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Allergy Relief: What’s The Story With Butterbur?

Allergy relief is being sought by many suffering from seasonal changes to their living environments. While you can always turn to pharmaceuticals, a lot of people would prefer to try and fight off all...
Allergy Relief: What’s The Story With Butterbur?
Written by Staff
  • Allergy relief is being sought by many suffering from seasonal changes to their living environments. While you can always turn to pharmaceuticals, a lot of people would prefer to try and fight off allergens with natural approaches.

    One particular herb that is getting a lot of buzz in that department is butterbur. Butterbur is a shrub naturally found in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America, usually in wetlands. It’s sometimes used with the goal of treating nasal allergies, allergic skin reactions, asthma, and migraines. The plant’s leaves and roots are used to make extracts used in tablets, though there are also topical products that use it.

    Does it really help? I don’t know firsthand, but we can look at what some of the more authoritative sources on the web have to say about it.

    WebMD quotes Mary Hardy, MD, director of integrative medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles as saying butterbur “has had some very impressive clinical trial results.”

    The article adds, “In one study, published recently in the British Medical Journal, a group of Swiss researchers showed how just one tablet of butterbur extract (Ze 339) four times daily was as effective as a popular antihistamine drug in controlling symptoms of hay fever — without the traditional symptom of drowsiness that sometimes occurs. In a second study, presented at the 60th annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), a group of British researchers put their stamp of approval on butterbur’s effectiveness in quelling symptoms of grass allergy.”

    The National Center for Contemporary and Integrative Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), says, “An NCCIH-funded literature review reports that in a clinical trial of 125 participants, butterbur was just as effective as a commonly used oral antihistamine for allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes. According to one systematic literature review, there is evidence to support the effectiveness of butterbur for the treatment of migraines.There is some evidence that butterbur extract can decrease the symptoms associated with nasal allergies. There is not enough evidence to show efficacy and safety of butterbur for allergic skin reactions and asthma.”

    Butterbur can actually cause allergic reactions in some people, so that’s obviously something you’ll need to be aware of if you’re looking for the opposite effect. According to HHS, this tends to happen in people are sensitive to plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.

    In fact, it lists other potential side effects and cautions you should be aware of, including possible liver damage from chemicals in the raw, uncompressed plant, the lack of evidence of safety in long-term use, and possible belching, headaches, itchy eyes, gastrointestinal issues, asthma, fatigue, and drowsiness. Of course consulting with a doctor is recommended, especially before giving to a child.

    The American Botanical Council has a paper about a study on treating seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) with butterbur extract.

    “Although this trial lacks a placebo group for comparison, it suggests that butterbur extract may be as effective as the antihistamine cetirizine for the management of symptoms associated with seasonal allergic rhinitis,” it says. “One advantage of the butterbur extract appears to be the absence of sedating side effects associated with many antihistamines. Placebo-controlled trials are needed as well as more safety information on the long-term use of butterbur extract. Again, healthcare professionals should use caution to ensure that any butterbur extract recommended is free of PAs.”

    Common names for butterbur include: butterbur, petasites, purple butterbur, and Petadolex.

    Image via Wikimedia Commons

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