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

| 12/30/2010 3:37:10 PM

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!