St. John’s Wort Matches Common Antidepressant (Paxil)

A special extract of St. John’s wort has been found at least as effective for some forms of depression as a common antidepressant in the same family as Prozac.

The herbal treatment, hypericum extract WS 5570, was pitted head-to-head against the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) paroxetine, sold under the trade name Paxil.

German researcher Armin Szegedi and colleagues tested both treatments on 301 people aged 18 to 70 with moderate or severe depression at German mental health centers.

Participants took the drugs in a randomized, controlled, double-blind study over a six week period during 2000 to 2003.

At the trial’s conclusion, half the participants (61 of 122) who took St. John’s wort found their symptoms in decline while just one-third (43 out of 122) of those taking paroxetine saw remission.

Fewer side-effects

People taking paroxetine also reported more side-effects, 269 compared to 172 for St. John’s wort. The most common for both treatments was stomach disorders.

The findings are considered important because while St. John’s wort has been found more effective than placebo in treating mild to moderate depression, and as effective as several antidepressants, its efficacy for more severe depression has been disputed.

“The results thus indicate that in a group of patients in whom the appropriateness of hypericum extract was previously disputed, the antidepressant efficacy of the herbal drug is at least comparable with the effect of one of the leading synthetic antidepressants,” the researchers conclude.

The research is reported in the British Medical Journal.