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Butterbur extract is a natural herbal supplement made from parts of the butterbur plant, including the root, leaf and bulb. The butterbur plant is an herb that is native to several parts of the world including northern Africa, Europe and southwestern Asia. This herb is known by several other names, such as bog rhubarb, butter dock and exwort. The butterbur plant is a perennial shrub with large leaves and pink flowers that tend to grow on large spikes of the plant in most cases. Sandbars located near streams and marshy or wet terrain are common areas for butterbur growth.
Many people use butterbur extract as a natural health supplement and self-treatment for several health conditions. This herb was used by some people during the Middle Ages to treat plague, fever and coughs. Other traditional medicinal uses of this herb have included treatment of bee stings and gastric ulcers. There is generally insufficient scientific evidence to support most of the common health related uses of butterbur extract, however.
Some people take butterbur extract to prevent migraine headaches–some say they have noticed a decrease in frequency and severity of migraines after several weeks of using this herbal remedy. Allergic rhinitis associated with grass pollen has been relieved by some people who used a butterbur extract herbal product. Asthma, chronic bronchitis and coughing have improved in some individuals after they took butterbur. Some people with irritable bladder symptoms and spasms of the urinary tract have noticed improvement in their conditions after using butterbur. In some instances, people have used butterbur to treat pain, colic and some types of wounds.
People who use butterbur extract may develop side effects in some cases. Some butterbur extracts contain pyrrolizidine alkaloid substances that can cause cancer and liver damage as well as lung and cardiovascular problems in some individuals. Butterbur extracts without pyrrolizidine alkaloids may be generally safe for most people. Other side effects that can occur with butterbur use include fatigue, headaches and itchy eyes. Gastrointestinal effects such as upset stomach, diarrhea and belching have been reported by some people who used this herb.
Some medications can interact with butterbur extract and affect the breakdown of medications in the liver. Medications that may cause unwanted liver effects when combined with butterbur include phenytoin and rifampin. Butterbur use can be harmful to some patients with liver disease. Birth defects are possible with butterbur use, and this herb is typically not recommended for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers. People with allergies to ragweed and related plants may develop similar allergic reactions from butterbur.