St. John's Wort for Mild Depression & Anxiety

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

St. John's wort is a herb that contains a variety of active components known to regulate neurotransmitter activity in the brain and secretion of cortisol into the bloodstream. As an antidepressant, its effects have been compared with the tryclic group of antidepressants, especially imipramine (Tofranil). The major active component of the herb is hypericin, which interestingly has also proved effective against certain viruses. St. John's wort also contains antioxidants and these are important in preventing such things as heart disease.

One action of the herb is to inhibit the reabsorption of both serotonin and noradrenaline. In this respect its action is similar to prescribed antidepressant medications. There is also evidence that points to it suppressing the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase. These mechanisms help to alleviate anxiety and improve mood, although it may take as much as three months before the effects are noticed.

Sufficient evidence is available to support the use of St. John's wort in low doses for anxiety and in higher doses for depression. In anxiety, for example, the herbal extract appears to decrease the release of cortisol, an important stress hormone, into the bloodstream. It may also help to regulate sleep patterns and has an inhibiting effect on the re-uptake of GABA.

It's easy to obtain St. John's wort as it is often sold in major supermarkets and a number of other outlets, including the internet. It is sold in the form of capsules and drops. Some medical doctors prescribe the herb. In Sweden, for example, it is approved for the treatment of mild despondency, mild anxiety and sleep disturbances. Where doctors in Germany and the USA prescribe the herb it tends to be measured in the strength of hypericin within the extract.

Although classed as a herbal remedy, the herbal extract is sufficiently potent to have potential interactions with other medicines. It's important to mention this to your doctor if you already take medication, or if medication is prescribed for you at a later date. When taken regularly, the side-effects are few in number although they do exist. People who experience side effects often report gastric upsets in the form of stomach ache, diarrhea or loss of appetite. The higher the dose, the more likely it is that the person may experience side effects. Hypericin, in high enough doses, can result in skin rashes and dermatitis.