Munich & San Antonio -- Depression is a common disorder worldwide. While many medications exist that can dramatically reduce symptoms of depression, the potential side effects frequently limit their use. Extracts from plants have been used for a wide variety of maladies for centuries. Many of the drugs currently manufactured by the pharmaceutical industries are derivatives of chemicals from plants.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal (1996:313:253-8), Klaus Linde and associates reported findings of a review of 23 published reported trials, including 1757 patients, which indicate that extracts of the flowering plant, St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), are indeed more effective than placebo for the treatment of mild to moderately severe depression.
The authors emphasize that many issues regarding the use of the St. John's Wort extracts remain unclarified. It is not known whether the extracts are more effective in certain types of depression than other types. It is also not yet known whether the extracts are as effective as traditional medications for depression, or even if they have fewer side effects.
The authors conclude by recommending further studies to clarify the issues above and compare the St. John's Wort extracts with traditional medications for depression as well as determine the potential long-term side effects.
The editors of MedicineNet would like to point out that animal studies using high doses of St. John's Wort have noted skin inflammation after sun exposure (phototoxicity). Also fatigue, stomach upset, and allergic reactions have been reported in humans. If the published results above are verified by longer term comparison studies, the way could be paved for a new, less toxic approach to managing depression.
Note: At the present time (in 2002) there are no standards when it comes to determining the dosage of active ingredients in pills sold as St. John's Wort. One study compared the concentration of the active ingredient in pills from different sources (Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart, etc.) and found that the pills with the highest concentration of the active ingredient were in fact 7 times as potent as another set of pills, even though all of the pills in the study purported to have the same concentration of the active ingredient.