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What are the Benefits of Saint John's Wort

By Max. D Gray. Updated: March 31, 2019
What are the Benefits of Saint John's Wort
Image: queremoscuidarte.blogspot.com

Commonly known as St John's wort, Hypericum perforatum is used as a natural alternative to treating mild depression and mood disorders. It has been used in traditional medicine and herbalism for centuries, but this doesn't mean it is quack medicine. Further research is required to improve the evidence base, but there is medical study on some of its biologically active substances. These include organic acids, essential oils, keratin, limonene and tannins. At oneHOWTO, we can explain what are the healing properties of Saint John's wort, assess its potential and see if it may be able to help your overall health.

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Mental health

Hypericin and hyperforin are concentrated elements in Common Saint John's wort. They are believed to have some effect on reducing anxiety. This is thanks to their action on NMDA receptors. These receptors have an important bearing on our synapses, i.e. brain function. This is an incredibly simplified description of how these receptors work, but it has been thought that the chemicals found in St John's wort can help control them[1].

While much more study needs to be carried out, the effect on our brain is that it helps regulate the levels of serotonin released. Serotonin is important in our mental health as many people who suffer from poor mental health, such a depression or anxiety, have been found to not produce enough of it.

Hypericin and hyperforin are believed to help control serotonin release in the bread, elevating our mood during depression. The evidence is not conclusive and most medically prescribed antidepressants have a much stronger effect, but many reports point to this being feasible.

Memory

Due to the activity of St John's wort on certain neuron inhibitors, it has a certain bearing on our memory. This is why many people take St John's wort around exam time or if they have to be particularly sharp for a certain occasion. It might help us retain information as well as access older memories.

The improvement St John's wort can have on our memory has further possible implications than simply doing well on a test. Dementia refers to a range of diseases on the brain which affects memory and emotional stability as well a many other detrimental factors to our health. Understanding of dementia is very poor, despite a lot of study in the area. What we do know is that it can be devastating for both the patient and their family.

There is no cure for dementia and we are not suggesting St John's wort could even come close to being one. However, the symptoms pertaining to memory loss might possibly be lessened by taking St John's wort. It could possible help increase brain function that memories are not lost so quickly or that recognition factors might be improved. St John's wort according to one report might be of therapeutic value for [Alzheimer's Disease] treatment"[2].

Skin treatment

While much of the research into St John's wort has gone into brain activity, it is possible St John's wort is also of more visible benefit. Oily skin often occurs in people who produce too much sebum in their sebaceous glands (the part of our skin from which hair follicles grow). If we have poor skin quality, whether through a lack of care or a preexisting condition, we might develop certain skin issues known as dermatitis.

Dermatitis is an inflammation in the skin. It can cause red welts, itchiness, dryness and cracked appearance in our skin. It can even be painful, especially if we scratch it and the skin cells become infected. St John's wort has been shown to be "more effective than placebo in treatment of subacute atopic dermatitis"[3].

This doesn't mean that St John's wort is a cure-all or it will completely get rid of dermatitis on its own, but it does suggest that it can be used as a treatment. It does so through its astringent properties and had been though to help regenerate skin cells. As always, consult a doctor first before applying St John's wort as a topical cream for dermatitis.

There are some benefits St John's wort may have, but it will depend on your existing health beforehand. There is evidence to suggest that St John's wort can help with opioid withdrawal. This is when the patient has such a dependence on opioids (prescription pain medication such as oxycontin as well as illegal drugs such as heroin), that their body starts to be affected when they stop using the drug. Opioid abuse in the USA has grown to epidemic proportions[4], so this could be a very useful current application of the herb.

A study on rats found that taking hypericum perforatum could reduce the physical symptoms when withdrawing from opioids[5]. In this way it could be a very helpful therapeutic aid for those who are struggling with addiction issues and drug withdrawal. However, like taking St John's wort with other drugs, they can have an adverse reaction if you are already taking medication for withdrawal. As always, consult a doctor if you fear this may cause a problem for you.

Antioxidant properties

St John's wort is known to have antioxidant properties. This is important on a cellular level because it affects something known as free radicals. Free radicals are electrons in our body which are unpaired, meaning they are on the lookout to pair with another. If they do this with another cell which is already using the electron for another purpose, then it can impair the functionality of this other cell.

If this happens, then we might lose an important bodily function and/or impair our immune system to the point we get a disease. Antioxidants can help stop these free radicals from being so clingy and they can be found in St John's wort. This means taking St John's wort can also be great as a preventative. It also works best in diluted form[6], another reason you should not take too much.

This ability to improve the immune system is one reason many people with HIV/AIDS believe it might be useful for their condition. They may also want to take it as a supplement to help with related or unrelated mental health issues. However, problems can arise when taking antiviral medication for HIV/AIDS[7], so consult a doctor if you are considering taking St John's wort as a supplement.

