Many people treat themselves with unproven herbal supplements, not caring whether science has gotten around to proving the effectiveness of the supplement for a particular complaint. In the meantime, researchers are slowly catching up on the backlog of untested health food store stables. For example, scientists in Scotland examined the ability of the herbal remedy butterbur to help people who inhale corticosteroids for asthma, and the results are promising.

Around the world, 300 million people have asthma and a quarter million die from it each year. More than 34 million Americans have received a diagnosis of asthma and the incidence is increasing. Between 1980 and 1994, cases increased by 75 percent. About 70 percent of people with this chronic lung condition also have allergies, according to the The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

While previous tests have demonstrated the effectiveness of butterbur in the treatment of seasonal allergies, the Scots are the first to examine the effectiveness of this popular herbal remedy in the treatment of asthma. The researchers tested butterbur in 16 patients whose asthma involved allergies. Those who received 25 mg of butterbur twice a day along with their standard, inhaled corticosteroid therapy were better able to resist asthma attacks. The supplement also seemed to reduce the number of eosinophils, white blood cells that appear to in asthma symptoms.

Future studies could determine if taking butterbur by itself might help some patients with mild symptoms. Until then, before you add this or any supplement to your prescribed treatment plan, check with your physician to make sure your particular case is suitable for supplemental therapy.