Natural Foods Merchandiser

Science Beat with Kimberly Beauchamp, N.D, and Alan R. Gaby, M.D., Healthnotes Inc.

More evidence backs St. John?s wort for mild to moderate depression
St. John?s wort, a popular herbal remedy for depression, is at least as effective as the antidepressant drug paroxetine (Paxil) and causes fewer side effects, reports the British Medical Journal?s online edition. The results of this study add to the large body of research showing that St. John?s wort is a safe and effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.

In the new study, 251 people suffering from acute depression were randomly assigned to receive 300 mg of St. John?s wort extract three times a day or 20 mg of paroxetine once a day for six weeks. If after two weeks the depression had not improved by at least 20 percent, the dose of St. John?s wort or paroxetine was doubled. After six weeks of treatment, the depression had resolved in 50 percent of the participants taking St. John?s wort and in 35 percent of those taking paroxetine, a statistically significant difference. A dosage increase was necessary at the two-week point in 57 percent of the people taking St. John?s wort and in 48 percent of those taking paroxetine. The incidence of side effects (mainly gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, dizziness, headache, dry mouth or increased sweating) was 72 percent higher in the group receiving paroxetine than in the St. John?s wort group.

Many other studies have shown that St. John?s wort is significantly more effective than a placebo and at least as effective as certain antidepressant drugs, including fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine (Tofranil). Furthermore, in most of these studies, the herbal remedy was better tolerated than the prescription medication. Despite the strong evidence demonstrating St. John?s wort?s effectiveness, its use as a treatment for depression remains controversial.

The controversy stems mainly from a widely publicized negative report published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In that study, although the remission rate was significantly greater with St. John?s wort than with a placebo, only 14.3 percent of those who received the herb went into remission, causing the authors of the report to question its efficacy. However, the 4.9 percent remission rate in the placebo group was far below the placebo response rate seen in other studies of depression, which suggests that many of the participants recruited for this study would have been unlikely to respond to any treatment.

The bulk of the evidence at this time indicates that St. John?s wort is a safe and effective alternative to antidepressants for the treatment of mild or moderate depression, although severe depression does not seem to respond to the herb. As it can interact with a fairly large number of medications, people taking St. John?s wort should be monitored by a qualified health care practitioner.


Indian herbal extract can relieve allergies
An extract of the Indian herb Tinospora cordifolia may improve symptoms in people suffering from allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, according to a study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Allergic rhinitis, an inflammatory condition, is caused by an abnormal response of the immune system to different allergens, such as mold, pollen, animal dander, dust mites and some foods. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchiness of the nose, mouth, throat and ears.

Treatments for allergic rhinitis include antihistamines such as clemastine (Tavist) and nasal corticosteroids like fluticasone (Flonase). While these drugs can offer relief from allergy symptoms, clemastine may cause side effects including dry mouth, drowsiness and anemia, and fluticasone can cause serious allergic reactions.

Tinospora, known commonly as guduchi, gulancha and giloy, is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Historically administered to increase longevity, promote intelligence and improve memory and immune function, modern science has shown the herb protects against infections, decreases allergic reactions and stimulates the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells.

The new study evaluated the effectiveness of tinospora extract for the relief of allergic rhinitis symptoms in 75 people. The participants received either 300 mg of a standardized extract of tinospora three times per day for eight weeks or a placebo. At the beginning and end of the study, the participants were evaluated for the presence of a runny nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, sneezing and nasal itchiness. In addition, tests were performed to determine the number of white blood cells in the blood (an indication of immune status), and samples were taken from the nose to assess the presence of allergic activity.

Among the participants receiving tinospora, 83 percent experienced total relief from sneezing, 69 percent had complete relief from nasal discharge, 61 percent had no nasal obstruction and 71 percent had no nasal itchiness after eight weeks. The tinospora group also experienced a significant increase in the number of white blood cells compared with the placebo group, suggesting an enhanced state of immunity in the tinospora group. Nasal smears showed significant reductions in the numbers of cells that indicate allergic activity in the tinospora group. Tinospora was generally well-tolerated; one participant complained of a headache, and two participants had minor nasal pain.

The results of this study suggest that tinospora is a safe and effective treatment for allergic rhinitis. Future studies should compare the effects of tinospora with those of currently used allergy treatments.


Kimberly Beauchamp, N.D., is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths Inc. in Wakefield, R.I. Alan R. Gaby, M.D., an expert in nutritional therapies, is co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press, 1999).

Copyright ? 2005 Healthnotes Inc.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 4/p. 50, 52

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