St. John’s Wort Benefits Explained: Is St. John’s Wort Safe?

St johns wort growing in the wild.

If you didn’t think a flower could be controversial, think again. St. John’s Wort has been attributed to relieving and even curing symptoms related to depression and anxiety for centuries, cross cultures, and across the globe. Modern science has backed these claims in some ways, but there’s still a long way to go for what many call ‘the magic herb’.

The biggest worry with St John’s Wort is the way it interacts with certain prescription medications. For this reason, St. John’s Wort is only available in some countries with a prescription. France has even banned the use of St. John’s Wort in products altogether. This is actually a testament to how effective and powerful of a natural supplement SJW is. Having said that, St. John’s Wort is available in local supermarkets across America which makes you wonder, how well do we know nature’s own antidepressant?

If all the claims to the healing qualities of St. John’s Wort are true, it’s an easy access pass to a natural mood elevator. But, as always, knowledge is power, so let’s get to know St. John’s Wort!

What Is St. John’s Wort?

St. johns wort growing with leaves.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s what? Don’t let the name throw you off, St. John’s Wort is actually a delicate flower with five perfectly shaped, yellow, petals, sprouting yellow stems from its center. They are pretty, helpful flowers that bloom in Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern Asia. So, you’ve probably seen them. Although not indigenous to Australia, the Aussie’s are now responsible for 20% of all St. John’s Worts exported globally.

Its official name is Hypericum perforatum. It’s a Greek name, ‘Hypericum’ meaning hung-above, as being the flower of choice to hang over religious icons, and ‘Perforatum’, meaning perforated, which refers to the small dots on the leaf that look almost perforated. In fact, these dots are glands that release the precious oil of St. John’s Wort. The common name is taken from its time of blooming, every year around St. John’s Day, but is also a clue to the protective powers of the plant to ward against evil, as it was hung over religious icons to ward off evil spirits.

The religious symbolism of St. John’s Wort spans many cultures over many eras. There are records of poems and documentation of the mystical and medicinal effects of SJW dating back to 400 BC. Aside from warding off spirits and honoring deities, SJW has been used by ancient civilizations for wound care, anxiety and menstrual cramps.

Does St. John’s Wort Help With Depression And Anxiety?

Woman who appears stress free outside.

The research on St. John’s Wort is still ongoing and inconclusive. The question isn’t ‘does it have an effect?’; it certainly does. In cases of mild depression and anxiety, St. John’s Wort has been found to be as effective as introductory antidepressants. It’s also been proven to stimulate light therapy in the treatment of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The question is: how? This is the great unknown of the St. John’s Wort researchers, their white whale. Currently, it’s believed that active ingredients like hypericin, hyperforin and adhyperforin work as cheerleaders, stimulating chemical messengers in the brain. These chemical messengers are serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, all responsible for our happy center. One of the factors of depression is a lack of these little guys, so stimulating them can regulate and even lift your mood.

To summarize: St. John’s Wort can stimulate your Selective Serotonin Inhibitors, also known as SSRIs. Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft are just a few prescriptions drugs whose main purpose is to boost SSRIs.

Two large studies were conducted, sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Their findings showed that the plant was just as effective in treating major depression as the placebo, meaning: not at all. However, the same findings showed that prescription drugs were also as ineffective as the placebo on this level. Translation: depression and anxiety are not fixable, they’re manageable. St. John’s Wort is just as effective as any man-made chemical compound in managing anxiety and depression, with notably fewer side effects.

St. John’s Wort Side Effects Explained

If you consider that the herb is as effective as the prescription drug, it shouldn’t come as a shock that it may not be compatible with other drugs or for every system.

In treating SAD, St. John’s Wort’s reaction to light is a benefit, but if you’re prone to light sensitivity, stay away. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, chronic depression, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer’s disease, the herb may exacerbate symptoms and potentially lead to hallucinations or psychosis.

If you are already taking prescription medication, do not supplement with St. John’s Wort. Not only has the herb been proven to make your current medication less effective, but the mixture of medications could result in serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome can present in confusion, fever, irritability, dilated pupils or muscle spasms. It can also mess with heart, HIV, and cancer medications.

So, this is some serious stuff from a serious medicine. For the most part SJW’s negative interactions are exactly that: interactions. It doesn’t always play nice with preexisting conditions and doesn’t get along with other medications. But when used as part of a specified healthcare plan, it does the job as effectively, if not better, than the man-made chemical alternative.

In light of its relationship with other drugs and effect on the individual, consult your doctor if you experience any of the above, or to just make sure you’re getting all the benefits of St. John’s Wort.

St. John’s Wort Oil Explained

Bottle of st johns wort oil next to flower.

St. John’s Wort Essential Oil

There are many ways to reap the benefits of St. John’s Wort: tea, pill form, and oil. St. John’s Wort Oil is for external use and treats several external ailments, as well as internal. Native Americans have used St. John’s Wort as a natural antiseptic because of its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. St. John’s Wort treats minor wounds, eczema, and even hemorrhoids.

When the oil is applied to a wound, the combination of flavonoids and tannins also act as a rejuvenation agent and encourage quick healing. The antibacterial properties then ward off infection. It’s no wonder it’s been used for centuries by ancient armies and civilizations.

The flavonoids and hypericin in the oil reduce burning and itching sensation while alleviating inflammation. Massaging some St. John’s Wort Oil- mixed with carrier oils like coconut, jojoba, or sesame – can reduce symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis, as well as being the perfect healing agent for menstrual cramps. It’s also effective with breast tenderness and muscle tissue pain associated with menopause and fibromyalgia.

Whether you add a few drops to your bath, add the oil to a cream, apply directly to the affected area, St. John’s Wort Oil can bring great relief from internal and external hemorrhoids.

What Is A Safe Dosage Of St. John’s Wort For Depression?

The standard SJW capsule comes in 300mg. It takes approximately 900-1200 mg to reduce the symptoms of depression. To make a personalized medication plan to suit your goals, speak with your doctor. They will put you on a plan that most effectively treats your symptoms. Everybody is different, and every body is different. We have different tolerances and reactions. Your doctor will let you know the staggered dosage right for you, increasing weekly. Like all antidepressants, it will take 4-6 weeks to see results.

If you are purchasing the oil, make sure to check the label to find out what concentration of extract it actually has. Most essential oils range from 0.05% to 0.9% of active ingredient. This translates to just over two capsules. The rest is made up of carrier oils that activate the main ingredient.

Conclusion

Although SJW is natural, as we’ve seen, it’s one effective trooper. Carrying the same weight as it’s prescription-drug rivals, SJW needs to be treated with the same respect. When you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you. Mama nature, that is. The more we know about the plants around us the more we can treat our bodies the way they are intended. An organic ingredient, with tried and true efficacy, combined with the understanding of modern medicine. St. John’s Wort really is the intersection between the past and the future, coming to a point at holistic wellbeing.

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