St. John’s wort is a popular remedy for depression; however, it has many side effects and interactions. Get the latest facts and learn about alternatives.
St. John’s wort is the most widely studied natural treatment for depression. ( 1 )
Billions of dollars of St. John’s wort supplements are sold every year making it relatively mainstream for an alternative remedy.
But this popular herb is not without controversy.
In some parts of the world, it’s thought to be so potent that it’s available only by prescription.
But in others, it’s banned or restricted due to the number of unwanted side effects and interactions.
Before you take St. John’s wort you need to know two things: Is it safe? And is it effective?
Here’s an in-depth look at the benefits of St. John’s wort for depression as well as the potential risks. What Is St. John’s Wort?
St. John’s wort ( Hypericum perforatum ) is a low-growing ground cover plant that is blanketed with cheerful yellow flowers around the time of St. John the Baptist’s birthday in late June.
Hypericum literally means “about spirits” as this plant was believed to contain magical properties that could ward off evil spirits. ( 2 )
It has a 2,000-year-old history as a natural remedy and was mentioned in the works of Hippocrates and Pliny.
Traditionally, it was used both externally and internally to treat conditions as diverse as wounds, burns, snakebites, nervous disorders, ulcers, melancholy, tumors, and sciatica. ( 3 )
Based on modern-day scientific theory and expert opinion, St. John’s wort is now used for alcoholism, athletic performance enhancement, benzodiazepine withdrawal, cancer, chronic ear infections, Epstein-Barr virus, substance abuse, and ulcers. ( 4 )
But the most common use today by far is as an herbal remedy for depression.
In Germany, where St. John’s wort is available by prescription, doctors prescribe it 20 times more often than Prozac. ( 5 )
Here in the United States it’s readily available as a supplement or an herbal tea.
An interesting aside is that in some western US states, St. John’s wort eradication programs are underway because it’s potentially deadly to livestock that graze on it. ( 6 ) The Evidence for St. John’s Wort and Depression
In spite of its popularity, there is currently no consensus that St. John’s wort is a safe or effective natural antidepressant.
The evidence that St. John’s wort alleviates depression is mixed.
The most comprehensive and widely recognized meta-analysis of St. John’s wort studies is a prestigious Cochrane review conducted in 2008.
Their review of 29 international studies concluded that St. John’s wort may be as effective as standard prescription antidepressants for depression with fewer side effects than antidepressants.
Interestingly, studies conducted in German-speaking countries reported more positive results than those done elsewhere.
The reason for this is unclear.
It may be that better forms of St. John’s wort are used in these countries.
Or it could, in part, be a placebo effect since study participants in those countries were predisposed to believing in its effectiveness.
But more recent studies on St. John’s wort for depression have failed to produce the same results.A US National Institute of Mental Health review of studies found the results on St. John’s wort to be mixed.One study this organization sponsored found that neither St. John’s wort nor the prescription antidepressant it was being compared to worked better than a placebo! ( 7 ) WHAT CAN A BRAIN SUPPLEMENT DO?Are you struggling with …➤ Fuzzy thinking and foggy focus?➤ Growing forgetfulness?➤ Shrinking ability to learn and problem-solve?➤ Lack of mental energy and drive?Mind Lab Pro can help your brain perform better. Dr. Pat | Be Brain Fit What About St. John’s Wort for Anxiety? You may have heard that St. John’s wort can be taken for anxiety, but there’s little evidence that it is helpful.In fact, one of the more common side effects of St. John’s wort is anxiety and even panic attacks! ( 8 , 9 )If anxiety is your main concern, it’s best to avoid St. John’s wort and try one of the many proven supplements for anxiety instead. How St. John’s Wort Works to Alleviate Depression St. John’s wort is the most widely studied herbal remedy for depression, yet it’s still not fully understood how it works.It contains dozens of bioactive compounds, but the two most important ones are hypericin and hyperforin . ( 10 )Hyperforin boosts numerous mood-related brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, GABA, and glutamate.It helps serotonin, the neurotransmitter most commonly associated with depression, bind to serotonin receptors.It also increases the number of serotonin receptors in the brain. Flavonoids are another group of beneficial plant compounds found in St. John’s wort.They may help to fend off depression by protecting the brain with their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. St. John’s Wort Risks: Side Effects, Cautions, and Interactions Compared to many natural remedies, St. John’s wort is rife with side effects, cautions, and drug interactions.Here is what you need to know to determine if St. John’s wort is safe for you and whether its downside outweighs its potential benefits. St. John’s Wort Side Effects One of the main reasons people want to try St. John’s wort instead of a prescription antidepressant is to avoid side effects.But ironically, the list of St. John’s wort side effects is very similar to those of antidepressant medications — anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea, and spikes in blood pressure. ( 11 )Other reported side effects include allergic reactions, vomiting, dizziness, aggression, headache, fatigue, memory loss, mental confusion, dry mouth, and constipation. ( 12 , 13 , 14 )A most concerning side effect is photosensitivity.One of St. John’s wort main active ingredients, hypericin, is highly photoreactive.This can create a rash similar to sunburn from even minimal sun exposure.This property of hypericin can also endanger your eyes by leading to damage of the lens or retina. ( 15 ) Caution: If you take St. John’s wort, it’s critical that you protect your eyes from sunlight. ARE YOU FEELING UNFOCUSED?Scientifically personalized music can boost focus 4X.Whatever work or study you do, Focus@Will can help you do it […]