The Dangers of St. John’s Wart

Did You Know… the most popular herbal treatment for depression can be unexpectedly dangerous… and even deadly?

If you live in the United States, it’s easy to purchase St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)—even Wal-Mart carries versions of this herb!  Yet, caution is advised with this herb and all herbs.  As a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reminds us, this potent herbal treatment can be dangerous and sometimes deadly when taken with other medications.

What is St. John’s Wort? 

St. John’s Wort is a flowering plant that grows naturally in many places around the globe—and it is also the most popular alternative treatment for depression in the United States.

In Germany, where doctors commonly prescribe non-pharmaceutical treatments, prescriptions for St. John’s Wort outnumber those for Prozac by 7 to 1.  Thanks to its minimal side effects and low cost, St. John’s Wort (SJW) attracts even users not specifically seeking an all-natural treatment.

When Treatment Approaches Collide, Disaster Can Ensue 

What you (and your doctor!) may not consider is how an herbal treatment like SJW could impact other medications you take.  Wake Forest researchers found SJW can alter the concentration and effect of numerous other drugs, such as…

  • Blood thinners
  • Chemotherapy
  • Contraceptives
  • Blood pressure medications

A retrospective analysis of data collected from a national survey revealed potentially harmful combinations in close to 30% of the cases reviewed.

Only You Can Prevent Dangerous Drug Interactions

Current statistics indicate 1 out of 20 Americans will be diagnosed with depression this year.  SJW offers a proven alternative to prescription drugs, with none of the unpleasant side effects.  But if you, like many people, take other medications to alleviate unrelated conditions, SJW could cause serious issues.  If you already take SJW, the same problem could arise if a physician issues you a new prescription.

The Wake Forest research team recommends training doctors to ask patients about any supplements, vitamins, minerals, or herbs they are taking.  In the meantime, take your health into your own hands.  “Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use,” states the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).