Facts on Hypericum:
prescription antidepressants are not "uppers," stimulants, or addictive.
The Side Effects of Hypericum
St. John's wort has an excellent safety record during centuries of folk
medicine. Recent medical studies confirm this safety. The extensive use
of hypericum in Germany (sixty-six million daily doses in 1994) has not
resulted in medical reports of serious drug interactions or even
toxicity after accidental overdose.
The side effects of hypericum are mild and insignificant when compared
to the symptoms of depression. For most people suffering symptoms of
depression, the potential benefits far outweigh the possible risk of
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 over-the-counter medications.
Further, hypericum's 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.
As to toxicity, hypericum is safer than aspirin. Five hundred to one
thousand people die each year from aspirin, usually
from internal bleeding. Hypericum, by comparison, does not have a single
recorded human death in 2,400 years of known medicinal use.
In a study of 3,250 patients taking hypericum, only 2.4 percent
experienced any side effects at all.
The side effects reported tended to be mild. Gastrointestinal
irritations accounted for 0.6 percent, allergic reactions for 0.5
percent, tiredness for 0.4 percent, and restlessness for 0.3 percent.
(Interestingly, in fifteen studies involving 1,008 patients, the side
effects in the control group given a harmless placebo were slightly
higher than that of hypericum4.8 percent for the placebo group and 4.1
percent for hypericum. The dropout rate of the placebo group was higher,
too1.8 percent for the placebo group compared with 0.4 percent for
A higher figure was reported by the British Medical Journal in a review
of six hypericum studies. In these, 10.8 percent of the patients
reported side effects with hypericum (similar to the ones listed above),
while 35.9 percent reported side effects taking prescription
antidepressants. Even at this higher rate, the British Medical Journal
concluded the side effects of hypericum were "rare and mild."
In fact, the only fatal toxicity known is in certain light-skinned
animals, such a sheep, who die not from ingesting large quantities of
St. John's wort while grazing, but of exposure to sun after. (This is
why hypericum is considered a dangerous weed in Australia and is listed
in Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America, by Nancy J.
Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski.)
Hypericum increases the animals' susceptibility to sunlight, and they
become sick and sometimes die from extreme sunburn. Medically, it's
known as phototoxicity -- the overexposure to light (photo) is harmful
This phenomenon, while theoretically possible in humans, has not been
documented in the recommended doses for depression. Not a single case of phototoxicity has been reported in human medical studies at
depression-dosage levels. Even in AIDS research involving intravenous hypericum doses thirty-five times greater than the recommended dose for
depression, the phototoxic effects have been few and never deadly. (High
doses of hypericum are being medically investigated for its antiviral
The potential for phototoxicity should be kept in mind, however, if one
has a prior hypersensitivity to sunlight, or if one is taking other
photosensitizing drugs such as Chlorpromazine and Tetracyclines.
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.
Ever watchful for potential side effects, well-informed consumers can
take hypericum with confidence.
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