Herbal Remedy, mental health

Your Guide to Using St. John’s Wort to Treat Depression

As a doctor, I find there’s a certain nostalgic air around using ancient herbal remedies to treat illness. It’s as though you’re harnessing the power and wisdom of healers long ago. St John’s Wort is a great example of an herb that can be successfully used to treat a modern affliction: depression. Here’s how.

Flower power

St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is one of the most well-studied herbal remedies in modern medicine. It was named because it flowers around St. John’s Day at the time of the summer solstice. Since Roman times, first century AD, St. John’s Wort has been a go-to in medicines and potions. Now, modern science confirms its efficacy in treating depression, in part due to its effects on serotonin levels in the brain.

St. John’s Wort is a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression. In fact, it’s been found to be as effective as standard antidepressants including fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), and amitriptyline (Elavil).

Dosing and supplement choice

Dosing begins at 900 mg, divided two or three times daily (for instance, 300 mg, three times daily). It can be gradually increased to a maximum total daily dose of 1500 mg.

Look for capsules or tinctures standardized to 0.3% hypericin and/or 3-5% hyperforin, to ensure you’re getting enough of the active ingredient that helps with mood. And choose a quality supplement so that you get your money’s worth, and a remedy that is safe. Working with a traditional herbalist is another route you can pursue to source your natural medicines, and this can be a wonderful experience if available to you.

What about side effects?

In studies, patients taking St. John’s Wort noted fewer side effects than those taking standard antidepressants. In particular, they reported fewer sexual side effects, such as low libido, a common complaint of patients treated for depression. When adverse effects were noted, they were mild and included: upset stomach, restlessness, mild sedation and light sensitivity. Withdrawal symptoms also occurred for those who stopped taking it abruptly.

St. John’s Wort taken in recommended doses is a safe option for adults with mild to moderate depression. It’s not recommended in pregnancy. When combined with some other medications, there is a risk of a serious medical complication called serotonin syndrome. So, if you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking St. John’s Wort. Same goes if you’ve been diagnosed with other medical conditions.

Remember: you’re not alone

Optimizing your health and wellness through nature’s own healing powers can be a powerful and enjoyable experience. But successful treatment of low mood or depression often requires additional supports and resources. Visit your doctor so that he or she can help you navigate this rocky landscape and get you the help you need.

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