St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort has a history more than 2000 years old. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates used the tops of the flowers to treat a host of ailments. It was later believed that if you slept with a plant under your pillow, St. John would appear in your dreams, bless you and prevent you from dying in the following year.

Today, more and more people are hearing about St. John’s Wort’s good effects and even about it’s negative side effects. Fortunately, the good effects far outweigh the bad.

I’ll talk about the good effects first.

St. John’s Wort has been shown to be just as effective in combating depression as commercial anti-depressants. And St. John’s Wort does it without the side effects that go along with drugs. Antidepressants are prescribed for people who are feeling "just a bit down” right through the range of emotions down to "total despair”. You seldom hear about the side effects.

More than 40 per cent of people on anti-depressants have a reduced sex drive and that can be really hard on people. Twenty per cent of users experience stomachaches and 15 per cent complain of anxiety.

None of those side effects occur with St. John’s Wort, so in cases of depression, I think St. John’s Wort is worth a good first try.

In one study involving 1,757 people, St. John’s Wort had positive results in 63.9 per cent of the group compared to 58.5 per cent when given anti-depressants.

In my practice, I use St. John’s Wort for a variety of reasons. I may prescribe it to a single mom who feels depressed because she has two children and she’s over-stressed. St. John’s Wort helped the daughter of one of my patients who was going to school in Montreal. It was exam time and she had been studying for her A’s and was totally exhausted with insomnia. I’ve given St. John’s Wort to a man in his 50’s who was going through a mid-life crisis and experiencing a certain amount of anxiety. It worked wonderfully – in all those cases and in many others.

St. John’s Wort can elevate people’s moods and it can increase the length and quality of sleep especially when the insomnia is due to stress.

I often use St. John’s Wort with menopausal women who are experiencing dramatic mood swings. It does a wonderful job of leveling off those moods.

St. John’s Wort can be used for SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a depression that occurs in the winter months due to lack of sunlight.

St. John’s Wort is also a potent anti-viral and people with AIDS find that it not only elevates their mood but that it is a potent anti-viral as well.

In tincture form, St. John’s Wort has proven helpful with skin wounds and mouth sores.

So, St. John’s Wort is a wonderful herb, but there can be side effects. A few people’s eyes become more sensitive to light. About two per cent of users report dizziness, nausea or stomach upset. Some people – a very few – become more sensitive to the sun.

The dosage for depression is 300 mgs. three times a day. For insomnia, it’s one 300 mg. capsule in the morning and two before bed. If you’re on a conventional anti-depressant and want to try St. John’s Wort, consult an experienced practitioner first.

Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.