It is becoming more widely known that the herb St John’s Wort is as effective in treating moderate to severe depression as a drug that causes concern over side-effects. Credibility of this practice was strengthened recently when researchers in Berlin compared the herbal extract WS5570 with the drug Seroxat (which can cause suicide, aggression etc). The results of the findings were first reported on BMJ (British Medical Journal) online.
Hypericum Perforatum, or St John’s Wort, as we more commonly know it; is a yellow flowered plant which contains many chemical compounds, including hypericin and hyperforin.
The ancient Greeks were aware of its healing properties and used it to treat many ailments, including sciatica and poisonous reptile bites. In Europe it was, and still is, popular for the topical treatment of wounds and burns; ear infections, cold sores, and as a folk remedy for kidney and lung ailments; anxiety, as well as depression; and in other areas has long been used for mental disorders and nerve pain.
St. John’s Wort has a complex chemical makeup that includes hypericin and other dianthrones, flavonoids, xanthones, and hyperforin. While it was previously thought that the anti-depressant actions of St. John’s Wort were due to hypercin, and inhibition of the enzyme monomine oxidase,current research has challenged this belief. Recent studies have focused on other constituents, such as hyperforin, xanthones, and flavonoids.
New research suggests that St. John’s wort extracts exert their antidepressant actions by inhibiting the re-uptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin,norepinephrine,and dopamine. This action is possibly due to the constituent hyperforin. By making more of these neurotransmitters available to the brain, St. John’s Wort is able to act as an antidepressant.
How Much Is Usually Taken?
The standard recommendation for mild to moderate depression is 300 mg of St Johns Wort extract 3 times daily. Results can be noted as early as 2 weeks, and length of use should be discussed with a health-care professional. St John’s Wort is available as capsules, teas and extracts.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
St. John’s wort could, theoretically, make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, but this is rare when used at recommended levels. However, fair-skinned individuals should be alert for any rashes or burns following exposure to the sun. Preliminary evidence suggests there may be a risk of St. John’s wort interacting with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs, such as Prozac; and causing side effects known collectively as serotonin syndrome. For those taking an SSRI who wish to start St. Johns Wort; please see a doctor.
Always check with your doctor if you are taking any other medication, as St John’s Wort can’t be taken with any other anti-depressants or with the contraceptive pill.