It's estimated that one in six people in this country suffer from depression, and in European countries, particularly Germany, St. John's Wort is standard treatment. But that herbal remedy gets a bad review this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In a study of 300 patients with major depression, some received the herbal supplement, others took the prescription Zoloft, and a third group got a sugar pill. The journal report says that the prescription worked the best of the three, but here's the surprise, St. John's Wort was no more effective than the sugar pill. "There was really no evidence that St. John's Wort was effective at all in this study, and we did use a dose that would be considered adequate," says Dr. Jonathan Davidson of Duke University Medical Center.
Dr. Davidson was one of the investigators in the study, and he cautions, that just because a product is advertised as "natural" doesn't mean that it's totally safe. He says compared to those taking the placebo, the patients in the St. John's Wort group were more likely to experience sexual difficulties, increased urination, and swelling.
While two major U.S. studies have now found St. John's Wort ineffective in treating moderately severe major depression, the researchers believe additional carefully controlled research is warranted to test the value of St. John's Wort for treating mild, major depression, or minor depression.
This was the first major study funded by the recently formed National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health. For more information, you can (click here).