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How does St. John's Wort work?

The active ingredient in St. Johns Wort, hypericin, appears to affect various neurotransmitters, including serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine. These are the same chemicals affected by the prescription drug Prozac. St. John’s Wort may also help to improve sleep because hypericum extract increases the brain's output of melatonin at night. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that influences the circadian rhythm and sleep.
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St. John's wort is an herbal remedy that is sometimes used to treat depression. Many of the psychotropic drugs used to treat depression have side effects which can be severe, and some hope that a natural medicine will cause fewer problems.

Depression is treated in a number of ways, often by the use of anti-depressant drugs, for example Prozac, Paxil, Elavil and Nardil. These can cause side effects such as sleeplessness, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances and sexual problems. The British Medical Journal reported in 1994 that St. John's wort was about as effective as standard anti-depressants, and worked better than placebos in treating mild to moderate depression.

The active therapeutic ingredients in St. John's wort include hypericin, pseudohypericin and xanthones, and it is believed that other components may support the action of these compounds. Extract preparations of St John's Wort are standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin, so the typical adult dose of 300 milligrams taken three times a day means 2.7 milligrams of hypericin a day.

It is presumed that hypericin helps to affect mood by elevating the biochemicals dopamine and seratonin in the brain. It also reduces adrenal activity, which is increased in depression. However St. John's wort has side effects as well. Light-sensitivity, dry mouth, stomach irritations, dizziness and tiredness can occur.

It is inconclusive whether St. John's wort may help with the treatment of herpes, HIV or leukemia, or if it could help in treating some cancers.

St. John's wort is marketed as a dietary supplement, and so it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and taking it should be done under a doctor's supervision.

Continue Learning about St. John's Wort

What is St. John’s Wort?
RealAgeRealAge
Hypericum, which is the term used for herbal preparations and extracts of St. John's wort, contains ...
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Who should use St. John’s Wort?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
St. John's Wort is used to treat mild to moderate depression in adults. It is also used to treat oth...
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Who should not use St. John’s Wort?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
You should not use St. John’s Wort if you are allergic to it, if you are using a serotonin reuptake ...
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How can I take St. John’s Wort?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
St. John's Wort is available in oral forms such as capsules, tablets and liquid extracts, and it...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.