Herbal extract as effective as widely-used anti-depressant

AFP/FileAn extract of the herb St. John’s Wort is at least as effective in treating depression as the commonly-prescribed drug Paxil and has fewer side effects, according to a study published. German doctors carried out tests among 251 outpatients at 21 mental health clinics, who were given either the herbal extract or Paxil for three weeks.

The pills were packaged so that they were indistinguishable to the volunteers, the study, published online by the British Medical Journal (bmj.com) said.
The recruits, aged 18-70, were monitored for symptoms of depression, which were rated according to a standard scorecard, and for side-effects.

By the end of the trial, symptoms fell by 56.6 percent among the homeopathic group and by 44.8 percent among the Paxil group. Incidence of side effects among the herbal patients was far lower than those taking the drug — 172, with the most common complaint being stomach upset, compared with 269 among those taking Paxil. The herbal extract, WS5570, is made by a German company, Dr. Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals, which funded the trial. Two of its employees were also among the four-person team that carried out the study.

“In the treatment of moderate to severe major depression, (St. John’s Wort extract) is at least as effective as paroxetine,” the study said. Paroxetine is the lab name for the pharmaceutical molecule which is marketed as Paxil.The authors call on other researchers to test St. John’s Wort, and say they are now assessing the herb in a long-term trial.

Several previous studies over the past five years have also said St. John’s Wort scores better over pharmaceutical drugs as a mood lifter, although one study, published in the United States in 2002, found no difference at all. Other research has also said that, because St. John’s Wort is commonly taken without doctor’s advice, more work needs to be done to ensure that patients take standard doses and determine whether the herb interferes with drugs or oral contraceptives.