St. John’s Wort: Nature’s Anti-Depressant & So Much More

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St. John's Wort: Nature's Anti-Depressant & So Much More

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering perennial plant native to Europe and Asia. With opposite oblong leaves that are light green in color, St. John’s wort is so named due to its yellow flowers coming into bloom on June 24, the birthday of John the Baptist. The foliage is dotted with small translucent specks that make the leaves appear perforated when held up to light, which is why it is also sometimes referred to as perforate St. John’s wort.

Its use in herbal medicine dates back to ancient Greece, where it was prescribed to treat depression and inflammation. Both leaves and blossoms contain the phytochemicals hyperforin, hypericin, and flavonoids, and it is these compounds that are believed to be of benefit to the body and mind.

1. St. John’s Wort Is A Natural Anti-Depressant

The most widely known and celebrated use of St. John’s wort is as a natural anti-depressant. Thousands of scientific studies have been conducted in this regard, comparing the herb with placebo as well as established pharmaceutical treatments such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Celexa.

In a systematic review of St. John’s wort as monotherapy on major depressive disorder, researchers evaluated published findings of 43 studies involving nearly 7,000 patients up to November 2014. They found that, in cases of mild to moderate depression, St. John’s wort had a significant effect on depression scale scores compared with a placebo. When pitted against typical anti-depressant drugs, St. John’s wort was just as effective in alleviating symptoms with fewer side effects. The authors concluded that St. John’s wort shows great effectiveness in cases of mild and moderate depression, but current research is lacking on its impact on severe depression.

Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how St. John’s wort works, it is speculated that it interacts with the brain in a similar way to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increasing serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters.

2. St. John’s Wort As A Treatment For SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to the changes in the seasons, typically beginning in the autumn and ending in the spring.

While light therapy has been an effective treatment for SAD, St. John’s wort has also been proven to be a viable SAD remedy. A 1999 study compared the results of two groups of people diagnosed with SAD, one who used St. John’s wort alone and the other took St. John’s wort along with light therapy. After 8 weeks of treatment, both groups had near equal improvements in anxiety, loss of libido, and insomnia.

3. St. John’s Wort Offers Relief From Premenstrual Syndrome

Relating to the hormonal changes that occur approximately six days prior to menstruation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) spans the emotional and physical. Common symptoms include anxiety, depressed mood, irritability, changes in appetite, insomnia, head and body aches, breast tenderness, bloating, acne, and difficulty concentrating. For some women it is a mild annoyance but for others, the symptoms of PMS are severe enough to affect their daily lives.

According to a study published in 2010, women who took 900g of St. John’s wort each day experienced a significant improvement in the physical and behavorial symptoms of PMS, compared with placebo. Over the course of two months, participants completed daily reports on their symptoms, anxiety levels, depression, aggression, and impulsiveness. The study’s authors concluded that, while St. John’s wort appeared effective for the most common symptoms of PMS, it did not have the same effect on pain or mood related symptoms during the 60-day trial period and that perhaps a longer treatment period might produce these effects.

4. St. John’s Wort Eases Symptoms Of Menopause

Marking the end of menstruation and fertility, the symptoms of the transition to menopause are unpleasant to say the least: hot flashes, changes in mood, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, sleep disturbances, and night sweats.

In lieu of the potentially dangerous hormone replacement therapy, a safer option is to take St. John’s wort to relieve these symptoms. In a 1999 study, women who took 900 g of St. John’s wort daily over 12 weeks experienced a drastic decline in the incidence and severity of anxiety, stress, moodiness, and depression. Climeratic complaints – which include hot flashes, insomnia, fatigue, and headaches – were reduced or completely disappeared in nearly 80% of the participants. Libido and sexual well-being were also improved with St. John’s wort.

5. St. John’s Wort Speeds Up Wound Healing

St. John’s wort has also long been used to hasten wound healing in folk medicine. One study, published in 2010, wholly supports this claim. Using olive oil combined with floral extracts of the plant, researchers found that topical use of St. John’s wort has remarkable wound healing and anti-inflammatory activity, thanks to its high flavonoid content.

6. St. John’s Wort Soothes Eczema & Other Skin Conditions

Because St. John’s wort possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities, its topical use has also been investigated as a natural therapy for atopic dermatitis. The 2003 study involved 21 volunteers diagnosed with mild to moderate eczema, who were tasked with applying cream that contained 5% St. John’s wort extract to one half of the face for four weeks. Each week, skin was assessed using the SCORAD index for scaling, crustiness, redness, thickness, acne, and abrasions. Compared to placebo, the end result of the St. John’s wort skin treatment showed much improvement across each assessment criteria. Total scores of SCORAD dropped from 44.9 at baseline to 23.9 after treatment.

7. St. John’s Wort Has Anti-Cancer Properties

For cancer cells to grow and spread in the body, it needs access to blood, oxygen, and nutrients. Angiogenesis is the physiological process where new blood vessels develop from old blood vessels. As a way to stop cancerous tumors from metastasizing, scientists have explored treatments that inhibit angiogenesis, which would therefore curb the spread of cancer.

St. John’s wort has shown much promise as an angiogenesis inhibitor. In a 2005 study, hyperforin compounds extracted from St. John’s wort exerted strong inhibitory effects on in vitro and in vivo experiments on cancer cell cultures. Hyperforin was capable of preventing several key steps of the angiogenesis process, from stopping cancer cell growth and capillary formation to curbing the migrating and invading potential of endothelial cells.

How To Use St. John’s Wort

Because St. John’s wort has a profound effect on the brain, it may interact with other medications you might be taking, making them more or less effective. As always, be sure to consult with your doctor before using St. John’s wort.

Like most herbal medicines, St. John’s wort takes time to produce an effect on the mind and body. It can take anywhere from three to six weeks to feel a change.

For anti-depressant and mood boosting benefits, you can take St. John’s wort as a dietary supplement. These VitaStrength capsules are well reviewed, non GMO and FDA approved.

St. John’s wort is also available in loose leaf form, for making teas and tinctures.

To use St. John’s wort in skin care, it may be purchased as a topical oil and made into balms and lotions.