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Monograph: St. John’s Wort

Based on a systemic review of scientific literature edited and peerreviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration.

Extracts of Hypericum perforatum L. (St. John’s wort) have been recommended traditionally for a wide range of medical conditions. The most common modern-day use of St. John’s wort is for depression. Studies have shown St. John’s wort may be equally effective as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.

Overall, the evidence suggests St. John’s wort may be effective for mild-to-moderate depression. The evidence for severe depression remains unclear.

St. John’s wort may cause serious interactions with prescription drugs, herbs or supplements. Therefore, people using any medications should consult their health care providers, including a pharmacist, prior to starting therapy.

Tradition/Theory 

Abdominal discomfort or irritation, alcoholism, allergies, antibacterial, antiinflammatory, anti-malarial, antioxidant, antiviral, asthma, athletic performance enhancement, bacterial skin infections (topical), bedwetting, benzodiazepine withdrawal, bruises (topical), burns (topical), cancer, chronic ear infections, colitis, contusions, dental pain, diarrhea, diuretic (increasing urine flow), dyspepsia, Epstein-Barr virus infection, excessive menstrual bleeding, fatigue, gastroenteritis, heartburn, hemorrhoids, immune function, influenza, insomnia, joint pain, liver protection from toxins, psoriasis, rheumatism, snakebites, sprains, substance abuse, ulcers.

Dosing 

Adults (18 years and older) For anxiety, 900 milligrams of St. John’s wort has been taken by mouth twice daily for several weeks.

For cancer, 0.05 to 0.50 milligrams per kilogram of hypericin has been taken by mouth for up to three months.

For mild to moderate depression, 20 to 1,800 milligrams St. John’s wort has been taken by mouth once to three times for four to 52 weeks. Extracts of St. John’s wort used in studies included WS 5570, WS 5572, WS 5573, ZE 117, STW 3-VI, STW3, PM235, LoHyp-57, LI 160, Psychotonin forte extract and Hyperforat were generally standardized to contain 0.3 percent hypericin and 2 to 5 percent hyperforin.

For severe depression, 900 to 1,800 milligrams of St. John’s wort (extracts LI 160 and WS 5570) has been taken by mouth daily for 8 to 12 weeks.

For HIV, 0.5 milligrams per kilogram of hypericin has been taken by mouth, without evidence of benefit.

For irritable bowel syndrome, 450 milligrams of St. John’s wort has been taken twice daily for 12 weeks, without evidence benefit.

For nerve pain, three 900 microgram hypericin tablets were taken by mouth for two treatment periods of five weeks each.

For obsessive-compulsive disorder, 450 to 1,800 milligrams (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin) were taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks.

For pain due to burning mouth syndrome, 300 milligram capsules of St. John’s wort (containing hypericin 0.31 percent and hyperforin 3.0 percent) have been taken by mouth three times daily for 12 weeks.

For menopausal symptoms, 300 milligrams St. John’s wort (Kira) has been taken by mouth three times daily for 12 weeks and 0.4 mg hypericin drops (Hyperforat) has been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks.

For premenstrual syndrome (PMS), 300 to 900 milligrams St. John’s wort (standardized to 3.38 percent hyperforin and 0. 18 percent hypericin) or 1,360 micrograms of hypericin have been taken by mouth daily for two menstrual cycles.

For seasonal affective disorder (SAD), 900 milligrams and unspecified doses of St. John’s wort (LI 160 and Kira) have been taken by mouth once to three times daily with or without light therapy for four to eight weeks.

For smoking cessation, 300 milligrams St. John’s wort (LI-160 extract) has been taken by mouth once or twice daily for up to three months and a week.

For social phobia, 600 to 1,800 milligrams St. John’s wort has been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks.

For somatoform disorders, 300 milligrams of St. John’s wort (LI 160 extract) has been taken by mouth twice daily for six weeks.

For atopic dermatitis, 1.5 percent hyperforin (verum) cream has been used on the skin twice daily for four weeks.

For psoriasis, St. John’s wort ointment has been used two times daily on the skin for four weeks.

