International Team of Researchers Find Herbal Extract to Be Effective in Preventing Migraines

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine


December 2004

BRONX, NY — An herbal extract offers considerable help in preventing migraine headaches, according to an international research team led by Dr. Richard B. Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The extract comes from the petasites hybridus root (also known as butterbur), which has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. The researchers reported their findings in the December 28th issue of the journal Neurology.

“Butterbur is a traditional herbal treatment for migraine prevention,” says Dr. Lipton, who is vice chair and professor of neurology at Einstein. “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 study involved 245 migraine patients who–during the prior three months– suffered between two to six migraine attacks per month. For the four-month study, the patients were randomly assigned to take two capsules daily of the 75 milligram (mg) dose of butterbur extract, the 50-mg dose, or a placebo. The main outcome measured was the percentage decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks, calculated by comparing migraine attacks during the study with the number of attacks that patients experienced before the study began.

“The 75-mg butterbur dose reduced headache frequency by 48 percent – a substantial treatment effect,” said Dr. Lipton. This compared with a 26 percent reduction among placebo users. Further, Dr. Lipton notes, the 75-mg dose reduced headache frequency by 50% or more in over two-thirds of the migraine sufferers.

The study was conducted at nine primary care or specialty centers in the United States and Germany. Adverse effects from butterbur were infrequent; those most commonly reported that may have been related to butterbur treatment were gastrointestinal in nature, mainly burping.

Raw butterbur root contains toxic chemicals that are filtered out during the manufacturing process – a good reason, says Dr. Lipton, for avoiding “home-brewed” butterbur extract and instead using commercially available products, several of which are sold in the U.S. He further stressed that manufacturing standards are not uniform for plant extracts and that safety data for Petadolex Butterbur Gelcaps, the brand used in this study, cannot be assumed for other butterbur products. Petadolex Butterbur Gelcaps is made by Weber & Weber GmbH & Co., which supported the research.

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