100mg per day group. So there is added benefit to consuming high milligrams each day divided through out the day.
You may be wondering if you can take Butterbur extract with standard migraine medication. The answer is yes. Butterbur extract does not interfere with any migraine medications including prescription medications. (3,4) Most sever migraine suffers take more than one medication so butterbur extract is perfect for those individuals on multiple medications because it has very few side effects. When adding butterbur extract to your regiment of migraine medication be patient because butterbur extract takes up to four weeks before one will start to experience its effects.
For those of you who only experience one migraine a month or less, the research is still investigating butterburs ability to help. If you feel like a migraine is coming on, take 100mg of butterbur extract followed by 50mg every two hours but do not exceed 250mg per day. The second day take 50mg of butter bur extract morning, noon, and night three times the second day. This should successfully help you fight off your migraine.
There are very few side effects with consuming butterbur. In one of the studies, several of the patients experienced some mild gastrointestinal upset. Butterbur extract shouldnt be taken for more then four to six months, then discontinued. Even after discontinuing use, the butterbur will continue to work, because butterbur extract take a while to eliminate from the body. If a migraine returns, you can take the butterbur extract for another four to six months before discontinuing use again.
Between 11 & 18 million people in America experience migraines every year. Although there is no cure for migraines, butterbur extract may help reduce the frequency or intensity of your migraine. Standardized Butterbur extract and other great herbal supplements can be found at your local health food store or internet health food stores.
1. Journal of the American Medical Association. Migraine Information Center. Accessed February 20, 2002. Available at: www ama-assn org/special/migraine/migraine.htm.
2. American Council for Headache Education. Prevention of Migraine Headaches: What Every Patient Should Know. Accessed on February 20, 2002. Available at: www achenet org/prevention/.
3. Mauskop A, Grossman WM, Schmidramsl H. Petasites hybridus (Butterbur root) extract is effective in the prophylaxis of migraines: results of a randomized, double blind trial. Headache. 2000;40:420.
4. Lipton RB, Gobel H, Wilkes K, Mauskop A. Efficacy of petasites 50 and 75 mg for prophylaxis of migraine: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Der Schermerz 2000;15:S61.
5. Hamelsky SW, Stewart WF, Lipton RB. Epidemiology of migraine. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2001;5:189-194.
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