For wound healing, 20 percent St. John’s wort in petroleum jelly has been used on the affected skin three times daily for 16 days.

Children (under 18 years old) For ADHD, 300 milligrams of St. John’s wort (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin) has been used in children three times daily for eight weeks, without evidence of benefit.

For depression, 150 to 1,800 milligrams St. John’s wort was taken by mouth once to three times daily for up to eight weeks.

Safety 

Allergies 
Avoid in people with known allergy or sensitivity to St. John’s wort or to any of its parts. Infrequent allergic skin reactions, including rash and itching, have been reported.

Side Effects & Warnings 
Extensive research supports the safe use of St. John’s wort for a short duration (<3 months) at recommended doses in individuals that lack other medication intake.

St. John’s wort may cause anxiety, headache, muscle cramps, sweating, weakness, dry mouth, or skin irritation.

Use with caution when using St. John’s wort with drugs metabolized by cytochrome P450, as decreased drug effectiveness may occur.

St. John’s wort may increase the risk of photosensitivity. Use cautiously in people with sensitive skin or those taking photosensitizing drugs.

St. John’s wort may increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. Use cautiously in people taking agents that increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.

St. John’s wort may result in altered menstrual flow, bleeding, unwanted pregnancies and hormone level changes. Use cautiously in women taking contraceptives or other estrogen agents by mouth.

St. John’s wort may alter drug levels. Use cautiously in people taking agents for bacterial or fungal infections, agents for erectile dysfunction, antianxiety agents, antihistamines, fertility agents, P-glycoprotein agents, pain relievers, or theophylline.

St. John’s wort may cause mania or psychosis. Use cautiously in people with mental illnesses and those taking antipsychotics.

St. John’s wort may change how sugar is processed in the body. Use cautiously in people with diabetes or in those taking anti-diabetic agents.

St. John’s wort may cause high levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Use cautiously in people with thyroid disorders or those using thyroid hormones.

Use cautiously in people with cataracts, due to the potential association between an element St. John’s wort and cataracts.

St. John’s wort may cause heart burn, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and constipation. Use cautiously in people with stomach and intestine problems.

St. John’s wort may cause liver damage. Use cautiously in people with liver problems or those taking agents that damage the liver.

St. John’s wort may alter blood pressure and cause increased or uneven heart rate. Use cautiously in people with high blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms.

St. John’s wort may cause swelling. Use caution in people prone to swelling.

St. John’s wort may cause dizziness, tiredness, insomnia, problems with the nervous system, skin tingling or prickling and nerve pain. Use cautiously in people taking agents that affect the nervous system.

St. John’s wort may lower the seizure threshold. Use cautiously in individuals with seizures, and drugs that may lower the seizure threshold.

St. John’s wort may lower cholesterol drug concentration and may increase cholesterol. Use cautiously in people with high cholesterol and those taking agents to lower levels of cholesterol.

St. John’s wort may stimulate release of certain hormones. Use cautiously with hormonal agents.

Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to t. John’s wort or to any of its parts.

St. John’s wort has decreased levels of drugs for HIV/AIDs. Avoid in people with HIV/AIDS who are taking protease inhibitors or non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, as suggested by the U. S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

St. John’s wort has decreased levels of drugs that suppress the immune system. Avoid in individuals receiving transplants and taking agents that suppress the immune system (particularly cyclosporine)

Avoid in people with suicidal thoughts.

St. John’s wort resulted in difficulty inducing anesthesia and relaxation. Avoid before surgery.

St. John’s wort use with cancer agents may result in reduced effectiveness and treatment failure. Avoid in people using cancer agents.

St. John’s wort may result in result in reduced digoxin efficacy. Avoid using with cardiac glycosides such as digoxin.

St. John’s wort may decrease effectiveness of agents that thin blood. Avoid use in people with bleeding disorders or in those taking drugs that thin blood.

• Avoid in pregnant and lactating women due to a lack of information.

Pregnancy & Breast Feeding There is a lack of scientific evidence on the use of St. John’s wort during pregnancy or lactation.

