BACKGROUND: This venerable herb is best known for easing feelings of depression. However, it has many other benefits, such as in wound healing and the prevention of scars, relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and hot flashes, and enhancing liver detoxification.
HOW IT WORKS: The herb likely works through a variety of mechanisms because of the chemical complexity of the herb’s constituents. St. John’s wort may relieve depression by improving serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. Its rich content of antioxidants is also important for the brain, as well as more generalized healing. The herb activates some liver enzymes, enhancing the breakdown of pharmaceutical drugs and toxins.
HEALTH BENEFITS: St. John’s wort has striking diverse health benefits for the following:
At age 50, Joan was feeling depressed, her sleep was often disrupted by hot flashes, and she felt tired much of the time. Joan didn’t want to take prescription drugs because of their side effects, so she sought the advice of a nutrition consultant at a local health food store. The recommendation was straightforward: St. John’s wort capsules.
After taking the capsules daily
A new study of 100 perimenopausal women found that St. John’s wort significantly reduced hot flashes after eight weeks of daily use.
Depression. This herb is well-documented for its benefits in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Many studies have found that it works just as well as—and often better than—prescription antidepressant drugs. Another benefit: it is far less likely to cause side effects, such as weight gain or erectile dysfunction. Try 300 milligrams of the standardized extract three times daily (adding up to a total of 900 milligrams daily).
The benefits and safety of St. John’s wort extends to children with depression. In a European study, doctors treated 74 children with depression, anxiety, and other mild psychiatric symptoms. Dosages ranged from 300 to 1,800 milligrams daily for four to six weeks. After just two weeks, three out of four children had better moods, and after six weeks all of them did, according to the researchers.
Severe Depression. The use of St. John’s wort in the most severe forms of depression has been controversial, as has any medication, for that matter. But a recent analysis of data from 29 studies, including 5,500 people, found that St. John’s wort was more effective than placebos and generally equivalent to pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of major depression, the most serious type. The beneficial amount was 1,800 milligrams daily, taken in three 600 milligram doses.
Healing. A study published earlier this year in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that applying a lotion containing St. John’s wort sped healing and reduced scarring in women who had just undergone a Cesarean section.
Premenstrual Syndrome. A study of 19 women conducted in England found that St. John’s wort reduced PMS symptoms—including anxiety, depression, nervous tension, confusion, and crying. Two-thirds of the women had their PMS symptoms reduced by more than half.
Liver Detoxification. St. John’s wort increases the activity of the liver’s CYP3A4 and CYP2C9 enzymes, which are involved in breaking down pharmaceutical drugs and toxins. In general, that’s good— but it can reduce the effectiveness of some medications (see “Heads Up,” right).
GLEANINGS: Studies have found St. John’s wort works at least as well as common prescription depression drugs, such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. It sometimes works even better, and without as many side effects.
HEADS UP: St. John’s wort speeds the breakdown of some drugs, including oral contraceptives, benzodiazepines, digitalis, warfarin, and cancer chemotherapeutic drugs—rendering them less effective.
WHAT YOU SHOULD TAKE: When shopping, look for a standardized formula, whether in capsules, tablets, or tinctures. Standardization means the product has been prepared with consistent amounts of the key constituents from batch to batch, usually 3 percent hyperforin or 0.3 percent hypericin. If you’re taking capsules or tablets, try approximately 300 milligrams three times daily. If you’re taking a tincture, follow label directions.
Product Examples (from left)
New Chapter Mood Take Care combines potency-assured extracts of hyperforin and hypericins in gluten-free softgels.
Solgar St. John’s Wort ‘300’ Herb Extract premium-quality capsules are standardized for full potency, and are kosher and suitable for vegetarians.
Nature’s Plus St. John’s Wort Herbal Actives, 450 mg is standardized to a minimum of 0.3—0.5% hypericin to guarantee consistent potency.
Source Naturals St. John’s Wort Extract is a once-daily tablet that is gradually released over a 12-hour period, and is standardized to consistently supply 0.3% hypericin.