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Depression Health Center

St. John’s Wort for Major Depression?

German Study Shows Herb as Effective as Antidepressants for Major Depression
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 10, 2008 -- Can taking an herbal supplement be as good as a prescription medication for people who are depressed?

Researchers in Germany think so.

A team working for a firm that makes St. John's wort extract has found that taking high-quality St. John's wort can be as effective as standard prescribed antidepressants for some depressed people.

Extract of St. John's wort is commonly used in Germany for people with depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

In the U.S. the jury is out, as study results have been mixed on whether the herb helps lift depression.

The study authors disclose that they were paid speaking and travel fees by the German company Schwabe, which produces St. John's wort extract.

St. John's Wort and Major Depression

The researchers reviewed 29 trials of St. John's wort involving 5,489 people.

The trials included adults with major depression who were randomly assigned either St. John's wort, a placebo, or a standard prescription antidepressant. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew who was getting which treatment during the trials.

Reviewers found that in nine of the larger trials, people who took St. John's wort and those who took a standard antidepressant for four to 12 weeks had similar outcomes when it came to how well they felt after treatment.

The reviewers also concluded that St. John's wort was more effective than placebo and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.

People who took St. John's wort tended to drop out of trials less often because of side effects than those who were taking an older class of antidepressants.

"Compared to 2005, the evidence that [St. John's wort] extracts are effective is better now," says study researcher Klaus Linde, with the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at Technical University in Munich, Germany, in a news release.

Charles Raison, MD, who is with the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University's School of Medicine, agrees. Raison was not involved in the study.

Raison says there is enough evidence now to suggest that St. John's wort has "at least a fifty-fifty chance of having antidepressant effects."

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