St. John’s Wort or Hypericum Perforatum is a natural plant which grows in the wild. For ages, it has been used by humans for improving mental health.
It is the one of most prescribed medicine in Europe while in the United States you can take it as a dietary supplement.
Physical Description and Early Usage
St. John’s wort is a plant with yellow flowers. Its benefits were first discovered in ancient Greece. Back then, and today this plant is heavily used to prepare tea, produce tablets and capsules with concentrated extracts, and liquid extracts.
Herbalists used St. John’s wort to ease the pain, internally and externally. It was used to heal the nervous system damaged by injury, trauma or infection.
Despite the efforts and clinical trials for depression this herb also has other applications.
Some of them include,
- relaxing muscle spasms
- muscle soreness
- healing the nervous system
- stimulation of capillary regeneration
- Soothing pain from burns
- Significant antibacterial effects
Benefits of St. John’s Wort in Depression Treatment
There are dozens of unofficial sources claiming that St. John’s Wort can be used to treat mild depression and might even help with more severe cases of depression – lowering down symptoms through which it manifests.
- In 2008, roughly about 30 international studies did show that St. John’s Wort is better than a placebo in treating depression and was put in the rank of standard prescription antidepressants.
- It also appeared that St John’s Wort has fewer side effects than standard synthetic drugs for treating depressive people.
- While having success in some studies, back in 2002, a study funded by NCCIH concluded that St. John’s Wort had no better results than a placebo in treating depression.
How it Actually Works?
St. John’s wort is a reuptake inhibitor of a substance named serotonin (shortly SSRI), serotonin is a chemical in the brain linked to depression and anxiety. Serotonin plays an important role in mood regulation and happiness. The thing is, everyone can feel down or unhappy for some time. But in people with depression, this becomes so severe that it interferes with their daily life.
In general, SSRIs are considered to be fairly safe for treatment. They enhance the function of nerve cells in the brain. More specifically, when information is transmitted between brain neurons, it is achieved with signals named neurotransmitters. They communicate in between with some protocol and need to take back the information already released in order to send new information. The process of replacing neurotransmitters is named “reuptake”.
About Depression in General
Depression is a depressive disorder and is a very common but serious mental disorder. Severe symptoms of depression can affect the process of thinking and handling real-time situations in life such as work, sleep, and eating.
Depressed people have often had a tendency of either eating too much or very little, thus it can affect overall health seriously.
You can read more about depression here.
Science Facts About St.John’s Wort and Safety
- Most people have concerns with St. John’s Wort interfering with a metabolic pathway named as cytochrome 450. This is an enzyme which is responsible for breaking down ingested drugs, alcohol or other chemicals from the bloodstream. It also contributes to keeping the human bones strong.
- This herb stimulates the production of these enzymes which process drugs from blood much faster. The overall result from this is that it reduces the effect of other medication.
- If you combine St. John’s Wort with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) or Monoamine Oxidase inhibitors, this may lead to elevated blood pressure and cause something named serotonin syndrome. These manifest with high blood pressure, include agitation, rapid heart rate, muscle spasms, and diarrhea.
- In addition to the reaction with antidepressants, the herb may also interact with anti-seizure medications and anticoagulants, HIV medication, cancer, and other heart diseases.
- There are reported cases where St. John’s Wort has worsened the symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. – Although people with severe cases like this will probably not rely on this herb as a treatment, they will probably need stronger prescribed medicine.
List of Medication That Will Interact With St. John’s Wort
You should be very careful if you take any of the following types of medication listed below and are willing to also include St. John’s Wort in your diet.
- Heart medication (such as Digoxin)
- HIV drugs
- Oxycodone – painkiller
- Birth control pills
- Cancer medication (special emphasis on irinotecan)
- Anticoagulants (preventing blood from becoming too thick or clotting) – Including Warfarin and Coumadin
- Cyclosporine (medication used to treat organ rejection after transplantation)
Special Emphasis on Safety and Side Effects
- If you have depression or depressive thoughts you should not try to treat the illness yourself. Consulting your health care provider is a must, postponing on visiting one might lead to worsening the situation and more serious cases.
- St. John’s Wort has gone through very little testing on pregnant women or children. Thus the information on safety in these individuals is very small.
- Treatment for people with bipolar disorder is not recommended because it might trigger mania.
- Unlike with manufactured synthetic drugs, the active substance in herb extracts cannot be precisely controlled.
Other side effects are usually mild and temporary, however, if you encounter unpleasant reactions you should report to your doctor immediately.
List of side effects:
- A headache
- Increased sensitivity to light (skin sensitivity to sunburn)
- Sexual dysfunction – in both women and men side effects include erectile dysfunction, decreased sex drive or delayed ejaculation to no orgasm at all.
- Insomnia and anxiety
Dosage and Where to Find
- The usual dosage of St. John’s wort is 300 mg before sleep during your first week of usage. You can proceed and increase the dosage to 300 mg twice a day during the second week of usage.
- You can continuously increase it to 600 mg dosage twice per day. This means the allowed top margin is 1200 mg of extract per day.
Like any other antidepressants, it might take 4-6 weeks before you feel any significant effects.
You can find extracts of St. John’s wort in some of the mood mix extracts that come as dietary supplements and are FDA approved.
Regulation Process and Closing Words
Dietary supplements do not go through rigorous testing for proof of safety the same synthetic drugs do. According to professionals, they should go through the same testing but the problem lies in very expensive clinical trials.
You should always tell your doctor if you use St. John’s Wort
You can use some of the following links to useful locations listed below if you wish to continue your research about this plant.
- Review of St.John’s Wort Extracts on Severe Depression
- St.John’s Wort Impacts on ADHD Found Not Effective