Depression: The Herbal Alternative

Presents question and answer about St. John's Wort for mild depression. Benefits of St. John's Wort; How Wort works; Views on hypericin; Side effect of St.John's Wort.

By PT Staff, published May 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Q: I'm healthy and fit, but can't shake my constant mild depression. I'vebeen reading that the herb St. John's Wort can boost mood. Can it?

A: St. John's Wort is generally safe and effective in mild and moderate depression. In fact, studies have shown it works as well as medication in many cases. It increases deep sleep and reduces anxiety. We aren't sure exactly why it works, though we know it inhibits the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, the "pleasure" neurotransmitter, and may also work the way antidepressant drugs do, by inhibiting the brain's uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. In Germany this herb is so popular that 200,000 prescriptions are written for it each year by doctors. The active ingredient, hypericin, is believed to be responsible for its mood-boosting effect, and the side-effect is photosensitivity, so if you do try St. John's Wort, wear a sunscreen.

Many companies manufacturing herbs; however, it's best to take an herbal extract that is standardized (so that the same potency is available in each dose). To learn more about St. John's Wort and recommended dosages, read the book Hypericum & Depression Harold Bloomfield, M.D., Mikael Nordfors, M.D., and Peter McWilliams, available from Prelude Press, 8159 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90046.