May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What do you know about depression and the herb St. John’s Wort?
Depression is a serious mental illness affecting an estimated 19 million Americans, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Symptoms include unexplained crying spells, prolonged sadness, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, apathy, inability to concentrate, social withdrawal and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
According to Purdue University’s Center for New Crops and Plant Products, St. John’s Wort grows in full sun and can be used as an herbal antidepressant. Growing your own, however, may be challenging.
“The plant is difficult to grow due to many diseases and insect pests, but it appears to be adaptable to Indiana,” the page cautions. “Serious disease problems have been observed in Indiana.”
According to the paper “Herbs Affecting the Central Nervous System”, scientists are unsure how St. John’s Wort works. It was originally believed to act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), but this effect was shown to be insignificant. Some studies have suggested it acts as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
According to MayoClinic.com, MAOIs may relieve depression by keeping the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine from being processed, while SSRIs appear to relieve depression by preventing serotonin from being reabsorbed.
Whether or not St. John’s Wort helps a patient depends on what he/she takes it for. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), St. John’s Wort may have minimal effects on people with major depression, while having effects similar to standard antidepressants in people with minor depression. One study found it was no more beneficial than a placebo in treating major depression of moderate severity, but this was also true of the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft).
Anyone suffering from depression should consult a medical professional as soon as possible. People considering using St. John’s Wort should consult with their physicians first. People on standard antidepressants should not stop taking them without a doctor’s approval.
According to NCCAM, St. John’s Wort can interact with some drugs, such as birth control pills, Cyclosporine (which prevents the body from rejecting transplanted organs), heart medication Digoxin, antiretroviral Indinavir, cancer drug Irinotecan and Warfarin and other anticoagulants.