The plant St. John’s wort has been traditionally used to treat depression. The Chochrane Library this month has published a review that solidifies the evidence that St. John’s wort treats mild to moderate depression just as effectively than current antidepressants do, but with fewer side effects.
The new study reviewed 29 clinical trials, involving a total number of 5400 patients. Many of the studies were comparing St. John’s wort with synthetic standard antidepressants, and all of them were double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trials.
The authors of the study found that “a) [St. John’s wort extracts] are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants”.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been used since ancient times to treat burns, wounds and bacterial diseases. It has received scientific attention for the treatment of viral diseases, wounds, and depression disorders.
The Cochrane library, an worldwide organization that revieves evidence based medicine, is known to apply highly stringent measures when reviewing studies for its validity and efficacy. This study shows that St. John’s wort can be safely used to treat mild and moderate depression.
While it is just as effective as standard antidepressants in treating major depression, St. John’s wort shows fewer side effects than the synthetic medications. I consider this an important measure to choose St. John’s wort over standard antidepressants, whose side effects may include digestive problems, sexual dysfunction and suicidal ideation in teenagers, depending on the type of drug.
- If you choose St. John’s wort as your treatment, make sure you take it for at least 4 weeks, just as regular antidepressants have to be taken over longer periods of time to be effective.
- The quality of herbs, tinctures and tablets you buy vary considerably. Don’t just jump for the cheapest product — or the most expensive one. Talk to a qualified medical practitioner or to the staff of a pharmacy/ health food store specializing in integrative health care. Do not buy any products online unless you know a trusted manufacturer.
- Do not take St John’s wort along with a standard antidepressant or with other drugs without talking to your medical practitioner first. St. John’s wort is known to interact with several drugs, including antidepressants.
- Remember: taking a plant extract as a medicine is a natural way of therapy, but it may not treat the cause of your condition. There are multiple factors, such as amino acid deficiencies, that contribute to depression.
- While the body may need some help to deal with depression, a loved one near you and your personal doctor may be the most important people to help you understand what is going on with you feeling down and anxious. Talk to someone you can trust, and find a physician who will help you work out a plan that addresses all of you: your body, your mind and your soul.
- Linde K. et al., St John’s wort for major depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD000448
- Mills, Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. 2006 Churchill Livingstone