St. John’s Wort is a plant with yellow flowers, leaves and stems whose medicinal uses were first recorded in ancient Greece. It has long been a happy alternative for those reluctant to pop pills for depression and has also been used for anxiety and sleep disorders.
St. John’s Wort does not cause euphoria and, like regular antidepressants, is unlikely to elevate mood in people who aren’t truly depressed.
The vast majority of double blind placebo-controlled studies have found that St. John’s Wort extracts are as effective as standard antidepressant drugs (including antidepressants in the SSRI (Prozac) family) as a treatment for mild to moderate cases of major depression. Not surprisingly, those taking the herb supplement also showed significantly fewer negative side effects compared to those taking the prescription drug.
One study involving menopausal women with depression found that a combination of St. John’s Wort and black cohosh extracts improved both menopause symptoms and mood. St. John’s Wort is also sometimes tried for other conditions in which standard antidepressants might be recommended, such as anxiety, attention deficit disorder, PMS, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), chronic pain, insomnia, neuropathic pain, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, and quitting smoking.
Using St. John’s Wort extract might be justified, but products on the market vary considerably.
Virtually all studies of St. John’s Wort have used extracts rather than whole herb and most St. John’s Wort products are standardized to their content of a substance called hypericin, Hypericin act on chemical messengers in the nervous system that regulate mood. While hypericin may not be the most important constituent, products with standardized hypericin content have proven to be effective in human studies.
Four St. John’s Wort supplements failed testing by an independent lab due to contamination with cadmium. The following products exceeded these limits of 0.1 mcg of cadmium:
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