St. Johns Wort

Nutritional Compound

OVERVIEW

Summary

Once considered a difficult-to-control weed, St. John’s wort is now hailed for its potential to relieve mild to moderate depression — so much so that its reputation as a “natural Prozac” is actually becoming a cliche. It has, in fact, been shown to help maintain mood, reduce stress, and even stabilize emotions.

Other names for St. Johns Wort

Hypericum perforatum, Hyperici herba, hypericum, klamathweed

Where to find St. Johns Wort

Especially abundant in America and Europe, this perennial shrub with bright yellow flowers is grown throughout the world. In fact, at one time, it was considered a weed because it proliferates so easily.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use St. Johns Wort

Although physical activity has been shown to lift mood and reduce the possibility of depression, that doesn’t mean active people can’t be affected by low moods — depression can strike people from every walk of life. Because the symptoms of depression include loss of energy, appetite, and interest in the world around us, it can also negatively influence performance. Of greater interest to athletes, however, may be St. John’s wort’s potential to reduce stress and improve overall mental clarity and alertness.

Ways that St. Johns Wort can enhance Mental Functioning:
  • Through specific chemical reactions in the brain, reduce depression, stress, and anxiety
Ways that St. Johns Wort can enhance Longevity:
  • Reduce “bad” viral activity to fight off a variety of infections

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of St. Johns Wort deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for St. Johns Wort

Research indicates that St. Johns Wort may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Mononucleosis
  • Flu
  • Viral infections
  • Burns

DISCUSSION

More about St. Johns Wort

Once considered a difficult-to-control weed, St. John’s wort is now hailed for its potential to relieve mild to moderate depression and is grown throughout the U.S. and Europe. Its reputation as a “natural Prozac” is actually becoming cliche — but that reputation appears to be well deserved.

While researchers are unsure of exactly how St. John’s wort works, they have theorized that, like Prozac, St. John’s wort may inhibit something called “monoamine oxidase” (more commonly called MAO). More recently, researchers have argued for St. John’s wort’s apparent ability to increase certain chemical signals, namely serotonin, in the brain that maintain mood and stabilize emotions. Regardless of how it works, the research documents that it may, in fact, relieve depression, anxiety, the winter blues, and even sleep disturbances.

Also of interest is the theory that St. John’s wort affects the theta waves in the brain. Because theta waves are usually associated with meditation, pleasure, and creativity, some researchers suggest this herb may improve both perception and clarity in thinking.

Evidence of effectiveness

It all started with a small study using six depressed senior women. At first, researchers simply tested for common markers in urine used to evaluate the effectiveness of standard antidepressant treatments. This was followed up by a study with 15 women that showed significant improvements in a number of areas, including anxiety, apathy, depression, and self-worth.

One of the most documented herbs, more than two dozen studies have now shown that St. John’s wort may significantly relieve depression. In fact, it’s been shown to be as effective as some of the typical drugs used to fight depression, but unlike many of the drugs, it is well tolerated, with few side effects.

What has this got to do with performance?

Because depression is almost epidemic, affecting up to 1 in every 15 Americans every year, it’s not unusual for it to strike people from all walks of life. Although exercise has been shown to lift mood and reduce the possibility of depression, that doesn’t mean active individuals can’t be affected.

Depression can not only affect mood and thoughts, it can change how we feel physically and how we act. Symptoms range from feeling sad to anxious to loss of energy, appetite, and interest in the world around us. Obviously, if faced with these challenges, every aspect of our lives could suffer, and that includes performance.

In addition, stress is often associated with depression, and some experts theorize that St. John’s wort’s stress-relieving abilities are what make it so effective. It seems that St. John’s wort may reduce the release of something called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Through a series of complex chemical reactions in our brains, IL-6 can increase stress levels. Thus, St. John’s wort may inhibit this stress reaction. Most of us in today’s hectic world could benefit from something that reduces stress.

Caveat

While some people battling depression may be tempted to self-medicate with this herb, it is important to work with a qualified health-care professional. Although St. John’s wort may be effective, specific psychotherapies may also be extraordinarily beneficial. In addition, clinical depression is a serious medical condition, and St. John’s wort may not be as effective or as fast acting as some medications.

