St. John's wort has recently become enormously popular and is being used
successfully to treat a variety of illnesses and health conditions. It is
primarily used to treat mood disorders, such as mild to moderate depression,
seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, and insomnia. St. John's wort is also
being used for treating wounds, burns, and hemorrhoids. The herb is readily
available over-the-counter in a variety of forms, including capsules, liquids,
lotions, teas, and powders. Although St. John's wort is widely used, easily
accessible, and a natural medicine, a word of caution is in order, because like
any medicine, St. John's wort may be harmful too.
As St. John's wort is studied more, experts are concerned about its potential
for undesirable effects. One preliminary finding shows that high concentrations
of the herb may damage male fertility. Other research indicates that St. John's
wort may have a role in the development of cataracts. The herb appears to damage
proteins in the eyes when combined with bright sunlight. If you take St. John's
wort you should wear a hat and wrap-around sunglasses when you're outside in
While St. John's wort has been shown to relieve symptoms of depression, you
should not take it if you are already taking an antidepressant. Talk with your
doctor if you think you suffer from depression and feel you need medical help or
if you are interested in replacing your antidepressant with St. John's wort. Do
not attempt to treat your depression with St. John's wort if it is severe or if
you feel suicidal.
St. John's wort should not be taken if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or
if you take L-dopa or 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). You should also know that the
side effects of this herb may include:
Abdominal pain, bloating, or constipation
Nausea or vomiting
Hives, skin rashes or irritation
Elevated blood pressure
The bottom line: keep in mind that although St. John's wort is a natural
substance that is available over-the-counter, you should always treat it like a
medicine and consult your doctor if you are planning to use it.
L-dopa: Levodopa, a drug used in for treating the shaking and muscular
rigidity associated with Parkinson's disease
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): a natural compound produced by the body
from an amino acid (tryptophan). It is used to aid sleep, and in the treatment
of fibromyalgia and depression.
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