Complementary and alternative medicine
Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) In Depression
St. John's wort latin name -
Hypericum perforatum is derived from Greek and means "over an
apparition," a reference to the belief that the herb was so
obnoxious to evil spirits that a whiff of it would cause them to
Hypericum perforatum has been used for thousands of
years by traditional healers as a botanical medicine. In Germany,
hypericum is used to treat first and foremost, mild to moderate
depression as well as anxiety and sleep disorder. In Germany,
approximately three million prescriptions for hypericum are issued
and almost 66 million daily doses of hypericum preparations are
St. John's wort has a long history of
folk use. Long before depression was isolated as an illness by
traditional western medicine, the symptoms of depression -- worry,
"nervous unrest," sleep disturbances, and others -- were treated in
folk medicine by St. John's wort.
Hypericum is currently
being medically studied as a treatment for AIDS, several forms of
cancer, bed wetting and night terrors in children, skin diseases
such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, peptic ulcers, and even
hangover. From the viewpoint of traditional western medicine, we
seem only at the threshold of hypericum's proven usefulness.
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopaedia of
In herbalist treatment, hypericum is
almost invariably the first choice for the treatment of Depression.
St. John's wort has been used in the treatment of
wounds (it has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties),
kidney and lung ailments, and what we would now call depression.
St. John's wort is said to soothe the digestive
In particular, its ingredients were thought to
relieve ulcers and gastritis.
The herb was called on as a folk medicine for
diarrhea and nausea.
Bruises and hemorrhoids are said to respond to
It has served as a sedative, painkiller, and
The blossoms of St. John's wort have been added
to sweek oil (a refined olive oil used medicinally) for a
soothing dressing for cuts.
Herbalists credit it with increasing and inducing
a sense of well-being. In modern herbal medicine, St. John's
wort is used first and foremost to treat depression.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, and you
think you even may act upon them, please get emergency medical
help at once. Call a suicide hotline, your physician, your
therapist, your religious counselor, or 911. Suicidal thoughts
are a natural part of depression. Any plan to act on these
thoughts is a danger signal that you must get help at once.
If you are taking prescription antidepressants,
do not alter your dosage or combine with hypericum without first
consulting your doctor. Do not take hypericum if you are taking
an MAO inhibitor.
If you have a preexisting medical or psychiatric
condition, please consult your doctor before taking hypericum.
Although they are few and generally mild, you
should carefully consider the side effects of hypericum before
taking it. For example, the extensive use of St. John's wort in
2,400 years of folk and herbal medicine as well as the
twenty-million people in Germany who have been taking hypericum
for more than a year and have not reported any long-term side
effects different or more prevalent than those of the
shorter-term medical studies.
Some of the most
troublesome side effects of prescription antidepressants --
reduced sexual drive or dysfunction, adverse interaction with
alcohol or other drugs, dry mouth, and headache -- were not
reported by patients taking hypericum.
side effects went away soon after the patients stopped taking
it. There were no "nonreversible" side effects; that is, no
permanent harm was done and all side effects were quickly
reversed as soon as the patients no longer took hypericum.
The side effects of hypericum are mild, indeed, when
compared to the symptoms of depression. At the extreme are the
21,000 suicides (70 percent of all suicides) that are a direct
result of untreated depression. Studies have shown that for
every suicide there are ten unsuccessful suicide attempts and
one hundred people who are seriously contemplating suicide.
depression is the number-one cause of alcoholism, drug
abuse, eating disorders, and other addictions. A significant
percentage of divorces, spousal and child abuse, absenteeism
from work, lost jobs, and bankruptcies are attributed to
Compared with the symptoms of
depression, the side effects of hypericum seem insignificant.
For most people suffering symptoms of depression, the potential
benefits far outweigh the possible risk of taking hypericum.
The low side-effect profile of hypericum -- especially when
taken in the dosage recommended for the treatment of depression
-- puts it in the category of herbs, vitamins, minerals, and
Ever watchful for
potential side effects, well-informed consumers can take
hypericum with confidence.
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