More good news

Less is known about some of this unique herb’s other effects, such as its potential to reduce viral activity — from fighting the common flu to herpes 1 and 2 to Epstein-Barr syndrome to mono. While the studies on these effects are only preliminary, they are intriguing.

St. John’s wort has been shown to repair nerve damage to reduce pain and inflammation, as well as relieving menstrual cramping. It also appears to increase bile secretion and thus soothe the digestive system.

In addition, St. John’s wort may be a very effective topical solution — it’s been shown in research to fight bacteria and help heal wounds when applied to the skin, as well as soothing burns and relieving muscle pain.

In conclusion

St. John’s wort may or may not be a worthy choice for those suffering from depression, but it does appear to offer a natural, safer alternative to some of the harsher treatments available (such as many of the prescription drugs). Yet it’s still important to check with your doctor instead of simply self-medicating with this herb or any other, for that matter.

On the other hand, if you are merely looking for tools to help in the fight against accumulating stress or to improve your mental clarity at work or in the gym and even having an additional weapon in your arsenal against various infections, St. John’s wort may be well worth considering.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

300 mg taken 3 times a day is the amount used in research to fight depression and high levels of stress.

An oil made with St. John’s wort can be applied to the skin as needed to relieve minor burns, wounds, muscle soreness, and inflammation (such as caused by insect bites).

Note

When used to fight depression, it may take two to four weeks for positive results to be noticed.

Timing

St. John’s wort is typically taken three times throughout the day, in divided doses, with or without food. However, taking St. John’s wort with food usually prevents any possible stomach upset.

Tip

Look for products that contain a “standardized extract” of 0.3% hypericin. The amount of active ingredients in herbal products can vary greatly from product to product, and standardized products are usually considered to be of better quality. However, hypericin is not considered the most active component of St. John’s wort. That honor is held by “hyperforin.”

Synergists of St. Johns Wort

Some people have found the stress-relieving effects even greater when St. John’s wort is supplemented with kava.

For “brain-boosting” power and improved mental alertness, research has shown combining ginkgo and 5-HTP with St. John’s wort may synergistically increase its effectiveness.

Safety of St. Johns Wort

Depression is a serious illness, and its treatment should always be under the care of a qualified health-care professional.

St. John’s wort may cause dry mouth, dizziness, indigestion, constipation, and fatigue.

If you are pregnant or lactating, St. John’s wort is not recommended.

When supplementing with St. John’s wort, avoid tyramine-containing foods, such as Swiss cheese and Chianti.

Drugs that interact with St. Johns Wort

There are a number of drug interactions, so if you are on any medications, it would be wise to check with your doctor before supplementing with St. John’s wort. Specifically, St. John’s wort may decrease the effectiveness of MAO inhibitors and interfere with the effectiveness of indinavir (an AIDS treatment), cyclosporin (an immunosuppressive drug), and the anticoagulant warfarin.

While you shouldn’t supplement with St. John’s wort in place of Prozac without first consulting your physician, don’t take it in addition to Prozac if you’re using it either.

It should not be supplemented with L-dopa because it may decrease St. John’s wort’s effectiveness.

Toxicity of St. Johns Wort

Large amounts may cause some people, especially those with fair complexions, to become sensitive to the sun. Though this possibility is rare, some herbalists recommend avoiding strong sunlight when supplementing with this herb.

Bans and restrictions

Although there is no specific ban on St. John’s wort, in some countries, it is available only with a prescription.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Cott, J.M., and Fugh-Berman, A., “Is St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) an Effective Antidepressant?” J Nerv Ment Dis 186.8 (1998) : 500-1.
  • Gaster, B., and Holroyd, J., “St. John’s Wort for Depression: A Systematic Review,” Arch Intern Med 160.2 (2000) : 152-6.
  • Josey, E.S., and Tackett, R.L., “St. John’s Wort: A New Alternative for Depression?,” Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther 37.3 (1999) : 111-9.
  • Kim, H.L., et al., “St. John’s Wort for Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Well-Defined Clinical Trials,” J Nerv Ment Dis 187.9 (1999) : 532-8.
  • Miller, A.L., “St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Clinical Effects on Depression and Other Conditions,” Altern Med Rev 3.1 (1998) : 18-26.
  • Rampes, H., “Hypericum, an Over The Counter Antidepressant? (letter),” J Psychopharmacol 11.2 (1997) : 191.