St. John's Wort for Anxiety

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Perhaps best known as a natural remedy for symptoms of depression, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is also sometimes used to treat anxiety. While research on the possibly anxiety-relieving effects of the herb is limited, some proponents suggest that St. John's wort might serve as an alternative to anxiety medications. 

Why Is St. John's Wort Sometimes Used For Anxiety?

Although little is known about how or why St.

John's wort might help alleviate anxiety, one theory is that compounds available in the herb may affect certain biochemical factors involved in anxiety development.

For instance, it's said that hypericin and hyperforin (two compounds found in St. John's wort) may influence a number of neurotransmitters thought to play a role in anxiety disorders. Responsible for transmitting messages between neurons (i.e., nerve cells), neurotransmitters include chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.

The Science Behind St. John's Wort and Anxiety

It's too soon to tell whether St. John's wort can help ease anxiety, according to a report published in Nutrition Journal in 2010. For the report, researchers reviewed 24 previously published studies evaluating the use of a variety of dietary and herbal supplements in the treatment of anxiety.

In their review of four clinical trials testing St. John's wort's effectiveness as an anxiety treatment, the report's authors found contradictory results.

For example, one small study (published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2000) found that 12 weeks of treatment with St. John's wort led to significant improvements in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD, a type of anxiety disorder). On the other hand, a larger study (published in International Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2005) showed no significant difference between OCD patients treated with St.

John's wort for 12 weeks and those given a placebo for the same length of time.

It should be noted that the report in Nutrition Journal also found "strong evidence" for the use of the herbs passion flower and kava as treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders.

Caveats

St. John's wort may trigger a range of side effects, such as increased sensitivity to sunlight, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, and sexual dysfunction.

What's more, St. John's wort may interact with a number of medications (including certain antidepressants, birth control pills, and blood-thinning drugs) and make those medications less effective. 

While it's possible that St. John's wort may provide some benefit to people struggling with anxiety, using this herb to self-treat an anxiety disorder is not advised. If you're experiencing the following symptoms, talk to a mental-health professional as soon as possible:

• chronic, unsubstantiated worry and nervousness
• fatigue
• sleep disturbance
• heart palpitations
• muscle tension

Go here to learn more about using herbal supplements safely.

Alternatives to St. John's Wort for Anxiety Relief

Along with kava and passion flower, herbs like valerian and ashwagandha also show promise for anxiety relief. 

There's also some evidence that several alternative therapies may aid in anxiety management. These therapies include acupuncture, massage therapy, and hypnosis. Additionally, practicing mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation may help reduce stress and stave off anxiety.

Furthermore, a number of essential oils used in aromatherapy may offer anxiety-soothing effects. Essential oils such as lavender, rose, lemon, and bergamot appear to be especially calming and anxiety-reducing.

If you're thinking of using any type of alternative medicine (including St. John's Wort) in treatment of an anxiety disorder, make sure to consult a mental-health professional prior to beginning treatment.

Sources

Flausino OA Jr, Zangrossi H Jr, Salgado JV, Viana MB. "Effects of acute and chronic treatment with Hypericum perforatum L. (LI 160) on different anxiety-related responses in rats." Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Jan-Feb;71(1-2):251-7.

Kobak KA1, Taylor LV, Bystritsky A, Kohlenberg CJ, Greist JH, Tucker P, Warner G, Futterer R, Vapnik T. "St John's wort versus placebo in obsessive-compulsive disorder: results from a double-blind study." Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2005 Nov;20(6):299-304.

Kumar A, Singh A. "Protective effect of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) extract on 72-hour sleep deprivation-induced anxiety-like behavior and oxidative damage in mice." Planta Med. 2007 Oct;73(13):1358-64.

Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. "Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review." Nutr J. 2010 Oct 7;9:42.

Taylor LH, Kobak KA. "An open-label trial of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder." J Clin Psychiatry. 2000 Aug;61(8):575-8.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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