An estimated 18 million Americans are affected by depression every year, and women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men. Today, this condition disables more people than heart disease or stroke. For mild to moderate depression, St. John’s wort offers safe, natural relief with few side effects.
While many herbal remedies have been used traditionally to treat depression, the most substantial scientific research has involved St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Used in Europe for many years, this herb has been proven in many studies to relieve mild to moderate depression safely and effectively.
“St. John’s wort is prescribed by doctors in Europe five times as often as Prozac,” says Hyla Cass, MD, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine. “Many of my patients have reported positive effects almost immediately, with a sensation of ‘a weight being lifted,’ decreased anxiety, and an enhanced ability to concentrate,” Dr. Cass explains.
A review of 23 randomized clinical trials on St. John’s wort, involving 1,700 people, showed an equivalent response to prescription antidepressants—without the side effects of these drugs. Unlike pharmaceuticals, St. John’s wort does not cause agitation or instability. It’s nonaddictive and can be stopped and restarted when needed. Some people notice improved sleep within a week to ten days, while others may not notice a real difference in mood for six weeks or more.
Research also shows St. John’s wort is effective for symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In one study, women experienced a 51 percent decrease in PMS symptoms overall, and more than two-thirds of them reported at least a 50 percent reduction in symptom severity.
St. John’s wort may interact with some prescription medications and decrease their effectiveness, according to John Neustadt, ND, a naturopathic physician and medical director of Montana Integrative Medicine. If someone is taking immunosuppressive drugs (e.g., Cyclosporine) or anticoagulant medication (e.g., Warfarin), St. John’s wort is not advised. This herb may also decrease the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.
As with any herbal medicine, consult a healthcare professional knowledgeable in herb-drug interactions before taking St. John’s wort, advises Dr. Neustadt. Depression can be serious, so if it lingers, seek professional help without delay.