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St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort

What comes to mind when you think about Saint John's Wort? For many it's "good for depression" but this isn't quite accurate...or at least it's very limiting. According to a meta-analysis of twenty nine “randomised, controlled, double blind trials of hypericum extracts versus placebo or versus standard antidepressants in people with major depression” concluded “Hypericum (St John’s wort) extracts are more effective than placebo in people with major depression. They are similarly effective to standard antidepressants but with fewer side effects” (7) And to be fair, many other studies have found SJW to be innefective for depression, but given how different people are, and how any different places depression can stem from, it's not really that surprising that not everyone benefits from this herb in this way. In our experience people who feel the most relief from this plant are those who feel depression along with a sense of tension and anxiety, people who feel their nervous system is perhaps overloaded, and life is too burdonsom for them. St. John's Wort seems to have the effect of easing life's struggles and of bringing light back in to people's lives. It's helpful for reliving the strain and worry that often comes when life is too busy and hectic and one simply can't calm their brain down. (image source) Some of this could be explained by the herb's effect on the liver when taken internally. The liver is in charge of processing the majority of substances that are in our body, everything from foods to medications to your hormones, quite the array of substances. Most of this processing is done through the Cytochrome P-450 (1) system that takes place in the liver cells (but also in the GI tract lining). This process transforms substances into something different in order to either activate it for use in the body (such is the case with most prescription medications), or to de-activate it and send it on it's way to excretion (like your homrones!) Mind you this is a very simple explination of a complicated feel free to look more in to it if you're so inclined! St. John's Wort is know to increase or speed up this process in the body, which means that it effectvely clears things out of your body faster through it's normal detoxifaction pathways. (4). Now this is a good thing when you're looking to clear out stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin (3) not such a good thing when it comes to making sure your hormonal birth control pill is effective (I'll come back to that later). In addition to it's effect on the P-450 system, SJW has also been shown to affect the serotonin (2) pathways in the brain, which is believed to be a big factor in it's anti-depressant qualities as well. So what does this mean and why does it matter? To start, what it means is that there are many different ways SJW is known to affect the human body (I haven't even talked about the nerve-pain relieving aspect yet!!) and given the complexity of human biology no one is going to react the same to any herb, so even though it's great for depression, it may not be great for YOUR depression.


  I personally love this herb, it was most helpful for me when I was still a server at a busy restaurant and had a hard time winding down at the end of my shift for sleep at night (it helped to clear the adrenalin from my system through my liver so I could relax (5)). I also turn to it when I'm feeling frazzled and on edge due to life pressures; it has a remarcable effect on calming down the nervous system, though this aspect hasn't been studied much, anyone who's ever used the herb can tell you this is what it feels like it's doing. Topically SJW infused oil is wonderful for nerve pain and has been used extensively for issues relating to the nervous system such as nerve pain, shingles, sciatica, and even nerve related viruses such as herpes and HIV. The Commision E monographs from Germany approved external preparations of SJW for use for “sharp or abrasive wounds, muscle pain, and first-degree burns” (6). I use it in combination with arnica infused oil in my Sore Muscle Massage Oil for any and all topical pain issues. It's one of my favorite herbs, and I've written about it before, so if you want to see my more lighthearted review on it go check out my previous post.


  Herbs are notorious for getting lots of bad press when people have a negative reaction to them, but that's partly because the medical and pharmaceutical world likes to sensationalize it to make their products seem less scary, but there are significantly more adverse drug reactions that happen on a daily basis than there are adverse herb reactions. That being said, it's worth not messing with a good thing if you're taking any kind of prescription medication and it's working well for you. SJW could make the medication less effective and that would be bad if you're relying on the medication to do it's job, like in the case with hormonal birth control pills. So play it safe if you're on any kind of medication and try some other herbs instead. If you're not, and you're curious about this particular herb, then come on by and talk to one of our on-staff herbalists and see if they can help shed some light on your situation and your interest in trying this herb. If you want to check out a really sciency paper on this herb go here We make a few products with this wonderful plant in it, a couple of which you can buy in our online store and even more you can only get from our retail location, so be sure to ask us about ti! Sarah References:
  1. 1. Cytochrome P-450 System:
  2. 2. Serotonin:
  3. 3. Affect on serotonin:
  4. 4. SJW affect on drug metabolism:
  5. 5. SJW and Cortisol:
  6. 6. American Botanical Counsil Commission E monograph:
  7. 7. Linde K, Berner M, Kriston L. (2008). St John’s wort for major depression
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