Do You Suffer from Spring Depression? And Can St. John's Wort Help??
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
For some people , Spring can be the season that triggers depression and perhaps the natural supplement St. Johns Wort can offer some relief.
Today's guest author KAY GLOVER is taking a look at St John’s Wort, the most common herbal supplement used to treat depression. Kay is an Industrial Designer, Business Owner, Wife, Mother of 2, and my Best Partner in Crime. She's had to be an advocate for her own mental health, as well as the mental health of her children.
Welcome Spring! Do you have your antidepressants ready?
Turns out that the march toward warmer weather and longer days of sunlight may not be a mood lifter for everyone. Sure, we're coming out of those cold and dark days of winter, which can be definite downers for those who suffer from SAD ( Seasonal Affective Disorder).
We SHOULD feel excited about getting outside, backyard gatherings, sporting events, school vacations, and the gateway to summer. Many states and countries have fully or partially lifted their pandemic protocols, so we SHOULD be eager to get out of our cocoons and back into the world. No more hiding behind masks! And don't forget the time change...we SHOULD be so grateful that now we get an extra hour of sunlight each evening.
Well, there's nothing like a "should" to completely wreck your mood.
What if all that outside time of baseball and backyard bbqs just sounds like torture? What if you liked the fact that pandemic protocols gave you permission to stay home? What if wearing a mask meant you didn't have to look social-media-post-ready all the time? Or that masking gave you the chance to hide while outside just a little? What if it just takes you longer to adjust to daylight saving time?
For us allergy sufferers, spring is a not so magical time of red, watery eyes and itchy, sneezy noses. Knowing that months of irritating allergies are looming are totally depressing. Not to mention, now having to constantly get tested and then explain that allergies are not Covid!
Talk about taking the spring out of your step!
So if this is a temporary, seasonal depression, can herbal remedies to help? And are they safe?
WHAT IS ST JOHN’S WORT?
St John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) is a plant with yellow flowers that grows wild (it’s actually a weed. No, not that kind of weed!) and has been used medicinally for centuries. In fact, it’s medicinal uses were first recorded in ancient Greece. The flowering tops of the St John’s Wort plant are used to make teas, tablets, and capsules with concentrated extracts. It’s also made into liquid extracts and topical preparations.
DOES IT WORK?
The scientific studies on the effectiveness of St John’s Wort on depression are, of course, mixed. According to Vice.com, there are 35 studies that show that St John’s Wort is just as effective as an SSRI for treatment of mild to moderate depression. However, the National Center for Complementary Medicine sponsored two large studies and they showed that the herb wasn’t any more effective than a placebo. Basically, there are just as many studies that show it is effective in treating depression as there are studies that show it’s no better than a placebo. Confusing much?? Interestingly, many times the conventional drugs studied, such as SSRIs, didn’t work any better than a placebo, either.
HOW TO TAKE ST JOHN’S WORT
St John’s Wort is usually taken in liquid or capsules and the dried herb can also be used as a tea.
The most common dose (the one used in the studies) is 300 ml, three times a day as an extract. You will usually notice the effects by 6 weeks. Yes, spring will be over by then and summer will be in full swing, but many of the factors that trigger spring depression will still be around, maybe even more so! According to the NIH, the preparations in the US have varied strengths, so be careful with how much you are getting.
IS IT SAFE?
Just because a product is natural, doesn't mean can't be harmful. There are several side effects of St John’s Wort. Before deciding to use herbal supplements, you need to be aware that the FDA does not apply the same safety studies used for prescription drugs to herbals. According to Drugs.com, the FDA will seize tainted, contaminated and unsafe supplements when they are aware of them. However, a lot of supplements fly under the radar and end up being sold directly to consumers.
SIDE EFFECTS AND DRUG INTERACTIONS! OH MY!
DO NOT combine St John’s Wort and prescription antidepressants such as SSRIs!! It can cause a problem of too much serotonin called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms can start within minutes and according to the Mayo Clinic, serotonin syndrome can range from mild (shivering and diarrhea) to severe (muscle rigidity, fever, hallucinations and seizures). And severe serotonin syndrome can be fatal if not treated. You will need to wait awhile to start St John’s Wort after you’ve decided to stop taking your antidepressant. (Don’t stop your antidepressant without the help of your Dr!)
While taking St John’s Wort avoid food and drinks that contain the chemical tyramine. These items are: all aged cheeses, cured meats, sauerkraut, soy sauce, miso, tofu, beer, and wine. When St John’s Wort mixes with tyramine it can cause high blood pressure, fast heart rate, and deliriousness.
St John’s Wort shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women, children, elderly, or basically anyone who takes any kind of prescription medication.
St John’s Wort may reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills and heart disease medications.
Other side effects are nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, skin rashes, increased blood pressure, fatigue, and increased sun sensitivity.
Also, according to Vice.com, the problem of doctored and/or incorrectly label St Johns Wort has become really serious. The herb used to be gathered from the wild, but since it has become popular, commercial farms in Asia and other countries have begun to grow it. Some of these imported herbs have been of questionable quality. Some are mislabeled while others have been found to have food coloring and other additives. Basically, its anyone’s guess as to what’s in these products!
Keep yourself safer by only buying supplements that:
list the herb’s common AND scientific name
have the manufacture’s name and address
show a batch and lot number
have expiration date
give dosage guidelines
list potential side effects
THE BOTTOM LINE
Does St John’s Wort help to treat depression? Maybe?
Most importantly, discuss it with your doctor first!
It's certainly worth trying as long as you’re only treating mild to moderate depression, whether or not its connected to the seasonal change. Sometimes you just have to try something when dealing with depression, and if it can offer some relief, why not?
Do your due diligence and make sure you are using St John’s Wort from a reputable company. If the depression symptoms don’t seem to be getting better or are getting worse, follow up with your doctor and don’t just try to treat yourself with an herbal remedy.
Remember that regular exercise that includes breathwork and stretching (like Pilates, which combines both of those) can also help with depression. A balanced eating plan, quality sleep and time away from tech can also do wonders for mental health.