St. John’s Wort is Proven to Treat Depression Without Side Effects

In an average year, 1 in 13 adults (18 and older) experienced at least one bout of major depression, according to a government survey. (U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), news release, May 19, 2009.)

Yet, the study found that less than one-third of those individuals got treated for their depression. This is of great concern because, according to the SAMHSA Acting Administrator Dr. Eric Broderick, “depression is a medical condition that should be treated with the same urgency as any other medical condition.”

People are often reluctant to seek medical help for several reasons, including the cost of medication and its side effects.

A natural approach may be a better option as studies indicate that St. John’s wort:

  • Is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time1
  • Is similarly effective as standard antidepressants34
  • Has fewer side effects than standard antidepressants34

A Swiss study evaluated 440 patients suffering from mild to moderate depression and treated them with 500 mg. of St. John’s wort for up to one year. Although mild side effects such as upset stomach were reported—which may or may NOT have been related to the treatment—the researchers reported that St. John’s wort is a safe and effective treatment for mild to moderate depression over long periods of time. They also found that it is especially suitable for preventing a relapse.1

An Australian randomized, controlled trial used a combination of St. John’s wort and Kava to treat 28 adults with major depression and anxiety disorders. First, the participants were given a placebo for two weeks. Then, over two four week periods, some were given St. John’s wort and Kava, and others were given placebo. In the end, the individuals who took the supplements experienced less depression and anxiety.

No serious side effects were observed during the trial, and only two cases of gastrointestinal upset were noted.2

Researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran recently published a meta-analysis (an analysis of the results of several studies) comparing St. John’s wort to pharmaceutical antidepressants (SSRIs). After analyzing 13 randomized placebo controlled clinical trials they found that, overall, St. John’s wort is just as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for the treatment of depression, and that it has an advantage because it doesn’t produced any side effects.3

A meta-analysis at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Department of Internal Medicine, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Munich, Germany analyzed 29 trials (which included 5,489 patients), comparing St. John’s wort with placebo or standard antidepressants. The evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the trials 1) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; 2) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.4


SSRIs remain the most popular treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. But fewer than 50% of all patients have total success with these drugs and significant side effects are common.5

Based on the latest studies comparing St. John’s wort to placebo and SSRIs, it is safe to say that St. John’s wort is a proven safe and effective alternative to synthetic SSRIs, and does not produce adverse side effects.


  1. Brattström A. Long-term effects of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) treatment: a 1-year safety study in mild to moderate depression. Phytomedicine. 2009 Apr;16(4):277-83. Epub 2009 Mar 18.
  2. Sarris J, Kavanagh DJ, Deed G, Bone KM. St. John’s wort and Kava in treating major depressive disorder with comorbid anxiety: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2009 Jan;24(1):41-8.
  3. Rahimi R, Nikfar S, Abdollahi M. Efficacy and tolerability of Hypericum perforatum in major depressive disorder in comparison with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a meta-analysis. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry.2009 Feb 1;33(1):118-27. Epub 2008 Nov 12.
  4. Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John’s wort for major depression Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD000448.
  5. Degner D, Grohmann R, Kropp S, Rüther E, Bender S, Engel RR, Schmidt LG. Severe adverse drug reactions of antidepressants: results of the German multicenter drug surveillance program AMSP. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2004 Mar;37 Suppl 1:S39-45.