Feature Archive

St. John's Wort

Depression

WebMD Feature

European physicians routinely prescribe an herb called Hypericum perforatum, the botanical name for St. John's Wort, for their patients with mild depression . If you're one of the many Americans who suffer from this, St. John's Wort is also available -- but only as a dietary supplement.

You can find St. John's Wort in health food stores, neighborhood pharmacies, supermarkets -- wherever you can find vitamins and other dietary supplements, such as ginkgo or echinacea. The labeling notes its contribution to emotional balance and positive outlook or promoting a sense of well-being for people with mild -- not major or severe -- depression. That's all the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows. Manufacturers can't advertise it as a treatment for depression -- and doctors can't prescribe it.

But lack of FDA recognition of Hypericum as an anti-depressant hasn't prevented an enthusiastic U.S. response. Why the interest in an alternative treatment? The available antidepressant drugs have a high success rate, but they also carry the unwanted baggage of side effects. Depending on the specific drug, these can include sleep disturbance, weight gain, impaired concentration and memory, disorientation, dry mouth and, most notably, sexual dysfunction. A month's supply of St. John's Wort costs substantially less than a month's supply of Prozac or any other anti-depressant drug -- although it probably won't be covered by your insurance plan or HMO.