St. John’s Wort
(botanical name, Hypericum perforatum)
History and Use
St. John's Wort was named by early Christians in honor of John the Baptist becasue of its unique red oil it releases. The leaves and flowers of St. John’s Wort contain special glands that release a red oil when pinched and they believed it released its blood-red oil on August 29, the anniversary of the Saint’s beheading. The word Wort is old English for plant. For over 2000 years the healing herb has been used to safely treat a variety of ailments because of its’ immune-modulating chemicals - flavonoids and the antiviral and anti-depressive properties of hypericin. Some studies show antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory effects of St. John’s wort.
Currently in the United States, St. John’s Wort is most commonly used as an antidepressant. Hypericin appears to interfere with the activity of a chemical in the body known as mono-amine oxidase (MAO), making it an MAO inhibitor. MAO inhibitors are an important class of antidepressant drugs. Research also suggests that this herb may raise levels of serotonin, nor-epinephrine, and dopamine which are all neurotransmitters which help boost mental morale and mood.
For 15 years, St. John’s Wort has been studied extensively in Germany and Russia, these studies show it to be a more powerful antidepressant than some of the prescription drugs such as Prozac, without the side effects. Such side effects of other antidepressants could include a wide range from nausea to even an impaired sex drive! St. John’s Wort is the leading treatment in Germany with over 3 million prescriptions a year, where doctors prescribe it 25 times more than they do Prozac. The U.S. has begun its first large-scale, controlled clinical trial of St. John’s wort to assess how effective it is as therapy for clinical depression. This study will be controlled by the National Institute of Mental Health, (NIMA), the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine, and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
According to German medical herbalist Rudolph Fritz Weiss, M.D., the effects “do not develop quickly, it usually takes two to three months.” St. John’s Wort should not be given to children under the age of 2. For older children and people over 65, start with low-strength preparations and increase strength if necessary. Carefully read product labels, look for extracts standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin and derived from the whole plant, (i.e., flowers, leaves, and stem). Most studies used 900 mg daily in 3 equal doses.
For otherwise healthy non-pregnant, non-nursing adults who do not have hypertension and are not taking MAO inhibitors or any medications that interact adversely with them, St. John’s Wort is considered safe in amounts typically recommended. If St. John’s Wort caused headaches, stiff neck, or nausea, use less or stop using it. Fair skinned individuals should use St. John’s-wort cautiously due to possible photo-sensitizing effects.
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