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Can St. John's Wort Benefit Your Health?

If you are one of the many people considering taking St. John's wort for a variety of conditions, you are in good company. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, St. John's wort is one of America's most commonly purchased herbal remedies. With reported uses that span from helping with ear infections to assisting with the treatment of depression, the benefits of St. John's wort are even backed, to an extent, by scientific research. Commonly found in stores, pharmacies and other outlets that sell herbal medicines, St. John's wort has a history that dates back thousands of years. If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of St. John's wort and what some medical studies have determined, read on. Separating the truth from the buzz can give you the tools you need to decide if St. John's wort is right for you and your family. When it comes to adding supplements to a routine, an informed decision is always the best.

What Is St. John's Wort?

While the media attention on St. John's wort is a relatively new concept, the herbal remedy is anything but new. In fact, the history of St. John's wort as a remedy is believed to date back in history some 2,500 years or more. Some of the first documented uses for St. John's wort are credited to the ancient Greeks who believed the plant helped with nervous conditions. It was widely recommended for use in ancient times in cultures all over the world.

Europeans used it in rituals for bringing good luck. One story goes that the flowers of St. John's wort could protect against the evil eye if they were brought into a home in midsummer. The flowers were also believed to protect a home from fires, banish witches and even to help young girls predict their chances for finding marital bliss.

The plant itself is a perennial shrub that is found naturally in a number of locations around the world. It grows between 12 to 36 inches in height and is known for its yellow flowers that tend to bloom in mid- to late-summer, around the time of St. John's birthday. It is possible to find seeds available to add this herb to personal gardens since the flowers are considered a beautiful landscape addition by many.

Although St. John's wort is the most common name, it does go by a few other monikers. Those looking for St. John's wort are also likely to find it called klamath weed, John's wort, goatweed, rosin rose, amber touch-and-heal and even milleperituis.

The benefits of St. John's wort can be found in both the plant's leaves and flowers. The active ingredients that seem to produce the medicinal benefits are hypericin and pseudohypericin.

Those looking to reap the benefits of St. John's wort will find it is available in a number of different forms. These include teas, tablets, skin lotions, tinctures, capsules, powder and even dried herb formulations.

Although it has not been widely studied for use in children, many suggest it can be used in children under the age of 12 under medical supervision. It is smart to follow packaging instructions for adults and children both. It is also considered wise to seek out medical advice before trying to reap the benefits of St. John's wort. This can help prevent issues with medication interactions.

The Pros of St. John's Wort

The indications for St. John's wort are rather extensive. Some have been backed by scientific studies; others remain unsupported but still widely believed.

Perhaps one of the most studied areas involves St. John's wort and depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, this herbal remedy does seem to have a well-proven effect on depression. "Short-term studies (1-3 months) suggest that St. John's wort is more effective than placebo (sugar pill), and equally effective as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression," the clinic says.

Many medical experts feel more comparison studies in regard to St. John's wort's effectiveness are needed. Still, the Mayo Clinic does give St. John's wort an "A" grade for its proven benefits in regard to depression.

A variety of other potential uses for St. John's wort are known. Some of the most interesting potential applications include treating alcoholism, infections, premenstrual syndrome, seasonal affective disorder and even viral encephalitis and HIV infection.

Topical application of St. John's wort has also shown beneficial in the treatment of burns, wounds and hemorrhoids. The herb is said to have a pain and inflammation reducing property.

Concerning children, St. John's wort has been used as a painkiller for ear infections. A study with more than 100 children showed that an herbal eardrop formulation, which included St. John's wort, proved to be as effective as regular painkilling drops.

The Cons

Although it has a variety of potential benefits, many of them proven, St. John's wort side effects are also well noted. Most especially, it seems this particular herbal remedy does interact with other medications, which can make it ill advised to take when other prescriptions are in the mix.

In regard to other medications, St. John's wort is known to increase the effectiveness of some and decrease it in others. Considering this, it is often deemed vital that potential users consult a medical professional before adding St. John's wort to their daily routine. Some of the most noted medications St. John's wort interferes with include medications for HIV treatment, cancer treatment, birth control pills, antidepressants and more. It has a known interaction with anticoagulants and some of the drugs used for organ transplant patients. It is recommended that pregnant and nursing women avoid taking St. John's wort.

The most common St. John's wort side effects include such things as increased sensitivity to light, rashes, allergic reactions, stomach complaints and constipation. Allergic reactions can be serious. The symptoms here can include such things as difficulty breathing, hives or even swelling or closing of the throat. Severe allergic reactions generally require medical attention.

While the jury is still out on some of the potential benefits of St. John's wort, many of its ancient uses have been backed by medical science. A natural alternative to a variety of different medications, St. John's wort likely will remain a hot topic of conversation for some time to come.

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