Saint John's wort is also claimed as effective in many treatments such as cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, hepatitis C and fibromyalgia. However, these conditions are very serious and the evidence to support it is scant. This is not to mention the often complex combinations of medicine which are used to treat them.

Taking St John's wort

St John's wort is prescribed and distributed in different ways according to country. Often it comes in the form of a dietary supplement, but this is where we have to be very careful. St John's wort is not FDA approved, so many of the dietary supplements which include it are not regulated in the way you would hope them to be.

Many of the supplements will also make grand claims without being able to back them up. Always be careful when taking supplements which don't have approval from governing medical bodies.

The other most common way of taking St John's wort is as a tea infusion[8]. This is one of the best ways to take it, especially if you are taking it to relieve some mental health issue or general anxiety. Not only might the hypericum perforatum help with brain synapses, but the act of drinking a warm tea can help you to relax and feel calm.

While we might take St John's wort as a natural aid for depression or poor mental health, we should be very careful in these instances. If taken with prescribed medications for mental health issues, then it can have a very negative effect on a person. Consult a specialist as Saint John's wort is not compatible with many antidepressants or other drugs which contain cyclosporine, tacrolimus, irinotecan and imatinib mesylate.

Many other contraindications exist when taking St John's wort, so it should not be taken with the following:

  • Blood thinners (e.g. warfarin)
  • Certain heart medication
  • Birth control pills
  • Certain cancer medication
  • Antidepressants

Side effects of St John's wort

Apart from the issues with serotonin, there are other side effects associated with taking St John's wort. One particular one which was discovered during trials in HIV/AIDS patients was its effect on light sensitivity. This is known as photodermatitis and can make our skin become very sensitive and even cause us to break out in a rash. This is ironic as some people want to take St John's wort because it is thought to be helpful in treating other types of dermatitis.

If you are taking St John's wort and have light skin, then you will need to be particularly careful in the sun. You may want to up the SPF of your sun block or remain covered in times of bright light or sunny spells.

The side effects of taking St John's wort on its own (i.e. not with other medications) are usually fine in normal doses. Do not take more than the recommended dose of any medication.

For women who are trying for a baby, St John's wort could potentially negatively affect fertility. It could reduce the chances of becoming pregnant and you should not take it when breastfeeding. Also, it can have an adverse effect on surgery, especially as it might react with certain medications administered. You should always consult your doctor before surgery (when possible), but stop taking it at least the week before you have a procedure.

Other side effects for St John's wort include:

  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Tiredness or fatiugue
  • Skin rashes
  • Cottonmouth or dryness
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • headache

People diagnosed with bi-polar disorder should never take St John's wort. it can also exacerbate symptoms of ADHD or similar attention deficit disorders. Although it can potentially help with Alzheimer's disease, it can have adverse effects in some people, so consult a physician before giving it to someone with this condition.

Can you take St' John's Wort for depression?

It has been noted in studies on how to treat depression, St John's wort has proved more effective than a placebo in treating mild depression. It is difficult to prove both how effective St John's wort is in treating depression and how it actually works. Most believe that it is a multifactorial process which affects the seratonin levels in the brain. This can help lift or stabalize moods which have been affected by depression. It does not have many of the side effects or the extremity of side effects which many stronger pharmaceutical drugs can provide, but it may cause any of the following: fatigue, nausea, confusion, dizziness, headaches or cotton mouth. This is why you should always consult your doctor before taking it.

People with mild depression may feel the benefit of St John's wort. It can help stabalize their mood and has little evidence for dependency. People who have had adverse effects with or even a cognitive dislike for taking prescription pharmaceuticals might want to look into alternative natural remedies. Many people who practice holistic medicine swear by it. However, evidence based research should take priority when considering taking a medicine, so speaking to a trained doctor or seeking more than one professional medical opinion should still accompany consideration of herbal remedies.

How to take St. John's Wort for Depression

Firstly, people who are already on anti-depressant medication should not take St John's wort to treat depression, especially not without consulting their prescribing physician. As it is believed that it is a serotonin inhibitor taking other selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) found in anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication can lead to something called serotonin syndrome where you end up with an excess level of serotonin resulting in adverse physical and mental effects. Similarly, women on the contraceptive pill can also experience severe side effects as can those on warfarin, a commonly prescribed blood thinner.

Children and the elderly are also advised against taking it, but it can lead to allergic reactions in people with other pre-existing conditions. What these are and alternative methods to treat them can be discussed with your doctor.

The two main ways to take St John's wort to treat depression are in liquid and capsule form. It is often sold in tea form which is not as concentrated, but often claims to 'fight the blues' or some such similar effect. These 'blues' are a synonym for the mild depression we have previously discussed. Taking too much can affect stomach and digestion, so be careful if you are unsure how much you should take.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to What are the Benefits of Saint John's Wort, we recommend you visit our Drugs & supplements category.

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