St. John's Wort has become popular again as an antidepressant. It is the number one treatment in Germany and has been extensively studied by Commission E, the scientific advisory panel to the German government. It contains several chemicals, including hypericin, hyperforin, and pseudohypericin, which are thought to be the major sources of antidepressant activity. In several studies of laboratory animals and humans, one or more of the chemicals in St. John's wort appeared to delay or decrease re-absorption of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin by nerve cells.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells. Ordinarily, once the message has been delivered, neurotransmitters are re-absorbed and inactivated by the cells that released them. Chemicals in St. John's wort may keep more of these antidepressant neurotransmitters available for the body to utilise. Multiple studies have shown that St. John's wort may be effective in relieving mild to moderate depression, although maximum antidepressant effects may take several weeks to develop.
St. John's Wort is an MAO inhibitor and should not be used with alcohol and some other foods.
St. John's wort has also been studied for the treatment of other emotional disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), menopausal mood swings, and premenstrual syndrome. In laboratory studies, it has shown some effectiveness for lessening the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and for reducing the craving for alcohol in addicted animals. It is believed that chemicals in St. John's wort may act like other chemicals that are associated with relieving emotional conditions.
Possible antiviral effects of St. John's wort are being investigated for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other viral illnesses. It is thought that hypericin, pseudohypericin, and other chemicals in St. John's wort may stick to the surfaces of viruses and keep them from binding to host cells. Another theory is that St. John's wort may contain chemicals that interfere with the production or release of viral cells. This antiviral activity is enhanced greatly by exposure to light. However, the doses needed for active antiviral effect from St. John's wort may be so high that unbearable side effects may limit its usefulness as an antiviral.
It has also been used to treat hypothyroidism and a salve made with the extract can be used topically to treat bruises, burns, insect bites and scabies.
Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum
Common Names: Amber Touch-and-Heal, Hardhay, Hypericum, Klamath Weed, Millepertuis, Rosin Rose, SJW, Tipton Weed
Properties: Strengthens the nervous system and speeds healing. Analgesic (pain relieving), Antidepressant, Antiviral, Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Diuretic (increases the flow of urine), Emmenagogic (Promotes menstrual flow), Nutritive tonic
Uses: Hypothyroidism Neuralgia, sciatica and back pain Pain from deep wounds Mild depression (not severe depression) Shingles, cold sores and herpes Spinal problems Joint pain Aging Trauma Eczema
Indicated for: Stomachache, colic, lung congestion, insomnia, anemia, headaches, jaundice, catarrh, Carcinoma (type of cancer), bedwetting, melancholy, uterine cramps, menstrual problems, antidote for intestinal worms. Source of hypercin which may counter the HIV virus.
Not to be taken together with the contraceptive pill, anti-epilepsy treatments and a number of other medications including anti-depressants. If you are taking any medication consult your doctor before starting St John's Wort. It should not be taken together with foods that contain tyramine i.e. cheese, red wine, preserved meats and yeast extracts.
Both oral and topical forms of St. John's wort may make unprotected skin more sensitive to sunlight or artificial light in sun tanning parlors. Some evidence from case reports also seems to associate a higher risk of cataracts with possible eye sensitisation to light when St. John's wort is taken. If you use St. John's wort, be sure to use sunscreen and eye protection when exposed to sunlight or artificial light used in sun tanning. Side effects reported from taking St. John's wort by mouth include: Dizziness, Drowsiness, Dry mouth, Headache, Irritability, Upset stomach.
Rare cases of serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous oversupply of serotonin in the body, have been attributed to taking St. John's wort. Uncontrolled serotonin syndrome may result in coma, seizures, and death. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include: Confusion, Euphoria, Fever, Hallucinations, Inability to coordinate muscles, Nausea, Restlessness, Shakiness, Sweating, Vomiting.
DO NOT take St. John's Wort if you are having Chemotherapy, or will be starting chemotherapy within several weeks, as St. John's wort affects the metabolism (breakdown) of chemotherapy drugs by the liver and therefore seems to make these drugs much less effective.