Butterbur for Migraines – Does It Really Work?

The product shelves at your local pharmacy are loaded with all kinds of expensive pain relief medications. A surprising few specifically target migraines. Considering that some 37 million people in the U.S. deal with intermittent or chronic migraines, you might think a fair amount of affordable remedies already exist. Luckily, there are safe, more healthy, herbal alternatives with which to treat migraines. Butterbur, for example.

What is Butterbur?

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a shrub and a member of the daisy family. It grows in wet, marshy environments in Europe, Asia and North America. An old tradition of wrapping butter within the shrub during warm weather accounts for its name. But butterbur is also quite useful for medicinal purposes, such as for

  • allergies
  • anxiety
  • urinary tract and gastrointestinal problems
  • and migraines.
  • Butterbur for Migraines

    butterbur for migraines

    Butterbur for Migraines (Petasites hybridus) – Attribution: Richard Bartz

    The mostly unrecorded history of traditional and folk medicine doesn’t spare clues as to when and how humans came to use butterbur for migraines. But the shrub’s effectiveness has since acquired support through a large amount of scientific proof.

    Most recently, a 2006 Swiss study found that migraine sufferers given 150 mg of butterbur extract experienced fewer and less severe migraines over a period of three to four months than a second group given a lower dose or placebo.

    Other studies attest to butterbur’s anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties. These properties contribute to butterbur’s efficacy as a form of migraine relief and prevention.

    Migraine Prevention

    Use of butterbur for migraines can have a positive, twofold outcome. Butterbur may not only decreases the severity of migraines but their intensity and frequency. There is no known migraine cure, and prevention is key if you desire relief on a long-term basis.

    Before you factor butterbur into any preventative measures, it’s helpful to understand what is known about migraines, who suffers from them and the usual underlying causes.

    Migraines 101

    Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, wrote about migraines in 400 B.C.E. Since that time, doctors have amassed a wealth of data concerning all aspects of this still mysterious ailment.

    Women suffer migraines in greater numbers than men, 18 to six percent respectively. Sufferers, or migraineurs, typically fall between the ages of 35 and 55.

    5 million people in the U.S. have a migraine at least once per month.
    11 million deal with chronic migraines.

    Stress, diet, hormones and genetics are several underlying causes.
    Recurring symptoms that define migraines and set them apart from mere headaches include

    • aura
    • sensitivity to light and sound
    • nausea
    • throbbing pains and pain on one side
    • blurred vision
    • vomiting

    Aura is worth singling out, as migraine with aura distinguishes itself from migraine without aura, or common migraine. Aura refers to vision changes or impaired vision and peculiar sensations in random parts of the body occurring 20 to 30 minutes before the full migraine and its related symptoms manifest.

    According to Dr. John F. Rothrock, editor-in-chief of “Headache” magazine, early treatment of migraine at its first signs helps alleviate or even eliminate symptoms. In this sense, your aura is a helpful clue that alerts you to an oncoming migraine and gives you time to prescribe yourself the necessary remedies.

    Details and Dosages of Butterbur for Migraines

    Raw, unprocessed butterbur contains toxic chemicals. Don’t ingest it without knowledgeable, careful preparation. Non-toxic forms available for oral ingestion in capsule, extract, tincture, powder and softgels are perhaps the easier, most accessible options.

    Butterbur’s chemical substances, petasin and isopetasin, are what reduce inflammation and prevent spasms. These same substances might react poorly with other meds you’re currently taking, such as prescription blood thinners or meds for intestinal ailments. Petasin and isopetasin are also not safe for pregnant and nursing women.

    50 to 75 mg twice daily are the most common dosage amounts of butterbur for migraines. Start with a low dose to assess your tolerance and to gauge how much butterbur you need to ameliorate your migraine symptoms. As with any natural remedy, research heavily and consult with your doctor.

    Beyond Butterbur

    There isn’t much information about ingesting butterbur for migraines beyond a period of 12 to 16 weeks. A common safety rule with all natural remedies is to cycle them so as to prevent toxicity and adverse reactions owed to long-term exposure. Take butterbur for a few months, give your body a one week break and then begin your cycle again.

    Providing you administer it mindfully, butterbur can reduce migraine symptoms or completely eradicate them.

    For more information on the medicinal herb butterbur visit the herb profile.


    NYU Langone Medical Center: Butterbur

    A Train Education: A Brief History of Migraine

    National Institutes of Health: Butterbur

    Migraine.com: Butterbur for Migraines


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