St. John’s Wort

You may be at your wits end looking for a treatment for depression, and really wish to stick with an herbal one, and then you hear about this odd-named substance called “St. John’s Wort.” You may be surprised to hear that St. John’s Wort is a very common alternative treatment, an herbal to be exact, used mainly in treating depression. It is one of the 370 species in the genus Hypericum.

What Does it Look Like?
St. John’s Wort is very easy to identify because it has a very characteristic leaf and flower type. The leaf has obvious translucent dots when held up to the light; the flower is yellow and five-petaled. The flowers are grouped in bunches at the ends of the upper branches. The stamens are divided into three bundles at the base of the plant. When the flower buds are crushed they produce a reddish-purple liquid.

Medicinal Uses
The most common medicinal use of the herbal supplement St. John’s Wort is to treat depression and anxiety; more specifically, mild-to-moderate depression. So far, no evidence suggests that it can be helpful in major depressive disorders. There are other conditions and diseases that have been studied using St. John’s Wort as well. Some of the scientific research conducted on such happenings is not conclusive, so these are merely suggestions with some basic scientific evidence behind them. The following are conditions that have been studied using St. John’s Wort as an alternative treatment, and some studies have shown it to be beneficial, while others have not.

  • Mild-to-moderate depressive disorder—positive results, more studies are recommended
  • Somatoform disorder (a condition that shows no physical symptoms, but is believed to by psychological in nature)—positive results, more studies are recommended
  • Anxiety disorder—not enough evidence
  • Atopic dermatitis—positive results, more studies are recommended
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—not enough evidence
  • Depression in children—not enough evidence
  • Nerve pain—positive results, more studies are recommended
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)—positive results, more studies are recommended
  • Burning Mouth Syndrome—not enough evidence
  • Pain relief after surgery—not enough evidence
  • Peri-menopausal symptoms—not enough evidence
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—not enough evidence
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—not enough evidence, although positive results appeared in the first few studies
  • Social Phobia—not enough evidence
  • Severe depressive disorder—not enough evidence
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)—St. John’s Wort NOT recommended for people with HIV because of the interactions it has with antiviral medications

Side Effects
Just because herbals are thought to be natural, that does not mean they are free of side effects. In fact, this is not true at all. St. John’s Wort is capable of producing side effects in some people. While the side effects may not be all that serious, some people may find them discomforting nevertheless. They include both physical side effects and undesirable side effects that can result in the drug interactions with certain medications. In the latter list, the physical side effects may be worsened when St. John’s Wort is combined with the drug.

Physical Side Effects

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight

Drug Interactions

  • Antidepressant medications
  • Birth control pills
  • Anticancer medications
  • Medicines used to thin the blood
  • Medicines used to control HIV infection
  • Digoxin, a medication used to strengthen the heart muscle contractions
  • Cyclosporine, which is a medicine used to help the body avoid rejecting organ transplants

Drawbacks of Using St. John’s Wort
Unfortunately, there are a few things to consider before making the decision to take St. John’s Wort as a treatment for problems you are having. Also, it is important to consult with your physician before starting on any supplements, including herbals.

  • Herbal supplements, and therefore St. John’s Wort, are not regulated by the FDA. They may contain more ingredients than, or not as many ingredients as, the label reads.
  • The strength and quality in herbal supplements can be unpredictable because every bottle of the supplement may be different.
  • Hardly any studies are conclusive, and there is still much research to be done on the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort.
Last updated on Oct 19th, 2010 and filed under Alternative Medicine. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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