St John's Wort

St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort has a long history as a herbal cure - it was even used in medicine by the Ancient Greeks to treat ‘nervous disorders’. Today it is best known as a herbal remedy for depression.

What is St John’s Wort?

St John’s Wort is a yellow-flowered shrub native to Europe, parts of Asia, Africa and America. The plant is named after John the Baptist whose birthday is celebrated on June 24 which is around the time that the shrub flowers. You can find St John’s Wort in various forms including: capsules, tablets, teas, tinctures, powdered, dried or in skin lotions. A typical dose to treat depression is 300mg three times a day taken with meals. It can take three to four weeks for St John’s Wort to make a difference.

Why do I need St John’s Wort?

St John’s Wort is best known as a treatment for depression. Studies suggest it can help treat mild-to-moderate depression and has fewer side-effects that prescribed antidepressants. There is some evidence to show it works as well as a popular group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which includes Prozac. Moreover, unlike prescribed tablets it doesn’t appear to cause a loss of libido.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure how St John’s Wort works but it seems to behave similarly to SSRIs (antidepressants such as Prozac) which work by boosting the production of ‘happy hormones’ such as serotonin and dopamine. More research is needed though, as not all studies agree on its effectiveness.

St John’s Wort may also be useful to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), to improve mood during the menopause, to relief the glumness associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and to help social phobia. St John’s Wort is also thought to have antibacterial properties and an anti-inflammatory effect which may make it helpful for treating wounds, minor burns and eczema. All these areas require further research.

Can St John’s Wort be harmful?

St John’s Wort interferes with prescribed medication. For example it can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives, it can also interact with antidepressants, allergy medication, HIV treatments, sedatives, blood pressure pills, statins and blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin. Consult a doctor before using St John’s Wort if you are using prescribed medicines.

Women using St John’s Wort may find it causes bleeding between periods.

Although St John’s Wort is used to treat mild to moderate depression it is not considered effective against major depression which can include suicidal thoughts and self-harming. If you suffer from severe depression you should seek medical advice.

Mild side-effects of St John’s Wort include stomach upsets, skin rashes, dizziness and headaches. St John’s Wort can also cause sensitivity to the sun which may mean you need to use a higher sun protection in hot weather and wear long sleeves.

St John’s Wort should not be used if you have bipolar disease as it can cause a higher risk of mania and also psychosis in people with schizophrenia and should not be taken if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive.