Benefits Of St John's Wort

Throughout the ages, the herb St John's wort has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions. The most well known benefits of St John's wort are of its use as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

As a herbal treatment, there are different preparations of St John's wort which may be taken or used internally & externally.

Preparations of St John's wort can take the form of:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • lotions
  • oils
  • tinctures

St John's Wort Is Cheap To Buy

Compared to traditional antidepressants, St John's wort is cheap to produce and buy. It is naturally abundant, to the point where in some regions, its invasive qualities means it is often considered a weed.

St John's Wort Is A Natural Product

As St John's wort is a natural herb many view this as a benefit; it is a 'product of the earth'.

However, whilst it is a natural product, 'natural' does not always mean it is safe (see dangers of St John's wort). Also, using natural plant material for preparations leads to greater variation in the quality of product.

Compared to traditional antidepressant treatments for depression, the side effects tend to be more mild.

Active Ingredients Of St John's Wort Can Be Created Synthetically

As some active ingredients of St John's wort can be produced synthetically, the quantity and quality of its active ingredient can be controlled.

LI 160 is an example of a popular hypericin based medication. LI 160 is produced by the German company Lichtwer Pharma and sold worldwide.

St John's Wort Can Help Treat Depression

As an antidepressant, St John's wort is a cost effective treatment with generally fewer adverse side effects, compared to traditional antidepressants. It is widely available; a prescription is not normally required.

However, over the counter sales of St John's wort are currently banned in Ireland. As it can interact with other medications and there are notable side effects, a prescription is required. St John's wort can still be legally imported into Ireland for personal use.

Another country where St John's wort cannot be bought over the counter is Germany, where it is prescribed to treat mild depression. St John's wort accounts for approximately 50% of the antidepressant market in Germany. In Germay St John's wort is prescribed more than traditional antidepressants like Prozac (fluoxetine)to treat depression.

Whilst St John's wort is growing in popularity as an antidepressant, there is debate as to whether it can successfully treat severe depression.

There is strong evidence that it can treat mild and moderate depression and that it is just as effective as traditional antidepressants [1].

For example, a comprehensive review looked at 29 clinical trials of St John's wort on severe depression. It was found that:

  • St John's wort was better than the placebo
  • St John's wort gave similar results to traditional antidepressants
  • Side effects of St John's wort were much lower than traditional SSRI and tricylic based antidepressants

However the results from these studies are inconclusive and suggest that St John's wort may be suited for mild to moderate depression than severe depression.

How Does St John's Wort Work? Antidepressants & St John's Wort

As with traditional antidepressants, how St John's wort works as an antidepressant is unclear.

St John's wort is thought to alter the balance of neurotransmitters which are linked to depression. These neurotransmitters include:

  • dopamine
  • gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)
  • noradrenaline
  • serotonin

As an antidepressant, St John's wort may act in a similar manner to traditional SSRI antidepressants which act by inhibiting serotonin reuptake. However, St John's wort antidepressive qualities may be due to its ability to cause a rise in serotonin levels.

Which active ingredient: hypericin or hyperforin?

There is also debate as to which extract of St John's wort has antidepressant properties.

It was initially thought that the antidepressant properties of this herb were from hypericin. More recent studies suggest it is hyperforin, another extract of St John's wort, which is responsible for the antidepressant qualities.

St John's Wort & S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a form of depression. It's onset is associated with a reduction in natural daylight. In the western hemisphere S.A.D. affects people during the late autumn to winter months when the sun is low and intensity of light weaker. As Seasonal Affective Disorder is seasonal and temporary, St John's wort can be taken to help treat mild to moderate cases.

St John's wort presents a cheap and convenient treatment option for S.A.D.. St John's wort is widely available and in most countries does not require a prescription. Any side effects of St John's wort tend to be mild.

St John's Wort Can Be Used Both As A Sedative & For Pain Relief

St John's wort has also been used to reduce the symptoms of:

  • anxiety
  • tension
  • neuralgia
  • menopause – reduces symptoms of anxiety and irritability

The calming and pain relieving effects of this herb are a further benefit of St John's wort.

Throughout the ages, this herb has been used as a natural sedative. As a sedative, St John's wort has the benefits of not being addictive or impairing cognition compared to Valium (diazepam), a tranquilizer often prescribed to treat anxiety.

In women, St John's wort, taken as a tea, can help alleviate menstrual difficulties and uterine cramping.

St John's Wort As A Sleep Aid

Whilst more research is needed, there are products containing St John's wort marketed as a sleep aid. These products may include other sleeping inducing herbs such as lemon and hops.

Further Benefits Of St John's wort

  • St John's wort has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Can be used to treat insect bites and malaria
  • Has been used to treat vitiligo, a skin condition characterized by patches of whitened (unpigmented) skin
  • Contains tannins which can soothe skin
  • Relieves ear pain – herbal drops which contain St John's wort may be as effective as conventional ear drops bought from a pharmacy
  • Can speed the healing of bruises, burns and wounds. It is a good remedy for sunburn. Although in some cases preparations taken for depression can cause photosensitization and increase the likelihood of sunburn, a side effect of St John's wort.
  • Has the potential to treat other conditions including:
  • CMV
  • HPV (genital warts)
  • AIDS – may work alongside AZT drug treatment to enhance its effectiveness