Monday, June 20, 2011

St. John's Wort

St. John's wart is one of many herbal remedies commonly used to treat symptoms of depression, sleeping disorders, and anxiety.  Like most herbal remedies or western medicines, there are advantages and disadvantages to taking this supplement.  Often, you can purchase St. Johns wart in your local supermarket or health food store.  This herb may also be labeled under the name hypericum perforatum, and is available in tablets, tea bags, tinctures, and capsules.  Although St. John's wart is generally considered to be safe, some side effects may occur in certain people.  These can vary from dizziness and gastrointestinal symptoms to dry mouth, tiredness, and photosensitivity.

Technically considered a weed, the herb has yellow flowers, a long life span, and was first documented being used as far back as ancient Greece.  Today, St. John's wart is a regularly prescribed herb in some parts of Europe, while it is sold over the counter and widely available in the United States.  According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), St. John's wart may have some effect on mild depression, but does not help with more severe cases.  It is also shown to have fewer side effects than standard antidepressant medications.

Although there is no confirmed list of medications that St. Johns wart may conflict with, research has shown that it will most likely limit the effectiveness of some.  This includes some antidepressants, and may require the supervision of a doctor if taken with the herb.  Other medications that may be affected are birth control pills, Cyclosporine, Digoxin, Indinavir, Irinotecan, Warfarin, or other anticoagulants.
It is important to remember that supplements such as herbs and vitamins do not fall under United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation standards.  This includes any filler items that are used, how much of a dose you are getting per serving, or even what dosage is safe to take.  The lack of regulation on these products makes not only the quality of the product but also the strength you are taking unpredictable, even if you consistently stick with one brand or dosage amount.  Information found on the label of a supplement can also be inaccurate or misleading, which is why herbal manufacturing companies cannot legally claim to cure any ailments or produce certain results that are not scientifically proven.  For this reason, it is better to go with a reputable brand when choosing these products, and always follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Additionally, it is significant to note that herbal remedies - when taken incorrectly - can be just as dangerous as any other medication.  When a product is derived from a plant source or is labeled "natural", it can still conflict with other herbs or medications you are taking.  While some adverse effects may occur, taking herbal supplements can be beneficial when taken correctly. Be sure to speak to a trained professional, such as a registered dietitian or doctor, before treating yourself for certain conditions.  

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