The Happiness Herb: Feel Good Factor Tip Ten A highly effective natural mood-boosting remedy is the herb St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). It is one of the most thoroughly researched of all natural remedies. St John’s wort works just as well as tricyclic and SSRI antidepressants, but has fewer side effects. The older tricyclic antidepressants are still widely prescribed but often produce undesirable side effects. An analysis of 29 randomised clinical trials on St John’s wort versus placebos, involving 5,489 people in total, show that the herb is highly effective with minimal side effects.
In one German study using 300mg of St John’s wort, 66 per cent of patients with mild to moderate depression improved, with less depression and complaints of disturbed sleep, headache and fatigue, compared to just 26 per cent of those receiving a placebo. It is not, however, as effective for severe depression. The same is true for SSRI antidepressants. German doctors frequently recommend St John’s wort. UK doctors rarely do. Are there any side effects? One of the consistent findings in this research, and in my clinical experience, is that St John’s wort has minimal side effects. It is much gentler than antidepressant drugs.
That said, there are some side effects reported. About 2 per cent of people report side effects including gastrointestinal symptoms, allergic reactions, anxiety and dizziness. Concerns about St John’s wort causing photosensitivity (increased skin sensitivity to strong sunlight) should not be alarming, having only occurred at very high doses rather than the recommended 600–900mg a day. St John’s wort does ‘up regulate’ certain liver enzymes. This means that the liver works a bit harder. The same happens with almost all drugs and substances foreign to the body, as the liver tries to detoxify them. It is therefore not advisable to combine St John’s wort with SSRI antidepressants, anti-retroviral drugs or cancer drugs. Because of these kinds of concerns, St John’s wort has been tested for long-term safety.
In one study involving 440 people treated with St John’s wort for a year, no significant side effects occurred, although there were a few reports of gastrointestinal side effects and the occasional skin complaint. The HAM-D (Hamilton Rating Score for Depression) score, however, dropped from an average of 20, indicating moderate depression, to an average of 2, indicating complete remission. This and other research suggests that St John’s wort is a much better and safer bet to continue long term to prevent a relapse of low mood than conventional antidepressants. Do we know how it works? Exactly how St John’s wort works is still a bit of a mystery. Recent research indicates that hypericin, thought to be one of the major active ingredients in this herb, may act by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine. This may explain some of its benefits, but not all.
In another study where the purported active ingredient hypericin was removed, St John’s wort still raised levels of the brain chemicals. So we have to conclude that, so far, we still don’t know enough about the activities and synergistic abilities of the many compounds found in St John’s wort and exactly why it works. How much should you take? A 300mg dose of St John’s wort (containing 0.3 per cent hypericin) two or three times a day helps most people with mild depression, while twice this amount (meaning 600mg three times a day) may help those who suffer severely. For the latter, buy a 450mg standardised St John’s wort capsule. Take one on the first day, add a second dose at noon on the second day, then take a third dose on the next day, in the afternoon. If you have no adverse effects, you can take all three, 1,350mg, in the morning. Stop at the dose that makes you feel better. But don’t expect instant results. It often takes a couple of weeks to work.
If you are currently on antidepressants I don’t recommend also taking St John’s wort, as not enough is known about their effects in combination. If you are on any medication you should seek advice from your doctor before taking St John’s wort. A 10-step approach to feeling good As well as looking at biochemical and nutritional solutions, The Feel Good Factor explores emotional health and provides lifestyle advice to finding happiness and wellbeing. Despite being released only a few weeks ago, it’s already become the number one best-seller in Ireland and is now in its second print run. To order your copy, click here. And if you join my 100% Health Club, you’ll receive a 20% discount on the cover price during the month of March, as well as receiving many other member benefits. Feel Good Factor Tour I’m also traveling around the UK, Ireland and to the Channel Islands this month on my Feel Good Factor Tour, so check out my tour schedule to see if I’m in a location near you – that way you can hear all about the secret to feeling good from me in person.