BACKGROUND: The herb St. John's wort is a popular herbal remedy for depression. Clinical trials in adults have found that it is effective in cases of mild to moderate depression and has fewer side effects than antidepressant drugs. However, research on the use of St. John's wort in children and teenagers has been limited.
RESEARCH: Researchers at the University Hospitals of Cleveland diagnosed 33 children, ages 6 to 16, with a major depressive disorder, based on scores on two common clinical tests. The young patients were initially given 150 mg of St. John's wort three times daily for four weeks. If the patients did not improve during this time, the dosage was increased to 300 mg three times daily for another four weeks.
RESULTS: Based on the scoring from seven clinical tests, most of the children and teenagers were less depressed after taking St. John's wort.
Twenty-four percent of the patients improved after taking the lower dosage of St. John's wort for four weeks. By the end of the eight-week study, more than three-fourths of the patients had improved significantly. Overall, St. John's wort appeared to be well tolerated. Approximately one-third of the children and teenagers experienced mild transient side effects, such as dizziness, increased appetite, or loose stools.
IMPLICATIONS: According to the researchers, "these data suggest that St.
John's wort might be a promising treatment for depressed children and teenagers." They also noted that safe and effective treatments for depression were needed in children and teenagers to prevent significant "functional, behavioral, and interpersonal impairments."
Findling RL, McNamara NK, O'Riordan MA, et al. "An open-label pilot study of St. John's wort in juvenile depression," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2003;42:908-914.
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