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The Antidepressant Herb

December 25, 2008 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

This is a time of year that’s supposed to be joyful. But for some people the holidays can make depression even more pronounced. Perhaps that’s why a particular question and answer column was published in the December issue of Clinical Psychiatric News.

In that piece, Drs. Jan Leard-Hansson and Laurence Guttmacher address the issue of patients who are depressed, but refuse to take prescription antidepressants. In particular, these psychiatrists assess whether the herbal extract of St. John’s wort (SJW) is a viable alternative to prescription medications for depression.

A Saintly Job of Lifting the Blues

St. John’s wort is arguably the most popular natural remedy to help with mood disorders. In the past few decades, much research has been devoted to determine whether it’s truly safe and effective. The results have been mixed. Some studies show positive outcomes. Others appear to show a lack of efficacy. These mixed results led to a thorough examination of 29 published studies on St. John’s wort.

Here’s what the examination revealed:

  • St. John's WortThe depressed patients receiving SJW responded much better than those receiving placebos (inactive pills).
  • In the studies that compared SJW to prescription antidepressants, SJW performed as well as the medications.
  • The same number of patients using SJW and placebos dropped out of the trials due to side-effects. In other words, SJW produced no more side-effects  than the inactive pills. This generally indicates a good safety profile.
  • More patients using the prescribed medications dropped out of the trials due to side-effects (as compared to the SJW users).

The dosages used in most of the studies ranged from between 500 mg to 1,200 mg. A typical daily dosage is 900 mg of a standardized SJW extract. Standardization is a process by which supplement manufacturers ensure the same amount of “active ingredients” in each pill.

A few of the best researched and most reliable SJW extracts on the US market are Kira (by Abkit, Lichtwer Healthcare) and Perika (by Nature’s Way). These products have been scientifically studied and shown in some experiments to be effective in the management of depression.

The authors of this review summarize their thoughts as follows: “The best available evidence suggests that St. John’s wort is better than placebo for treating major depressive disorder, is as effective as some synthetic antidepressants when used in low to moderate dosing ranges, and has fewer side effects than do synthetic antidepressants.”

Please be aware that St. John’s wort may interact with certain medications. It’s not advisable to combine SJW with antidepressant medications. If you decide to start taking SJW please let your doctor and pharmacist know about it. This will allow your health team to help monitor your response to this natural medicine and help prevent any unwanted complications.

Be well and Merry Christmas!


Referenced Material

Link – Clinical Psychiatry News: St. John’s Wort

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