Post #34 St. John's Wort & Holiday Depression
In Podcast Episode #29, Karen talks us through the benefits & risks of using this powerful herb to deal with the stresses of the holiday season.
Welcome to the holiday season!... Do you have your antidepressants ready? Are you already worrying about sitting at the Thanksgiving table with your Boomer uncle who has been radicalized online? Are you worried about how you’re going to possibly finance Christmas or Hanukah? The fact that the holidays can be stressful is an understatement. All of these stressors can definitely add up and cause either a temporary holiday-related mild depression or they can exacerbate the depression you already deal with. During this stressful time of year its common to try some herbal remedies to help get through it all, but do the herbal remedies work and are they safe?
The most common herbal supplement used to treat depression is St John’s Wort.
If you’re looking to treat the symptoms of anxiety there are supplements available such as Valerian and Kava and I will be covering those next time.
WHAT IS ST JOHN’S WORT?
St John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) is a plant with yellow flowers that grows wild (it’s actually a weed) and has been used medicinally for centuries. In fact, it’s medicinal uses were first recorded in ancient Greece. The flowering tops of the St John’s Wort plant are used to make teas, tablets, and capsules with concentrated extracts. It’s also made into liquid extracts and topical preparations.
DOES IT WORK?
The scientific studies on the effectiveness of St John’s Wort on depression are, of course, mixed. According to Vice.com, there are 35 studies that show that St John’s Wort is just as effective as an SSRI for treatment of mild to moderate depression. However, the National Center for Complementary Medicine sponsored two large studies and they showed that the herb wasn’t any more effective than a placebo. Basically, there are just as many studies that show it is effective in treating depression as there are studies that show it’s no better than a placebo. Confusing! Interestingly, many times the conventional drugs studied, such as SSRIs, didn’t work any better than a placebo, either.
HOW TO TAKE ST JOHN’S WORT
So, would you like to try it? Sometimes you just have to try something when dealing with depression and, if it can offer some relief, why not? St John’s Wort is usually taken in liquid or capsules and the dried herb can also be used as a tea.
The most common dose (the one used in the studies) is 300 ml, three times a day as an extract. You will usually notice the effects by 6 weeks. According to the NIH the preparations in the US have varied strengths, so be careful with how much you are getting.
IS IT SAFE?
There are several side effects of St John’s Wort and any other herbal supplement you might take. Before deciding to use herbal supplements, you need to be aware that the FDA does not apply the same safety studies used for prescription drugs to herbals. According to Drugs.com, the FDA will seize tainted, contaminated and unsafe supplements when they are aware of them. A lot of supplements fly under the radar and end up being sold to consumers.
SIDE EFFECTS AND DRUG INTERACTIONS! OH MY!!!
DO NOT combine St John’s Wort and prescription antidepressants such as SSRIs!!
It can cause a problem of too much serotonin called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms can start within minutes and according to the Mayo Clinic, serotonin syndrome can range from mild (shivering and diarrhea) to severe (muscle rigidity, fever, hallucinations and seizures). And severe serotonin syndrome can be fatal if not treated. You will need to wait awhile to start St John’s Wort after you’ve decided to stop taking your antidepressant. (Don’t stop your antidepressant without the help of your Dr!)
While taking St John’s Wort avoid food and drinks that contain the chemical tyramine.
These items are: all aged cheeses, cured meats, sauerkraut, soy sauce, miso, tofu, beer, and wine. When St John’s Wort mixes with tyramine it can cause high blood pressure, fast heart rate, and deliriousness.
St John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women, children, elderly, or basically anyone who takes any kind of prescription medication.
St John’s Wort may reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills and heart disease medications.
Other side effects are nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, skin rashes, increased blood pressure, fatigue, and increased sun sensitivity.
Also, according to Vice.com, the problem of doctored and/or incorrectly label St John's Wort has become really serious. The herb used to be gathered from the wild, but since it has become popular, commercial farms in Asia and other countries have begun to grow it. Some of these imported herbs have been of questionable quality. Some are mislabeled while others have been found to have food coloring and other additives.
Basically, its anyone’s guess as to what’s in these products!
Healthline.com recommends only buying supplements that list the herb’s common and scientific name, have the manufacture’s name and address, a batch and lot number, expiration date, dosage guidelines, and list potential side effects.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Does St John’s Wort help to treat depression? Maybe. It is certainly worth trying as long as you’re only treating mild to moderate depression and you discuss it with your Dr first. Do your due diligence and make sure you are using St John’s Wort from a reputable company.
If the depression symptoms don’t seem to be getting better or are getting worse, please see a Dr and don’t just try to treat yourself with an herbal remedy.
As someone who suffers from treatment-resistant depression, it’s important that you get the proper medical help that you need!