What Is St. John’s Wort?

What Is St. John’s Wort?

What is St. John’s Wort? St. John’s Wort or Hypericum perforatum is a flower native to Europe that gets its name because it often blooms on the birthday of John the Baptist. The flowers and leaves of St. John’s Wort contain several ingredients such as hyperforin that can have supplemental effects for treating mild to moderate forms of depression and possibly symptoms of menopause. St. John’s Wort can be taken as supplemental tea, supplemental tablets, in liquid form, or even topically. However, before you go out and pick up some from your neighborhood pharmacy let me show you that the dangers of this little flower may outweigh its benefits in treating some types of depression.  


Does It Actually Help Anxiety or Depression?

There have been many studies regarding the benefits and dangers of St. John’s Wort for anxiety and depression treatment. The results of these studies, however, are mixed. Several studies regarding St. John’s Wort and the treatment of depression conclude that it is as effective in treating depression symptoms as some antidepressant medication. However, there are almost as many if not more studies have shown that St. John’s Wort showed no significant difference compared to the control or placebo group.

 

To answer the question, does St. John’s Wort actually treats anxiety and depression, the answer is likely that it depends on the individual. St. John’s Wort can be as effective as antidepressant medications for some types of depression and can be used as a supplement in addition to some medication to treat depression. However, St. John’s Wort can be more dangerous than beneficial for some individuals. St. John’s Wort, when taken in combination with many medications weakens their effectiveness which can be dangerous or even deadly. Some of the medications that St. John’s Wort has been shown to weaken include antidepressants, birth control, Digoxin, and Warfarin. In addition to weakening the effect of medication, St. John’s Wort has also been proven to have serious adverse reactions with medications that can lead to serious injury or even death.   

 

Are There Any Risks For Taking St. John’s Wort?

            Before you consider taking St. John’s Wort for yourself, let us go over some of the many dangerous side effects and adverse reactions that can happen with taking it on its own or in combination with many other medications. There is a reason that your health care provider asks you if you are taking any over-the-counter supplements or medicinal herbs because many of them, like St. John’s Wort, react poorly with prescription medications.

 

St. John’s Wort can cause adverse reactions when taken with many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. As stated earlier, St. John’s Wort has been shown to weaken the effects of several medications such as birth control, antidepressants, Digoxin, and Warfarin. For medications like birth control, the effects are not life-threatening but when taken with Digoxin, a cardiac medication, the weaken effects can be dangerous for your health. In addition to weakening some medications, St. John’s Wort has been proven to strengthen the effects of medications such as Indinavir and Cyclosporin which can cause a significant reduction of plasma concentration of these drugs. This reduction in plasma concentration can lead to a rise in medication levels and even significantly enough that it causes toxicity. Finally, St. John’s Wort when taken with many antidepressants and antipsychotics such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can lead to dangerous alterations to neurotransmitters in the brain. Taking St. John’s Wort in combination with medications such as Citalopram and Fluoxetine can lead to a significant increase in the neurotransmitter serotonin causing Serotonin Syndrome. When not treated properly, Serotonin Syndrome can lead to serious injury or even death.

 

Because St. John’s Wort is an alternative or supplemental treatment option, providers are not required to report side effects in the same way as prescription medications. Some of the side effects that have been reported include agitation, anxiety, burning sensation, dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, increased sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity), insomnia, irritability, hypoglycemia, and vivid dreams. In addition to these side effects, it is important you do not take St. John’s Wort while pregnant or breastfeeding as it has been shown to cross through the placenta and through the breastmilk. Finally, St. John’s Wort is not intended to treat major depression or suicidal ideations. If you are experiencing these contact a trained professional or your local psychiatric emergency hotline.


So Who Can Take St. John’s Wort?

            Aside from its dangerous side effects and adverse reaction, St. John’s Wort can be positive for some types of people. Compared to some antidepressant medication, there are fewer reported side effects when taking St. John’s Wort alone. However, this can be biased, because St. John’s Wort is an over-the-counter supplement that does not require its side effects and adverse reactions to be reported in the same way that prescription medications do. If you are considering taking St. John’s Wort, it has been shown to help treat moderate to mild types of depression and may even help reduce hot flashes associated with menopause. However, St. John’s Wort may not be right for you and should not be taken in addition to many prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements. Before taking St. John’s Wort, it is important that you discuss it with your doctor or primary care provider on whether or not it is safe for you.

 

St. John’s Wort can be taken as an alternative option for the treatment of mild depression; however, the question remains whether or not St. John’s Wort is safe to use. Research into the effects of St. John’s Wort as a treatment option for depression has mixed results. Some conclude that it works just as well as many common prescription medications and others conclude that it shows no significant differences compared to the placebo group. When examining these mixed results and the dangerous side effects and drug reactions St. John’s Wort can cause, it is questionable whether or not anyone should be taking it without discussing it with a trained professional. If you are considering taking St. John’s Wort speak with your health care provider first regarding its dangers and benefits as well as if it will negatively interact with any medications you are currently taking.  

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