St. John's wort is a flowering plant/herb native to Europe that bears yellow, star-shaped flowers (with 5 petals). It grows in sunny, dry areas, in places like Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern Asia.
St. John's wort has many medicinal properties - some of the most notable are:
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Can be used topically to heal wounds and burns
- Analgesic properties: Pain as well as a pain reliever
- Sedative properties: Can be used as a sleep aid for those who suffer from insomnia or other sleeping disorders
- Antidepressant / Anxiolytic properties: Can be used to treat mild depression or anxiety
St. John's wort for depression
St. John's wort has been used for centuries in the treatment of mental health: cases of mild depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even more serious disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And that was before anyone knew anything about its active ingredients. Today, St. John's wort is still being used to treat mild to moderate depression (not so much for major depression), as well as to improve and balance mood, and decrease anxiety and insomnia. Research also supports its efficacy for menopausal women, who often experience fewer symptoms while taking it.
The flowers and leaves contain the active ingredients hyperforin and hypericin. These ingredients appear to increase the levels of chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, they then act to lift and regulate the mood. Hyperforin is believed to be the primary active constituent responsible for the antidepressant and anxiolytic properties of the extracts of St. John's wort.
St. John's wort is most commonly used to treat depression and associated conditions such as anxiety, sleep problems and seasonal affective disorder. Several studies support the therapeutic benefit of St. John's wort in treating mild to moderate depression. In fact, some research has shown it to be as effective as many prescription antidepressants, due to the scientifically proven inhibitory action of hypericin and hyperforin on serotonin reuptake.
Depression - especially major depression - can be a very serious condition which can lead to other physical and/or mental complications. To maintain a healthy body and mind, always consult your healthcare practitioner, and never self diagnose.
A 2016, an in-depth review of 35 studies examined the effects of St. John's wort on depression and found that:
- Improved overall mood
- Reduced the symptoms of mild and moderate depression more than a placebo
- Reduced the symptoms of depression and anxiety to a similar extent as prescription antidepressants
- Had fewer side effects than prescription antidepressants
- Didn't seem to reduce sex drive (a common side effect of prescription antidepressants)
In another controlled study, 251 people who took St. John's wort for six weeks experienced a 57% decrease in their depression score, compared to a 45% score in those who took prescribed antidepressants. Furthermore, in another controlled study in 241 people taking either St. John's wort or prescribed antidepressants, 69% experienced a reduction in symptoms with St. John's wort, while those taking prescribed antidepressants experienced a 70% reduction in symptoms.
These studies show that St. John's wort is as effective in the human body, and sometimes even more effective than prescribed medicine like antidepressants or antianxiety medications.
How to take St. John's wort
The plant's flowers and leaves are often dried and made into capsules and tea, or pressed for use in oils and liquid extracts. While it's usually taken orally in the form of capsules, tea or liquid extract, it can also be applied directly to the skin as an oil for external wounds.
These products can be found at natural health food stores, herbal stores, and do not require a prescription.
Although there is evidence showing the efficacy of this seemingly super herb, it does come with its cautions. St. John's wort may have different side effects for different people. It has not been proven to combat major depression, and could have many contraindications with other herbs and medications. In addition, dosage should be monitored and controlled.
Before taking St. John's wort, or any other herbs, vitamins or medications to begin your process of healing, always consult your healthcare practitioner, and never self diagnose.