St. John's wort, a popular
herbal dietary supplement, should be considered the first line of defense in
patients with mild to moderate depression, according to a study published
Friday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
"This is great news and an important addition to the growing body of
literature on the effectiveness and safety of St. John's wort," said David
Seckman, executive director/CEO of the National Nutritional Foods Association,
the nation's largest trade group representing dietary supplement manufacturers
and retailers. "The publication of such a large and well-controlled study
will go a long way toward educating practitioners of conventional medicine
about products used in complementary and alternative care."
The study, reportedly the biggest ever of its kind, was conducted in
Germany and involved more than 300 patients with mild to moderate depression.
Participants were randomly treated with either St. John's wort extract or the
The results show that the two treatments were "therapeutically equivalent"
with regard to overall effect on depression. What is also significant,
however, is that patients had a higher tolerance for St. John's wort. Side
effects such as dry mouth, sweating and dizziness, were reported in only
39 percent of patients taking St. John's wort compared to 63 percent taking
imipramine. This resulted in fewer patients discontinuing treatment -- only
3 percent of those taking St. John's wort as compared to 16 percent of
patients on imipramine.
According to the BMJ, the results of findings of this study and others
recently published, "provide compelling evidence that St. John's wort extract
is as effective as standard antidepressants. In view of its superior safety
record, St. John's wort should be considered for first line treatment in mild
to moderate depression, especially in general practice where the milder forms
of depression are most commonly seen."