An herbal extract may help many migraine sufferers reduce the number of attacks by nearly 50 percent, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that a daily dose of Petasites hybridus root, commonly known as butterbur (search), appears to be safe and effective at preventing migraine headaches.

“The 75-mg butterbur dose reduced headache frequency by 48 percent — a substantial treatment effect," says researcher Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, in a news release.

“Butterbur is a traditional herbal treatment for migraine prevention,” says Lipton. “Our study shows that butterbur really does reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, so it’s a welcome addition to the therapeutic arsenal we have available to combat migraine.”

The results of the study appear in the Dec. 28 issue of the journal Neurology.

Butterbur May Aid in Migraine Treatment

In the study, researchers compared the effects of 50 or 75 mg twice a day of butterbur extract pills vs. a placebo in preventing migraine headaches in 245 people with frequent migraine. All of the participants reported at least two to six migraine headache attacks per month over the previous three months before the study began.

After four months of treatment, researchers found the 75 mg dose reduced migraine headache frequency by 48 percent vs. the 26 percent reduction found with the placebo. The 50 mg dose was associated with a 36 percent reduction in migraine headache frequency, which according to the researchers is not significantly different from the effects of the placebo.

Significantly more people in the 75 mg dose group had a 50 percent reduction in migraine attacks per month than those receiving the placebo.

The most commonly reported side effects of treatment with butterbur were gastrointestinal problems, predominantly burping.

Researchers aren’t quite sure how butterbur works to prevent migraine headaches, but previous studies have suggested that the herbal extract has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation has been implicated in the cascade of events that trigger a migraine.

Lipton says raw butterbur root contains toxic chemicals that are filtered out during the manufacturing process, which is why he says it’s a good idea to avoid “home-brewed” butterbur extract. Several commercial products containing butterbur extract are available, but manufacturing standards are not uniform for plant extracts.

The results in this study are based on use of the Petodolex brand of butterbur extract. Weber & Weber GmbH & Co., which produces Petodolex, also supported the study.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Lipton, R. Neurology, Dec. 28, 2004; vol 63: pp 2240-2244. News release, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.