With the start of spring come the blooms and blossoms and that pesky partner in crime – pollen! Seasonal allergies affect millions of Canadians (approx. 10 million) each year, and many will dash to the pharmacy in search of antihistamine medication so they don’t drip, itch and sneeze their way through springtime. While the viral load at the start of spring can still be high depending upon the region, the differences between allergy symptoms (below) and cold symptoms generally are as follows:
- No fever or muscle aches
- Mucous secretions are typically clear and runny
- Sneezing is common in rapid, multiple sequences
- Your ears, nose and throat (especially palate in back of throat) are itchy
- Your symptoms last longer than the typical duration of a cold (i.e. 7-10 days)
Instead of reaching for conventional antihistamines this year to manage your symptoms, why not look in the direction of herbal medicine for some assistance. Petasites hybridus – commonly known as Butterbur is one such herbal which may provide you some relief. This plant has been in use in medical formulary since the middle Ages, used commonly in Europe and Asia to address issues of respiratory infection, fevers, coughs, congestion and asthma. For the past several decades in Europe, standardized preparations of Butterbur have been used and recognized as an aid to reduce the effects of histamine, and nasal congestion as well as to improve breathing. For some reason, it is not as well known in the West.
Butterbur’s active phytochemicals (petasin, isopetasin) have been shown to reduce spasms in the respiratory smooth muscle, relax swollen membranes, as well as exert an anti-inflammatory effect by limiting the load of inflammatory chemicals known as leukotrienes (1,2). An early randomized, double-blind study of standardized butterbur extract, reported by Swiss researchers in the British Journal of Medicine in 2002, followed 125 seasonal hay fever sufferers. At four clinics in Switzerland and Germany, 61 patients were treated with one tablet of the butterbur extract (containing 8 mg of petasin) four times a day, and 64 patients were treated with 10 mg of cetirizine (Zyrtec®) taken once daily. All participants had suffered seasonal allergies for two or more consecutive years. In skin testing, all but one of the 125 patients proved to be allergic to pollens, most commonly grass pollens (3).
After two weeks of daily treatment, all participants were judged by their physicians to be improved in clinical examinations. All were shown to have been exposed to substantial levels of pollen during the preceding two weeks, by cross-checking the treatment period with the German government’s pollen-count service. What the researchers noted as most significant was that in every category, butterbur scored as well as cetirizine in alleviating symptoms. While drowsiness and fatigue accounted for two thirds of the adverse events reported by patients in the drug group during the treatment period, these side effects were not noted among those taking the butterbur extract (3). In short, butterbur had the same degree of efficacy with respect to symptom relief, and without the side effects that the drug caused.
Butterbur may also have additional applications for people suffering from upper respiratory complications such as asthma. Several studies have looked at the possibility of incorporating butterbur into asthmatic treatment protocols. Because people who suffer from allergic rhinitis have a higher incidence of asthma than does the general population, studies showing butterbur’s effectiveness in treating that upper-respiratory disorders are very encouraging. (4) In 2003, Lee et al. at the University of Dundee found that patients who treated their asthma with inhaled corticosteroids breathed better when they added 25 mg of butterbur twice daily to their treatment regimen (5).
AOR offers Butterbur extract in 2 formulas – Petadolex and Allerque. The Petadolex formula is a standalone butterbur formula, and Allerque combines butterbur with quercetin and rosemary extract. Both are effective products that provide good clinical relief from seasonal allergies.
If you have not tried Butterbur, I encourage you to give it consideration. It is proven to be clinically effective in relieving common seasonal allergy symptoms to the same degree as antihistamines and without the drowsiness – a real win/win.
Here’s to a sneeze-free Spring!
1. Bickel D, Röder T, Bestmann HJ, Brune K. Identification and characterization of inhibitors of peptido-leukotriene synthesis from Petasites hybridus. Planta Med. 1994 Aug;60(4):318-22.
2. Thomet OA, Wiesman UN, Schapowal A, Bizer C, Simon HU. Role of petasine in the potential anti-inflammatory activity of a plant extract of Petasites hybridus. Biochem Pharmacol. 2001 Apr 15;61(8):1041-7.
3. Schapowal A. Petasites Study Group. Randomized controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. BMJ. 2002 Jan 19;324(7330):144-6.
4. Mauskop A. Petasites hybridus; ancient medicinal plant is effect prophylactic treatment for migraine. Townsend Lett. 2000;202:104-6.
5. Lee DK, Haggart K, Robb FM, Lipworth BJ. Butterbur, a herbal remedy, confers complementary anti-inflammatory activity in asthmatic patients receiving inhaled corticosteroids. Clin Exp Allergy. 2004 Jan;34(1):110-4.