It's true that St. John's wort doesn't work for everyone. Debilitating depression and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) do not respond well to the herb. And, although most people who take St. John's wort for depression report no adverse reactions, some patients do develop side effects.
The side effects of St. John's wort can include photosensitivity (increased sensitivity of the skin to sunlight), fatigue, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety, dizziness, skin rashes and itching, allergy, and heart palpitations. St. John's wort side effects, however, appear to be mild and rare.
What is unclear, however, is the long-term safety of St. John's wort. No formal studies have evaluated the use of St. John's wort for longer than eight weeks. In Germany, where many people have used the standardized extract, there have been no reports of fatal reactions to the extract and an extremely low incidence of side effects, which are generally quite mild. That doesn't mean that side effects from long-term use won't show up years down the road, of course.
Nonetheless, a growing number of clinicians conclude that, for most patients, St. John's wort is a safe and effective short-term treatment for mild to moderate depression.
Bear in mind, however, that depression is a serious condition, and left untreated, it can be extremely destructive mentally, physically, and socially. It's important to consult a medical professional if you suspect you have depression, whether or not you are considering taking St. John's wort.
A professional can determine if your depression is a result of a physical problem, such as a thyroid hormone imbalance, or a side effect of a medication you take, in which case the depression may be better remedied by treating the underlying disorder or adjusting the medication. A medical professional can also help you determine what type of help is best for your particular situation.
If you have already been diagnosed with depression and are taking a pharmaceutical antidepressant, do not suddenly stop taking it or begin taking St. John's wort along with it. Discuss with your health-care practitioner the possibility of trying St. John's wort; if your practitioner approves, you will likely be weaned off of the pharmaceutical gradually to prevent any major reactions.
By following the home remedies discussed in this article, or by using St. John's wort, you may be able to improve your mood without resorting to pharmaceuticals. However, depression is a serious illness and you should always consult your doctor if you feel you could be descending into severe depression.
For more information on treating and understanding depression, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Depression can quickly spiral into a serious and dangerous problem. While severe cases of depression need a doctor's attention, mild depression can be treated with herbs available at your local health-food store. Learn more in Herbal Remedies for Depression.
- You can learn more about the causes and treatments of depression in How Depression Works.
- To learn more about stress and how it can contribute to depression, read How Stress Works.
- One of the major factors that can cause depression is anxiety. Learn how to alleviate this condition in Home Remedies for Anxiety.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.
Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.
Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.
Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.
ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.