Butterbur to Treat Allergies
A butterbur leaf extract can effectively treat allergies, reports the Archives of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery (2004;130:1381–6).
Environmental allergies are caused by particles in the air, such as dust and pollen, that stick to the surfaces of the airways and trigger an overreaction by the immune system. Typical allergy symptoms include runny nose (rhinitis), sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, itchy nose and throat, and nasal congestion. Allergies are usually treated with antihistamine and decongestant medications, which sometimes cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness, nervousness, or insomnia.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a plant native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Extracts from butterbur’s roots, leaves, and flowers have been used traditionally to treat headaches, coughs caused by asthma, allergies, and infections. Specific constituents of the butterbur plant have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties in laboratory studies. Two human studies have found that an extract from butterbur root can effectively prevent migraines.
In the current study, 186 people with seasonal allergies were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group was treated with one tablet three times per day of butterbur leaf extract, a second group was treated with one tablet two times per day of the same butterbur extract, and a third group received placebo. The butterbur preparation used in this study is known as Butterbur Ze339, and each tablet is standardized to contain 8 mg of petasin, an anti-inflammatory component of butterbur. The severity of four major symptoms of seasonal allergies (runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion) was evaluated at the beginning of the study and after two weeks. Both of the groups using butterbur had significantly more improvement in symptoms than the placebo group. Furthermore, the group taking the higher amount improved significantly more than the group taking the lower amount. No negative side effects were attributed to butterbur use.
The results of this study show that an extract of butterbur leaf can effectively relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness and safety of long-term butterbur use for treating year-round allergies, such as dust, mold, and animal dander. It is important to note that butterbur contains alkaloid chemicals that can have toxic effects on the liver. A special extraction method must be used to eliminate these alkaloids. For this reason it is important to consult a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about herbs before using a butterbur extract.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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