St. John’s Wort (or Hypericum perforatum to the botanists, herbalists, and Latin lovers out there) is an herb commonly used to combat depression or serve as a ‘mood booster’. However, the herb will not work for every type of depression and is not recommended for use by everyone. In many ways, St. John’s wort presents a number of potential problems, especially for women.
When it comes to depression, St. John’s wort is typically found to work best at low severity levels, usually mild to moderate depression. Those with moderate depression may not receive the same level of relief compared to those with a milder form and severely depressed patients may not benefit from the herb at all. The good news is that for the mildly or seasonally depressed person, St. John’s wort can possibly offer some over-the-counter relief from the doldrums without having to resort to stronger medications with more side effects. Still, it is important to keep in mind that St. John’s wort is not without a flaw.
General side effects from using St. John’s wort include headaches or fatigue, sensitivity to sunlight, dizziness, dry mouth, and anxiety in some. For women, however, St. John’s wort can present more serious problems.
Women on contraceptives, for example, should refrain from St. John’s wort or use it with caution. Due to the herb’s effects on an enzyme in the body, hormones found in birth control are processed more quickly, rendering the medication less effective in preventing pregnancy. Therefore, it is important to utilize other methods of birth control if you intend on taking St. John’s wort for a period of time or consider other avenues of relief for your symptoms of depression. Other medications, such as warfarin and digoxin, are also not recommended to be used in conjunction with St. John’s wort. Similar to the effects on contraceptives, St. John’s wort can decrease the effectiveness of these prescriptions, which could put heart patients, who rely on these drugs to stay healthy, in a dangerous situation. In addition to the interactions St. John’s wort has with some medications, it should also be avoided if you are nursing, pregnant, or think you may be pregnant.
Depression and anxiety is a common problem for many and using St. John’s wort, particularly for milder problems, may be a safer and more affordable option than antidepressant medication. However, it is important that the herb be approached carefully. Those on certain prescriptions, such as heart medications or a regimen of contraceptives, and women who are nursing or pregnant should look to other options that may help reduce their symptoms of depression. Remember, if you have any doubt, always consult your physician or a pharmacist before utilizing St. John’s wort, or any herbal supplement for that matter, especially if you are taking other medications or have any severe health problems.
1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institue of Health. Herbs at a glance: St. John’s Wort. Updated April 22, 2008. Available online at : http://nccam.nih.gov/health/stjohnswort
2. Henderson L, Yue QY, Bergquist C, Gerden B, Arlett P. St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum):
drug interactions and clinical outcomes. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2002 Oct; 54(4):349-56
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