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St. John's Wort and Depression

By: Corinna Underwood - Updated: 1 Jul 2013 | comments*Discuss
St. John's Wort Hypericin Depression

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), otherwise known as hypericum, Klamath weed and goat weed, originates from Europe. It has interested herbalists as far back as Ancient Greece, when physicians recommended the herb for menstrual disorders and healing wounds. Later, in medieval times, it was believed that wearing the herb would aid soldiers in battles, would help leaders make decisions and would banish evil. The red juice contained in the stems of the plant was associated with the blood of John the Baptist, which is how the plant acquired its name. Today St. John's Wort is still used in various ways in herbal medicine, and scientific research has enabled us to discover more about its healing properties.

St. John's Wort for Depression

Several years ago German scientists began to get excited about the possibility of using St. John's Wort as an alternative to the anti-depressant Jarsin (similar to Prozac). Since then, German Commission E has studied the herb extensively and has built a strong case for the uses of St. John's Wort with the mood disorder. One of its particularly useful components is an agent called hypericin. Hypericin is the chemical that produces the red die so abundant in the plant. It can also be produced synthetically.

In 1996, The British Medical Journal published a series of reviews of 23 trials measuring the therapeutic potential of St. John's Wort. Though theses studies were short term and tested small groups, their evidence suggests that people treated with St. John's Wort showed more improvement than those given placebos. Could St. John's Wort and its components lead the way to a range of safer anti-depressants, without the side effects of drugs like Prozac?

It has been suggested that certain types of clinical depression can result from a decrease in the activity of neuroreceptors in the brain. Hypericin seems to affect the brain in the same way that Prozac does. That is, by extending the activity of serotonin; a mood-enhancing chemical produced in the brain. But hypericin's range of activity has been shown to be broader than drugs similar to Prozac.

In animal trials it has been shown to extend the activity of two other chemicals in the brain which are related to depression; dopamine and norepinephrine. Because of these properties, St. John's Wort is also believed to be an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Unlike some anti-depressants that work as stimulants, Hypericin is a mild sedative. This makes it advantageous for people suffering from mild depression with high anxiety.


When taken internally in large amounts, St. John's Wort may cause heightened sun sensitivity, particularly in fair skinned people, it can also interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. It is important that St. John's Wort is not taken along with any other prescribed anti-depressants otherwise their interactions may be fatal. It is also recommended that you should not use ephedra or drink red wine while taking this herb.

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