What is St. John's wort?
St. John's wort is a shrubby plant that has been used in folk medicine for more than 2,000 years. It was named after St. John the Baptist because its yellow flowers bloom around his feast day in June. The ancient Greeks believed that the scent of St. John's wort could chase away evil spirits. Today, St. John's wort has a reputation for treating mood disorders, which is one reason why it has become such a hot-selling herb. back to top
What is it used for?
St. John's wort is primarily used to treat mild to moderate (but not severe) depression
. Some scientific data shows it to be as effective as some older antidepressant drugs
in treating this condition. Two large studies, however, have shown that St. Johns's wort is not effective in treating depression, reports the NIH
. back to top
Should I try St. John's wort if I'm feeling down?
In a word, no. Feeling down, sad, or blue is not the same thing as having depression
. If you're not depressed, there's no reason to believe that St. John's wort will affect you at all. And if you are depressed, it's important that you work with a health professional to find the best treatment.
St. John's wort may be natural, but it affects your brain, just like prescription antidepressants
. And because everyone's brain is different, there's no way for you to tell if St. John's wort will work for you or if it will have the same effect on you that it has on someone else. St. John's wort works well for some people, and not at all for others.
To complicate things more, in some cases the St. John's wort you buy may not be effective because the quality of the herb itself is not good. Over-the-counter herbs are not generally regulated by the government, so there's no guarantee that what you buy even contains what the bottle says it does. More important, recent studies have shown that St. John's wort can interfere with other drugs you may be taking, including birth control pills.
if you're interested in trying St. John's wort for depression
, discuss it with your health care provider first. back to top
What about St. John's wort in juices or foods?
The amount of St. John's wort contained in super juices
or other food products is so small that it couldn't have an effect on anybody. To get the prescribed daily dose of St. John's wort by drinking a popular "happy" juice, you'd have to slug down 18 servings. Plus, you'd have to keep doing that every day for weeks because St. John's wort builds up in your system slowly and may take more than a month to have an effect. back to top
What form of St. John's wort do health care providers prescribe?
The type of St. John's wort health care providers and herbal experts prescribe for depression
comes in the form of capsules. Experts suggest that you use capsules that are "standardized," or guaranteed to contain a certain amount of one of the plant's active ingredients.
Some studies have used St. John's wort capsules standardized to contain 0.3 percent hypericin. Other studies suggest that a different ingredient, hyperforin, may be more important. Fortunately, some brands of St. John's wort are standardized for both ingredients. Finding them, however, requires careful shopping. back to top
What is a typical dose?
Studies suggest that an effective dose of St. John's wort is 300 mg of standardized extract taken three times a day with food. It can take up to six weeks of daily use to notice an effect. It is necessary to discuss correct dosage with your doctor or health professional. back to top
Are there any side effects?
Some people experience an upset stomach, itching, restlessness, dizziness, confusion, or tiredness when they start taking St. John's wort. Lowering the dose may help relieve these side effects. Any side effects should go away when you stop taking the herb. back to top
Do not take St. John's wort if you are taking prescription antidepressants. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against taking St. John's wort if you are taking birth control pills or certain AIDS drugs called protease inhibitors. St. John's wort may keep these drugs from working effectively. It aslo interferes with Cyclosporine, a organ transplant drug, Digoxin, a heart muscle strengthener, Irinotecan and other cancer drugs, and Warfarin and other anticoagulants. See the NIH's website
for more information.
In rare cases, St. John's wort may cause an allergic reaction: if you experience difficulty breathing; swelling of your lips, tongue, or face; or hives, stop taking the herb and call a health care provider immediately.
St. John's wort can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It's a good idea to stay out of the sun while you're taking it, or at least use extra sunscreen and wear protective clothing.
Be sure to tell your doctor or health professional if you are taking any herbs or supplements.
The use of herbs is not recommended during pregnancy and breast-feeding except under the guidance of a health professional. back to top