St johns wort for depression- does it work?

Study published in Pharmacopsychiatry compared St johns wort to Paxil

I”m going to save you a lot of time researching about St johns wort for depression from this study I’ve conducted on the flower (AKA Hypericum perforatum).  My findings about St johns wort are collected from a host of authority sites and vary pro and con. The results are shocking:

PRO: From the Alternative Medicine Zone: “St. John’s Wort is definitely the most popular herbal treatment for depression that is used these days, and there has actually been a lot of research done on this substance and how it affects overall happiness. This is actually one of the oldest herbal treatments in existence today as it was used back in the medieval days to ward off bad spirits and bring back a feeling of safety. Many medical professionals also used this plant to heal wounds when there was a physical problem on the body.”  read whole article

PRO:  FROM  ” In a randomized, double-blind placebo controlled study, published in Pharmacopsychiatry a group of 147 people took either a St. John’s Wort extract with 3 percent hyperforin, one with 0.5 percent hyperforin or a placebo. At the end of the six-week trial, those taking the highest hyperforin dose showed the most positive results. After eight days, those who took the higher hyperforin showed the greatest changes in delta, theta and alpha-1 brain wave activity. Scientists hypothesize that this is physical evidence that hyperforin is inhibiting the re-uptake of seratonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. This finding is so significant that Pharmacopsychiatry, a highly regarded German journal of clinical pharmacology and psychiatry, recently devoted an entire supplemental issue to hyperforin. It includes several recent clinical studies that show hyperforin to be the compound responsible for inhibiting neurotransmitter reuptake — rather than the compound hypericin as previously believed. With every passing day, clinical research is amassing more data demonstrating hyperforin to be the key to St. John’s Wort’s power.” read more

CON: From the National Institute of Mental Health:  “While minor depression is by definition a milder condition than major depression, research suggests it has consequences for health and well-being that go beyond the symptoms themselves, including lost work days, social difficulties, and possibly a higher risk of developing future major depression. The authors are careful to point out that the reason that there was no difference in benefit between St. John’s Wort, citalopram, and placebo was not because the study was too small to detect a difference, but because participants taking placebo experienced substantial improvement in measures of depression and well-being—participation in the study had positive effects. In addition, participants taking all three treatments—even those on placebo—experienced side-effects. Fewer of the subjects taking St. John’s Wort reported that side effects were distressing (40 vs. 60 percent); but St. John’s Wort recipients reported more gastrointestinal and sleep problems than those receiving placebo.”  read more

CON:  National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health:  ”Studies suggest that St. John’s wort is of minimal benefit in treating major depression. A study cofunded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found that St. John’s wort was no more effective than placebo in treating major depression of moderate severity. There is some scientific evidence that St. John’s wort is useful for milder forms of depression. St. John’s wort interacts with certain drugs, and these interactions can limit the effectiveness of some prescription medicines. St. John’s wort is not a proven therapy for depression. ”  read more

And this from FROM WEB MD:  “More than 30 clinical studies have been conducted over the past 22 years to evaluate the effectiveness of St. John’s wort. While the true benefits of St. John’s wort are still being explored, if you do choose to use it, be sure to learn all you can and check with your doctor before taking it.

Is there scientific evidence that supports the use of St. John’s wort for depression?

There is some scientific evidence that St. John’s wort is helpful in treating mild to moderate depression. However, two large studies, one sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), showed that the herb was no more effective than placebo in treating major depression of moderate severity. NCCAM is currently studying the use of St. John’s wort in a wider spectrum of mood disorders, including minodepression.” read whole article

According to James F Balch, MD, Mark Stengler, ND and Robin Young Balch, ND, authors of the book entitled “Prescription for Drug Alternatives” ( a Google book)  “One often cited study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that St. John’s wort is not effective in treating major or severe cases of depression. It should be noted that St. John’s wort has mainly been studied for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Most practitioners do not use St. John’s wort in treating severe depression. The placebo response in this study was very low, which brings into question the study design. In any event, one study on a major depression cannot exclude the findings of over 25 positive studies.” read this, from Google books

CONCLUSION: I’ve bold-ed out a portion of the last finding because the study referred to by JAMA apparently is the one most often cited. All authors may agree with my following statement (perhaps but I’m not sure)- From what I learned-  it is imperative not to take St johns wort if you are taking other medications for depression or otherwise.  Reason being, this little yellow flower is powerful (although not a drug) but can interact with other medications.  If you haven’t done so, please check out  ”Prescription for Drug Alternatives” in full.  In brief, there are indeed studies that show that St johns wort for depression has been clinically proven to work… but only for mild to maybe moderate depression.

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