Natural Depression Relief Gets Even Better

Healthnotes Newswire (April 27, 2006)—Many trials have shown that St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) may be useful for treating mild to moderate depression. New research now suggests that a St. John’s wort supplement taken once a day is as effective as the prescription drug sertraline (Zoloft) for people with moderate depression.

Almost 19 million Americans suffer from depression. Characterized by persistent sad or anxious moods, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and a loss of pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyable, depression can take a huge toll on individuals and their loved ones. Depressed people may also have low energy, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, weight changes, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Most people with depression do not seek help for their condition and side effects caused by the commonly prescribed antidepressant medications may make treatment difficult to tolerate among those who do.

Previous studies of St. John’s wort for mood disorders have used preparations that must be taken several times per day. Most of these studies were also short term, typically lasting for six weeks or less. Because depression must usually be treated for longer periods, German researchers aimed to determine if a single daily dose of St. John’s wort extract was effective when taken for up to six months.

A total of 241 people with moderate depression took part in the trial that was reported in the journal Pharmacopsychiatry. The people were given either 612 mg of a standardized extract of St. John’s wort (called STW3) or 50 mg of sertraline per day. After 12 weeks, they could opt to continue treatment for another 12 weeks. Throughout the trial, the people rated their symptoms and the tolerability of the study medications was assessed.

By the end of the first 12 weeks, symptoms improved by almost the same amount in both groups, suggesting that St. John’s wort was as effective as sertraline at relieving depression. Most of the people chose to continue treatment for another 12 weeks, and symptoms continued to improve in both groups during this time. After 24 weeks of treatment, 48% of people taking St. John’s wort and 36% of people taking sertraline were no longer considered depressed.

The most common side effects of treatment with St. John’s wort were mild and included dry mouth, nausea, bloating, and constipation. St. John’s wort did not appear to disrupt sleep or affect sexual function–common side effects of sertraline treatment.

According to a member of the research team, Dr. Markus Gastpar, “The study clearly shows that St. John’s wort is an effective antidepressant for [people] with depression of light to medium severity. Using an adequate dose, it can be given once daily with full effect.” Dr. Gastpar went on to comment that while the supplement had “excellent tolerability,” St. John’s wort has the potential to interact with certain medications and to increase skin sensitivity to sunlight in certain people.

(Pharmacopsychiatry 2005;38:78–86)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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