Nature’s Little Helper: St John’s Wort

Latest health information provided by O’Connell Street Medical Centre

Nature’s Little Helper: St John’s Wort

Nature’s Little Helper: St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has graced the shelves of herbalists worldwide for centuries.

This useful little plant, with its jaunty yellow flowers has proven to be a mainstay in herbal medicine. It is used for treating complaints as diverse as depression, anxiety, abdominal pains, alcoholism, earaches, menopause and insomnia.

The key to its healing reputation lies with two key active ingredients; hypericin and hyperforin. Both have antibiotic properties while hypericin is also thought to increase dopamine levels.

Today St John’s Wort is one of our best-know herbal remedies and is widely available in the health supplement and vitamin sections of pharmacies and health food outlets.

While the herbal community has embraced St John’s Wort, its adoption by mainstream medicine has been hindered by a lack of clarity around the correct dosage level and ongoing uncertainty as to how it interacts with other drug treatments.

While St John’s Wort can be a useful little plant when taken in moderation, studies have identified three areas where its active ingredients may pose issues for patients:

  • When swapping to prescription antidepressants: to avoid the risk of serotonin toxicity (tremors, sweating, agitation, confusion, muscle spasms and diarrhea), withdraw slowly and stop St John’s Wort entirely for one-week before commencing prescribed medication.
  • When taking the oral contraceptive pill: St John’s Wort can stimulate the breakdown of the pills’ oestrogen and progestogen components, increasing the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
  • When taking prescription antidepressants: St John’s Wort shares a common activation mechanism with many antidepressants. Taken in conjunction can increase the risk of serotonin toxicity.

As always, please consult your GP before taking any non-prescribed medication as it may produce side effects if taken in combination with other medication.