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Herbal Extract Reduces Migraines Wed Jan 5, 5:06 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An extract of the root of a plant called butterbur (Petasites hybridus) significantly reduces the frequency of migraine headaches, new research findings suggest.
"I've long held the view that the distinction shouldn't be between complementary medicine and pharmaceuticals, but between treatments that have scientific support and those that don't," lead investigator Dr. Richard B. Lipton told Reuters Health.
His group's trial that compared butterbur with an inactive placebo "was a promising opportunity to figure out if an extract of butterbur really works for migraine."
Lipton, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, and his associates compared the efficacy of two different doses of butterbur extract to that of a placebo in about 230 migraine patients. They had experienced two to six attacks per month for the 3 months prior to the study.
The number of attacks per month was reduced by 45 percent in the group that took 75 milligrams of butterbur twice daily, compared with a reduction of 28 percent in the placebo group during the 16-week trial, according to the investigators' report in the journal Neurology.
A group that took 50 milligrams of butterbur twice daily experienced a 32 percent decrease, not significantly different from placebo.
"The size of the treatment effect is quite comparable to what is seen with prescription drugs," such as beta-blockers and antidepressants, Lipton said.
The butterbur extract was well tolerated, the team reports, with burping as the only adverse event occurring more frequently in the active treatment groups. There were no changes in blood pressure, heart rate, or routine laboratory tests.
"People who need a preventive medication -- those who are having three or more days of headaches that interfere with their lives per month -- should consider taking a preventive medication," Lipton advised.
"Many of those people don't like the idea of taking a prescription medication every day, and for them, (butterbur) is an excellent alternative that now has a firm base of scientific support," he said.
He cautioned that, because raw butterbur root contains toxins that are removed during the manufacturing process, patients should only use commercially available products rather than "home-brewed" butterbur extract.