Interactions 

Interactions with Drugs St. John’s wort may interfere with the way the body processes various drugs using the liver’s “cytochrome P450” enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be increased in the blood (causing increased effects or adverse reactions) or decreased in the blood (which may reduce effects). Examples of medications that may be affected by St. John’s wort in this manner include carbamazepine, cyclosporin, irinotecan, midazolam, nifedipine, simvastatin, theophylline, warfarin, or HIV drugs such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) or protease inhibitors (PIs). The FDA suggests that patients with HIV/AIDS taking Pis or NNRTIs should avoid taking St. John’s wort.

St. John’s wort may alter the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) such as warfarin (Coumadin) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve).

St. John’s wort may alter blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also alter blood sugar. People taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified health care professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

St. John’s wort may affect blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs that affect blood pressure.

St. John’s wort may also interact with 5HT1 agonists (triptans), agents for the eyes, agents for the skin, agents for the stomach and intestines, agents that affect the nervous system, agents that affect the immune system, agents that damage the liver, anesthetics, alcohol, anti-anxiety agents, antibiotics, antidepressant agents, antifungals, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, anticancer agents, antipsychotics, antiretroviral agents, antiviral agents, benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, carbamazepine, cardiac glycosides, chlorzoxazone, cholesterol-lowering agents, clozapine, contraceptives, corticosteroids, cyclosporine, dextromethorphan, digoxin, drugs that may lower seizure threshold, estrogens, fertility agents, fexofenadine, heart rate-regulating agents, hepatotoxins, HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, hormonal agents, loperamide (Imodium), methylphenidate, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), mood stabilizers, morphine, non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), omeprazole, opiates, pain relievers, PDE5 selective inhibitors, P-glycoprotein-regulated drugs, photosensitizing agents, protease inhibitors, sedatives, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), smoking cessation agents, testosterone, theophylline, thyroid hormones, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), Viagra, weight loss agents, wound healing agents, zolpidem.

Interactions with Herbs & Dietary Supplements 
St. John’s wort may interfere with the way the body processes herbs and supplements using the liver’s “cytochrome P450” enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these herbs and supplements may be increased in the blood (causing increased effects or potentially serious adverse reactions) or decreased in the blood (which may reduce the intended effects).

St. John’s wort may alter the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto.

St. John’s wort may alter blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also alter blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.

St. John’s wort may affect blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking herbs and supplements that affect blood pressure.

St. John’s wort may also interact with alcohol, anesthetics, anti-anxiety herbs and supplements, antibacterials, antidepressant herbs and supplements, antifungals, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements, anticancer herbs and supplements, antioxidants, antipsychotics, antiviral herbs and supplements, cardiac glycosides, chasteberry, cholesterol- lowering herbs and supplements, contraceptives, fertility herbs and supplements, heart rate-regulating herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements for the eyes, herbs and supplements for the skin, herbs and supplements for the stomach and intestines, herbs and supplements that affect the nervous system, herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, herbs and supplements that damage the liver, herbs and supplements that lower seizure threshold, hormonal herbs and supplements, iron, melatonin, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), mood stabilizers, neurologic herbs and supplements, pain relievers, P-glycoprotein- regulated herbs and supplements, photosensitizing herbs and supplements, phytoestrogens, sedatives, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), smoking cessation herbs and supplements, thyroid hormones, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), valerian, weight loss herbs and supplements, wound healing herbs and supplements.

Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalmedicinestherapeuticresearch. com) provides access to the most comprehensive database of high-quality, evidence-based systematic reviews on dietary supplements and CAM therapies. This database is a clinical decision support tool that is designed to advise clinicians and researchers on the safety and efficacy of herbs, supplements, vitamins, diets, nutrition, exercise and complementary practices and modalities. Using a comprehensive methodology, reproducible grading scales and the collective expertise of a multi-disciplinary Editorial Board, Natural Standard’s mission is to provide organizations with access to the highest-quality evidence-based intelligence to make more informed and safer therapeutic decisions. Questions about the database can be directed to (617) 591-3348.

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