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St John's wort - a natural remedy for depression? but is it safe?
Natural, wholesome, inexpensive and available over the counter, St John's wort seemed to be the dream remedy for depression. Taken all over the world in huge quantities, it has become the pill to pop without guilt or fear, the herbal Prozac that dusted away the blues nature's way.
The downside is only now emerging. Although studies show that it is effective for mild to moderate depression and two million British people are taking it, you do have to be careful.
The chief drawback is that the remedy, derived from the yellow flowering hedgerow plant, interacts with other drugs causing them to metabolise through the body too quickly. This is obviously very significant for people on the contraceptive pill or the blood-thinning drug warfarin, who are at risk of a stroke.
A Natural remedy for depression. Warnings issued
The Medicines Control Agency issued a warning on March 1st 2000 that patients who are on a long list of drugs should stop taking St John's wort until they have consulted their GP or pharmacist. Medications for asthma, epilepsy, depression, migraine and heart problems are all implicated.
The authorities in the Irish Republic have gone further by banning the over-the-counter sale of the ancient herbal remedy since January 1st 2000. It is now available only on prescription.
In the United States, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) issued a warning in February 2000 that the herb could interfere with drugs used to treat HIV-infected patients. It also raised the possibility of complications for other patients taking similar medication, including those undergoing heart transplants. The FDA cited research showing that for patients taking St John's wort, the effectiveness of the antiviral drug Indinavir was 'dulled'.
There have also been some reports from America that St John's wort can cause nerve damage or cataracts when combined with bright sunlight. This is believable because herbalists have always known that when St John's wort is used externally, you have to keep out of the sun. Combined with oil, it is used on the skin for paralysis or to treat pain from nerves or shingles.
Researchers have found that hypericin, the active ingredient in St John's wort, does react with sunlight. This is particularly significant for people who suffer from the 'winter blues' or seasonal affective disorder, who might be tempted to combine a course of St John's wort with light-box therapy - sitting for long periods bathed in bright light.
A natural remedy for depression
A better alternative to St Johns Wort as a natural remedy for depression
would be high grade EPA fish oil.
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