Can butterbur help in allergy relief?
Petasin is the active ingredient in butterbur, which is a member of the daisy family.
If you have allergic rhinitis or another type of allergy, you have probably talked with your allergist about such allergy treatment options as allergy shots (immunotherapy) and medications to help manage your symptoms.
While medications and immunotherapy can be very effective in relieving allergy symptoms, some people tend to prefer "natural" remedies over traditional ones when dealing with an allergy or other health problem.
If you are looking for a natural allergy remedy, you may have heard of butterbur. Butterbur is a plant that is thought to be effective against different types of allergy. Some preliminary studies have indicated that butterbur may offer the same type of allergy relief as antihistamine medications in people who have allergic rhinitis, says Corinna Bowser, MD, a fellow at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. But other research has found that butterbur is no more effective than a placebo (sugar pill) in controlling symptoms of an allergy.
Should You Take Butterbur for Allergy Relief? Allergic rhinitis is a common allergy, affecting more than 35 million people in the United States. In allergic rhinitis, exposure to such allergens as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, or pet dander can lead to a runny nose, sneezing, and itching of the eyes and nose. This type of allergic reaction occurs because your body's immune system releases histamine and leukotrienes, which can cause inflammation of the lining of the nose.
The active ingredient in butterbur, a member of the daisy family which is also known as Petasites hybridus, is called petasin. Petasin is thought to combat the leukotrienes and histamines that lead to an allergic reaction in people with allergic rhinitis. But the evidence supporting the benefits of butterbur is still preliminary, and more research is needed to determine butterbur’s effectiveness, as well as the optimal dosage and whether it is safe.
Safety is a serious concern, because butterbur "may contain a certain type of chemical, or an alkaloid, that has liver and kidney toxicity, may be cancer-causing, and may cause blood clots," says Dr. Bowser, who works at Narberth Allergy & Asthma in Narberth, PA. Bowser cautions that you cannot be completely sure what you're getting when purchasing a supplement. Unlike medications, the Food and Drug Administration does not ensure that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. "Since it is not FDA-controlled, you can have varying amounts of the active ingredient in a supplement," she says.
Bowser also notes that individuals who have a ragweed allergy should avoid butterbur, which is related to ragweed. "It may cause an allergic reaction in a ragweed-sensitive person," she says.
Before taking butterbur or any other herbal remedy, it’s important to talk with your doctor, Bowser says. Some herbal supplements can react with other supplements or medications, so it is important to tell your doctor and pharmacist everything you are taking.
And remember, because the manufacturers of a supplement advertise their product as being natural does not necessarily mean that it is safe. "Natural does not mean safe or without side effects," Bowser says.
For now, waiting for more research on butterbur’s possible effectiveness may be the safest policy.