New comprehensive research found ample evidence to support use of St. John's wort for mild to moderate depression, especially since it "... is equally safe in depression patients as compared to existing SSRIs, and superior to SSRIs in terms of safety and minimal adverse effects".
For When the Holidays Are Not Always Jolly
"Depression is the most common mental disorder, affecting about 3.8% of the population worldwide". (1) Clinical symptoms of depression include sadness, anxiety and frequent mood swings, among others. And the holiday season will sometimes make this felt more acutely. Perhaps someone is struggling with lonliness, the loss of loved ones, financial difficulties, or dreading seeing some specific estranged relative.
The holidays can also be a trigger for individuals who struggle with neurotransmitter imbalances and wintertime seasonal depression, a class of depression that is recognized by mental health experts called 'seasonal affective disorder' (SAD). Seasonal depression is worse in the winter months due to shorter days and decreased sunlight. Decreased levels of serotonin and low levels of vitamin D cause a disruption in circadian rhythms and are generally thought of as triggers of seasonal affective disorder. Individuals who live in colder, snowy areas and areas that are farther from the equator are more at risk for seasonal affective disorder. "At the very basic science level, exposure to light has been reported to activate the synthesis of serotonin in yeast extracts, suggesting a direct relationship between sunshine and the production of serotonin". (2)
Earlier this year, researchers studied over a dozen clinical trials, with over two thousand participants, and found sufficinet evidence to support the use of St. John's wort in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. But not just that, they also found there were significantly less side effects than when conventional antidepressant prescriptions were used! (1).
The Not-So-Lofty Side Effects of Zoloft and Others
"The primary medicines used to treat depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), etc., ... Along with these, other drugs such as serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor– noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (SNRI–NaSSA) – can be used. However, these medications are associated with various adverse side effects like dizziness, indigestion, diarrhea, blurred vision, dry mouth, and others". (1) Therefore, for the effective treatment of depression with minimum side effects, various studies have reported the use of St. John’s wort extract.
'Hypericum perforatum' by Any Other Name; a Classic Natural Medicine for Depression
St. John's wort, also known as 'Hypericum perforatum', is a flowering plant from the Hyperaciae family with centuries of use as a herbal remedy for various mental illnesses like mild to moderate depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia, etc. St. John's wort is a plant native to Europe with yellow, star-shaped flowers and is named after John the Baptist because the plant generally begins to flower around the 24th of June, the feast day of St. John the Baptist.
The herb's past is not without some controversy though. Its use alongside medications like Alprazolam (Xanax) is discouraged since it can increase the clearance of alprazolam thourgh the liver and decreases its effects. For reasons like this, France has banned the use of St. John's wort and several other countries require drug-herb interaction cautionary language on St. John's wort products. (3)
But this is where the oversight of a clinician specifically trained in the use of botanical medicines comes in. Herbal remedies and other natural medicine therapies are complexes of different compounds, just because they are not man-made does not necessarily mean they are without risk!
St. John's wort, for example, has many other therapeutic uses beyond antidepressant capabilities. It is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with marked antiviral and antibacterial properties as well as supportive for menopausal symptoms. (3) St. John’s wort is reported to reduce neuralgia, anxiety and stress by regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and others in the brain. Therefore, it has been used in the treatment of many neurological issues as well as fibromyalgia and even chronic fatigue syndrome. (3)
Thankfully, research like the meta-analysis of randomized clincial trials featured here has shown that when used appropriately, St. John's wort can be safe and effective, with notably less side effects than prescription medications. And this may be just what someone needs to help make their holiday season a little bit brighter.
Zhao, Xin et al. “The efficacy and safety of St. John's wort extract in depression therapy compared to SSRIs in adults: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials.” Advances in clinical and experimental medicine : official organ Wroclaw Medical University vol. 32,2 (2023): 151-161. doi:10.17219/acem/152942.
The content and any recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to replace the advice of the reader's own licensed healthcare professional or physician and are not intended to be taken as direct diagnostic or treatment directives. Any treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and/or health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a licensed naturopathic physician.