Mother Earth Living

Natural Health

Better living through nature

Add to My MSN

Naturopathic Health: St. John's Wort and Depression Treatments

12/30/2010 3:37:10 PM

Tags: Jaclyn Chasse, St. John's Wort, Depression Remedies, Naturopathic Health, Herbal Research, Medicine Cabinet, Tips, Research

J.ChasseDr. Jaclyn Chasse, N.D. is a licensed naturopathic doctor and the Medical Educator for Emerson Ecologics, a distributor of dietary supplements to medical professionals.  Dr. Chasse’s clinical practice focuses on women’s health, pediatrics and infertility, with an emphasis on botanical medicine.  Dr. Chasse is also a master gardener and spends her free time cooking, playing in the woods with her family and taming her small yard into an urban permaculture oasis.

Many people assume that herbs are not well researched for medical uses, but this is not the case! St. John’s wort has a large body of research supporting its use.    

This last week, I was conducting a review of the published research on St. John’s wort, especially focusing on research on its use for depression. From just a simple search on Pubmed, our free public database of published scientific research studies, there were literally hundreds of clinical trials of St John’s wort in humans.

St. John’s wort can be used to treat depression and sever anxiety.
Photo by Pauline Rosenberg/ Courtesy

I remember a number of years back, just after I had started naturopathic medical school, seeing a study on St John’s wort published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 2002). It was widely publicized in the media. The study concluded that St John’s wort was not effective for the treatment of depression.  I remember that media blitz, if you can call it that, because I was so disappointed. I had known that for many friends, St. John’s wort was very effective. Was it really placebo effect? 

When conducting my research review this week, I was absolutely astounded by the quantity of research out there on St. John’s wort! Hundreds of research studies! And study after study showed that St John’s wort was very effective for treatment of depression, from mild through severe depression!! Head to head studies against many pharmaceutical antidepressants (sertraline, fluoxteine, citalopram, paroxetine, and more) showed that St. John’s wort was equally (or in many cases, more) effective than the pharmaceutical being tested. In addition, St. John’s wort was better tolerated than most drugs and had fewer side effects. This may not be enough data to be conclusive, but the research is extremely positive!

This got me thinking back to that JAMA study published back in 2002. I had never actually read that entire study. So, I pulled the study and read it. There were some important pieces that were not mentioned in the media. First, the study did not use a standardized dose of St. John’s wort—there could be a 4 fold difference in the dose the patients were taking! econd, the study also demonstrated that the drug tested by its side (sertraline) also had no therapeutic effect! Third, the authors state that the lack of results seen is probably “due to low assay sensitivity of the trial”, which may be a fancy way of saying that the study really wasn’t designed to be able to draw an accurate conclusion.

To put the icing on the cake, I looked at the financial disclosures section of the study. The financial affiliations section was longer than the references. And the lead author, Jonathan Davidson, M.D from Duke University, had a large number of financial affiliations to pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline. The list goes on, but you get the point.

This begs the question—was this study designed to fail? Were they looking for a way to downplay all of the positive studies that had been published on St. John’s wort? It’s certainly a possibility!

So, what’s the point of all of this? First, one study published (or publicized) should not sway the tide of your decision-making. Do the research to see how that falls into the grand scheme of the totality of research. Second, St. John’s wort has LOTS of evidence supporting its use, so don’t be afraid to consider it! Third, don’t believe everything you hear. A good word of advice in general, but definitely the case when considering research and herbal medicine! 

Content Tools

Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.

(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here