St. John's Wort: A Natural Alternative for Treating Depression

by Kirsten Whittaker

; | St. John s Wort: A Natural Alternative For Treating Depression Symptoms?

St. John s Wort: A Natural Alternative For Treating Depression Symptoms?

By: Kirsten Whittaker

German scientists just completed a research review regarding the effectiveness of the herb St. John s Wort that pooled data from 29 studies involving nearly 5,500 patients with mild to moderately severe depression symptoms. The team compared the effects of St. John s Wort to a placebo, as well as to a wide range of the most popular antidepressants.

The numbers of patients who are taking prescription antidepressants is rising steadily throughout the world and has been for years. Between 1995 and 2002, the most recent years for which numbers are available, the use of these medications went up 48 according to CDC figures. Still many patients, uncomfortable with the often disruptive side effects of these prescription medications, and unsure of their safety over the long term, have sought natural alternatives.

Overall, the St. John s Wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants, the researchers, led by Dr Klaus Linde from the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, Germany reported. There have been other studies that suggest St. John s Wort is effective for treating mild to moderate depression, but more work is needed to completely confirm this link.

Encouraging... but just what is St. John s Wort anyway? Used for thousands of years, the herb comes from a beautiful, bright yellow, star shaped flower, and works by keeping a chemical known as serotonin in the brain for longer. This substance is known to be one of the major players in mood, though exactly how it works is still not known. You can get this remarkable little herb in several forms, capsules, as a liquid or in a tea bag for brewing. You should know that there are considerable variations in purity of ingredients, strength and quality between many of the products on the market today.

Generally this herb is well tolerated if you stick to the recommended doses more is not better. Just because it is natural, does not man that you can t be hurt by taking too much. Side effects from St. John s Wort include increased sensitivity to sunlight, as well as dizziness, tiredness, gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, dry mouth and hair loss. Follow the storage and dosing recommendations on any product you buy, and be sure to shop carefully watching for quality ingredients, consistent manufacturing processes and realistic claims. If it sounds too good to be true... it very likely is.

Another reason so many hope for natural alternatives for treating depression is the alarming stories of teens taking antidepressants with sometimes tragic consequences. During the 1990 s, antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI s), were thought to increase the risk of suicidal behavior in children and adults. In 2004 the FDA took an unprecedented step, issuing a black box warning concerning antidepressant use in young people. No one can say for certain that the risks of these drugs outweigh the benefits. This is a highly personal decision between a young patient, the parents and the physician involved.

St. John s Wort, while natural and effective for mild depression symptoms, does have some problems of its own. Mainly the concerns over drug interactions, especially when it comes to birth control pills, other antidepressants, cyclosporine, digoxin, indinavir (and other meds used in HIV treatment), Irinotecan (and other drugs to treat cancer), wafarin and related anticoagulants. If you take any of these medications, talk to your doctor before you begin using St. John s Wort to be sure it is safe for you.

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