Imagine a headache that is more intense than any headache youâ??ve ever hadâ??one that can last up to 72 hours and cause a throbbing feeling in your brain. In Canada, about 3.2 million adults suffer from them.

Imagine a headache that is more intense than any headache you’ve ever had–one that can last up to 72 hours and cause a throbbing feeling in your brain.

An estimated 1.4 billion migraines occur yearly around the world. In Canada, about 3.2 million adults suffer from them. Migraines are painful and demand relief. Luckily, research is giving some limelight to an effective traditional medicine for migraines.

Research Supports Herb

A recent study published in Neurology (December 2004) found that a common herb used in traditional medicine to prevent migraines is effective at reducing migraine frequency. The research showed that the root of the butterbur (Petasites hybridus) plant reduced the incidence of migraines by 50 percent when 75 mg of butterbur extract was taken twice daily for 12 weeks. A reduction in migraine incidence was also seen at a smaller dosage of 50 mg of butterbur extract taken twice daily. In addition, the patients in the treatment groups reported shorter duration and less intensity of pain.


The migraine study noted that the side effects of butterbur were mild enough that this herb could be considered for use in children. However, the study also said safety studies on the use of butterbur in children should be conducted before widespread use in youth occurs. Butterbur should be avoided by pregnant women and individuals with liver disease.

Benefits of Butterbur

The butterbur plant grows in Europe and Asia. Traditionally, butterbur roots, leaves and flowers were used to treat coughs due to asthma, allergies, and infections. The herb was also used to prevent migraine headaches. Today, in addition to helping treat migraines, butterbur is used to treat urinary stones, as it is thought to stop spasms in internal organs.

The Role of Serotonin

What causes migraines is unclear. It is thought they may be caused by changes in the serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin plays many roles in the body, including the ability to affect blood vessels. A strenuous or exhausting event, changes in weather, low blood sugar levels, changes in women’s hormones, or a number of other triggers can cause serotonin levels to fall. Low serotonin levels cause the blood vessels to dilate or swell, resulting in pain. Since many factors can contribute to a decrease in serotonin levels, it is difficult for migraine sufferers to pinpoint the specific reason.

Time to Celebrate

Millions of Canadians can celebrate now that there is scientific research supporting the use of butterbur in reducing the frequency of migraines, with further research underway.

But in the meantime, let’s remember that following a good diet and avoiding refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can also contribute to avoiding migraines.

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Linda Barbara

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