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St. John's Wort for Depression

St. John's wort is a natural, herbal medicine that is claimed to treat depression. The psychiatric history of this plant goes all the way back to ancient Greece where it was used to treat “nervous conditions”. Over the years it’s been reported to help PMS, menopause, anxiety, and even OCD. The mechanism of action for St. John's wort is not clear, but the therapeutic ingredients are thought to include hypericin, pseudohypericin and various xanthones. It is believed these chemicals elevate dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, much the same as traditional antidepressants.

What is St. John's wort?

The St. John's wort plant has yellow flowers and is often thought of asa weed in some parts of the United States. It has been used for medical purposes for thousands of years. Many studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of St. John's wort. Some studies have suggested benefit, but other studies have not. If you do choose to use it, be sure to learn all you can and check with your doctor before taking it. St. John's wort can interact with other medicines or supplements you may be taking and may have side effects.

How Does It Work?

While St. John's wort's effects on your body are not fully understood, it's thought to work similarly to antidepressants. Research suggests that a number of its active ingredients may be responsible for these benefits. These ingredients appear to increase the levels of chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. These then act to lift and regulate your mood. Also, St. John's wort doesn't have some of the common side effects of prescription antidepressants, such as loss of sex drive.

Side Effects

St. John's wort is generally considered safe when used orally in appropriate doses. However, it can cause:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Burning or prickling sensation
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach discomfort

How do I take St. John's Wort?

St. John's wort is most often taken in liquid or capsule form. The dried herb may also be used as a tea. The most common dose used in studies has been 300 mg, three times a day as a standardized extract. Preparations in the U.S. have varied amounts of active ingredient in them. So be careful how much you're getting in your tablets.

Other Benefits

St. John's wort has also been researched for other conditions, including:

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): A study found that St. John's wort supplements reduced symptoms of PMS.
  • Wound healing: When applied to the skin, it has been found to effectively treat pressure sores, wounds, burns and hemorrhoids.
  • Symptoms of menopause: One study found a significant reduction in menopause-related symptoms after taking liquid St. John's wort extract.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months. There is fairly weak evidence supporting the use of St. John's wort supplements in the treatment of SAD.
  • Cancer: Test-tube studies have shown that the hypericin in St. John's wort can inhibit tumor cell growth. However, it's not recommended as a cancer treatment due to its potential interaction with other cancer medications

It should be noted that St. John’s wort is an unlicensed herbal medication, so would not be prescribed by a general practitioner. St. John’s wort can have serious interactions with a large number of commonly used medications by affecting enzymes in the body involved with the metabolic processing of drugs. Therefore, a discussion with a doctor is important.