St. John’s Wort Side Effects

St. John's Wort tincture or extractionThe use of St. John’s Wort for “nervous disorders” dates all the way back to ancient Greece. The majority of recent research suggests it works well as a natural antidepressant for mild-to-moderate depression, although it hasn’t shown such success with severe depression. It’s been found to provide as much benefit as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft). Although its exact mechanism is unknown, researchers believe St. John’s Wort works in a similar manner to prescription antidepressants by activating brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that help to improve mood.

Clearly, St. John’s Wort is a potent herbal medicine, and as such users should exercise caution. Research published this month in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology suggests that St. John’s Wort can cause adverse side effects to the same degree as prescription antidepressants.

It’s Not for Everyone!

Researchers analyzed side effects reported by St. John’s Wort users and patients treated with the prescription drug fluoxetine during the years 2000 to 2013. Calculations equaled 84 cases of adverse side effects with St. John’s Wort, and 447 cases of adverse side effects with fluoxetine. Researchers adjusted these calculations based on two factors: fewer people use St. John’s Wort, and many side effects go unreported because it’s considered an herb and not a “drug.” Their conclusion was that St. John’s Wort can produce the same adverse reactions as antidepressants.

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Amnesia
  • Aggression

St. John’s Wort Side Effects

The takeaway here is something that alternative health practitioners have known for centuries—natural treatments such as herbs and botanicals are potent and should be used with caution! Just because you can purchase herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort over the counter at your local health store, doesn’t mean it’s “safe.” It’s important to take herbal medicines under the counsel of your doctor or another licensed health care practitioner in order to determine the correct dose and make sure it doesn’t adversely react with other medications or supplements you are taking. Studies have shown that St. John’s Wort side effects are serious when coupled with antidepressants, birth control pills, and certain blood thinners.

St. John’s Wort is available in capsule or tincture form, or as a tea. Be on the lookout for the following St. John’s Wort side effects:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Allergic reactions
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset
  • Increased sun sensitivity

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, St. John’s Wort has also shown promise as a potential treatment for…

  • Depression
  • PMS symptoms
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Season affective disorder (SAD)
  • Eczema, wounds, burns, hemorrhoids (when applied topically)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social phobia
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