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Study Shows St. John’s Wort Ineffective for Major Depression of Moderate Severity
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An extract of the herb St. John’s wort was no more effective for treating major depression of moderate severity than placebo, according to the results of a new study. In this particular study, which was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Office of Dietary Supplements, participants were randomly assigned to one of three study arms—St. John’s wort, a placebo, or an antidepressant medication called sertraline. Dr. Stephen Straus, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, says an analysis showed that the percentage of patients that improved was about the same in each arm. However, the degree of improvement between the three arms varied somewhat.
"Patients who received St. John’s wort showed no greater proportion of improvement or degree of improvement than patients on the placebo pills. Among the patients who are on the standard antidepressant—sertraline—about the same percentage of them improved as on the placebo, but the extent of improvement was slightly greater. By some of the measures the investigators used sertraline proved superior to placebo. By some of the other study measures sertraline recipients did not do better than placebo recipients."
While it is not known what role St. John’s wort should play in the management of depression, these results indicate that St. John’s wort is not effective in treating major depression of moderate severity. Dr. Straus says plans are underway to conduct a study of the efficacy and safety of St. John’s wort for the treatment of minor depression. He adds, people who are suffering from depression should consult with expert clinicians to be sure that their type of depression and the severity of depression is accurately diagnosed and that they receive the best treatment. This is Calvin Jackson, the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.