Depression affects more than 300 million people around the world, including 1 in 10 adults in the US alone.
While many drugs effectively treat depression, some people prefer to use natural or alternative remedies.
St. John's wort is a medicinal plant that has been used for centuries to treat depression, among a host of other conditions.
What Is St. John's Wort?
St. John's wort, botanically known as Hypericum perforatum, is a wild plant native to Europe and Asia. It has yellow, star-shaped flowers.It's traditionally harvested around St. John's Day in late June — hence the name.The plant's flowers and buds can either be dried and made into capsules and tea or pressed for use in oils and liquid extracts.It's most commonly used to treat depression and associated conditions, such as anxiety, sleep problems and seasonal affective disorder.While it's usually taken orally in the form of capsules, tea or liquid extract, it can also be applied directly to the skin as an oil. In the US, it's classed as a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and not approved as a prescription medicine for depression.However, it's one of the most commonly purchased herbal products in the US.
How Does It Work?
While St. John's wort's effects on your body are not fully understood, it's thought to work similarly to antidepressants.
Research suggests that a number of its active ingredients, including hypericin, hyperforin and adhyperforin, may be responsible for these benefits.
These ingredients appear to increase the levels of chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. These then act to lift and regulate your mood .
Interestingly, St. John's wort doesn't have some of the common side effects of prescription antidepressants, such as loss of sex drive.
It May Be as Effective as Antidepressants
There is strong evidence to support the use of St. John's wort in the treatment of depression.In 2016, an in-depth review of 35 studies examined these effects.It found that St. John's wort:
· Reduced symptoms of mild and moderate depression more than a placebo
· Reduced symptoms to a similar extent as prescription antidepressants
· Appeared to have fewer side effects than prescription antidepressants
· Doesn't seem to reduce sex drive, a common side effect of antidepressants
However, there was a lack of research on its effects on severe depression.
Another recent analysis looked at 27 studies comparing the effects of St. John's wort and antidepressant medication. It showed that St. John's wort had effects similar to those of antidepressants on mild to moderate depression.It also found fewer people stopped taking St. John's wort during the studies, compared to antidepressants. This could be due to its fewer side effects.Furthermore, in one controlled study, 251 people who took 900–1,800 mg of St. John's wort for six weeks experienced a 56.6% decrease in their depression score, compared to a 44.8% decrease in those on antidepressants. Lastly, another controlled study in 241 people taking either St. John's wort or an antidepressant found that 68.6% of people experienced a reduction in symptoms with St. John's wort, compared to 70.4% of those on an antidepressant.