Want to know more about St. John's Wort and how its been used to treat depression?

We asked the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for some answers.

We know: All about St. John's Wort

What has St. John's Wort been used to treat?

St. John's wort has been used for centuries to treat mental disorders as well as nerve pain. In ancient times, doctors and herbalists wrote about its use as a sedative and treatment for malaria, as well as a balm for wounds, burns, and insect bites.

Today, St. John's wort is used by some people to treat mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

Why is St. John's wort used as an alternative therapy for depression?

Some patients who take antidepressant drugs do not experience relief from their depression. Other patients have reported unpleasant side effects from their prescription medication, such as a dry mouth, nausea, headache, or effects on sexual function or sleep.

In addition, cost can be a reason. St. John's wort costs far less than many antidepressant medications, and it is sold without a prescription (over the counter).

How widely is St. John's wort used for treating depression?

In the United States, herbs such as St. John's wort are not as commonly recommended by doctors as they are in Europe. Today in Germany, for example, St. John's wort is used in the treatment of depression more than any other anti-depressant. It is also commonly used in Europe by sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis.

St. John's wort is an herb and, therefore, its sold over-the-counter. Unlike drugs, herbal products can be sold without requiring studies on dosage, safety, or effectiveness.

How is St. John's wort sold?

St. John's wort products are sold in the following forms:

  • Capsules.
  • Teas--the dried herb is added to boiling water and steeped for a period of time.
  • Extracts--specific types of chemicals are removed from the herb, leaving the desired chemicals in a concentrated form.

Are there any risks associated with taking St. John's wort?

People can experience side effects from taking St. John's wort. The most common side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and fatigue.

Also, St. John's wort is not a proven therapy for depression. If depression is not adequately treated, it can become severe and, in some cases, may be associated with suicide. Consult a health care practitioner if you or someone you care about may be experiencing depression.

Can St. John's wort interact with other drugs?

Research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shown that St. John's wort interacts with some drugs--including certain drugs used to control HIV infection, chemotherapeutic, or anticancer, drugs. The herb may also interact with drugs that help prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs (such as cyclosporine). Using St. John's wort limits these drugs' effectiveness.

In addition, there is some thought that St. John's wort may reduce the effectiveness of some birth control pills.

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