St John’s wort. Benefits, Dosage and Side effects
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant named for its bright yellow flowers. And is widely thought to boost mood and provide some relief from depression.
What is it used for.
People have been using St John’s wort for centuries. It is believed that St John's wort works in a similar way to regular antidepressant medication. Research suggests that it increases the activity of brain chemicals such as serotonin and noradrenaline that are thought to play an important part in regulating our mood.
It is mainly used as an over the counter remedy to treat mild and moderate depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), mild anxiety and sleep problems.
Can it help me?
If you are experiencing depression or low mood, you may choose to try St John's wort as a herbal alternative to antidepressants. However, it is important that you do not use St John's wort instead of seeking help from your GP. If you have any concerns about your mental health and are unsure about the treatments available, it is always wise to chat this through with your doctor.
The dosage depends on the type of preparation, according to the EU’s Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products. It’s very important that you read the label carefully before use
Speak to your doctor first about taking St John's wort if you:
- Are pregnant or are breast feeding – there is limited information on its safety
- Have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder – as with all antidepressants, it has been known to cause hypomania, or rapid switching from a low to a high mood.
- Are under 18 – there is limited information on its safety
- Are currently taking prescribed medication, contraceptive medication or common over the counter medications.
St. John’s wort can have serious interactions with a large number of commonly used medications (e.g. warfarin), by affecting enzymes in the body involved with the metabolic processing of drugs; therefore a discussion with a doctor is important. Additionally, St. John’s wort must not be started while another antidepressant is being taken.
What are some of the side effects?
Some people do not report any side effects whilst taking St John's wort. However, the most commonly reported side effects for those who do, are:
- Feeling nauseous, being sick or diarrhoea
- Allergic reactions
- A dry mouth
- Skin problems
An occasional side effect is increased sensitivity to sunlight. If you think this is affecting you, you should consider using a high factor sunscreen, cover up or stay out of the sun. You should also be cautious about taking St John’s wort if you use a lamp box for seasonal affective disorder.