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St. John's Wort may offer herbal relief for depression

St. John's Wort

August 3, 1996
Web posted at: 12:15 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least one out of every 20 Americans gets depressed each year, and many rely on anti-depressants to help them cope. A new study shows the herb St. John's Wort might be just as effective, and with fewer side effects.

An analysis of about 25 studies, published in this week's British Medical Journal, suggest that St. John's Wort is just as helpful as drugs, with none of the side effects, such as headaches or vomiting.

One of the studies' authors says the findings are not surprising.


"Some of the commonly used medicines have a basis on herbs or have a basis in plants, and some of the ones were developed using plants," said Dr. Cynthia Mulrow with Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital.

St. John's Wort grows wild in parts of Europe, where scientists have been studying it for decades. It is available in herb shops in Europe and the United States, and comes in liquid, capsule and dried form.

While St. John's Wort may not be well known in the United States, doctors in Germany prescribe for depression, and insurance pays for it.

That's not bound to happen anytime soon in the U.S., because experts say it has not gone through the years of rigorous testing required for drugs. But Dr. Steven Hyman with the National Institute of Mental Health said he wants to know more about herbal remedies.

National Institutes of Health

"What I would say about therapies for any mental disorders is that I'm interested in what works," Hyman said. "I'm interested in conventional and unconventional pharmacological therapies."

Even one of the study's authors says more research is necessary. Many of the studies were short-term, and they compared the herb to drugs used in the 1970s and 1980s, not to newer anti-depressants.

Mulrow suggests that people who suffer mild depression, and who don't want to take drugs, talk to their doctors before taking St. John's Wort. It could be a safe and effective alternative to treat depression, she said.


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