In a review article published in the December 2005 issue of the American Family Physician, researchers evaluated 40 clinical studies involving St. John's wort. In 26 of 27 studies, "St. John's wort was either more effective than placebo or as effective as older pharmaceutical antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression."
In the same article, the researchers reviewed 13 additional clinical trials, 10 of which suggested St. John's wort was superior to placebo or as effective as standard antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.) in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
When I recently visited my primary care physician (who is quick to prescribe medications for a variety of ailments and complaints), we talked extensively about herbal and botanical products and their effectiveness in treating certain conditions. He affirmed the benefits of saw palmetto for prostate health and - guess what - St. John's wort for mild to moderate depression.
St. John's wort does have potential side effects, although fewer than a variety of standard antidepressants. Research also has shown potential interactions with a number of drugs - including antidepressants, ironically. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor before you or your child starts taking any herbal product, supplement or medication.
Get the Facts
In the March 2007 issue of To Your Health, we reported on the "Dangers of Drug Reactions & Interactions," and included questions to ask your doctor before you or your children take any medication. They're important enough to bear repeating:
Are there any natural alternatives proven to be as effective as the medication being prescribed? In this case, ask about the research supporting the use of St. John's wort for treating mild to moderate depression.
Are there any lifestyle changes (e.g., diet, exercise) I can make in order to avoid taking a particular medication?
How long has this prescription medication been on the market? In what manner and for how many months did the drug undergo testing and trials?
Where can I find a full list of the drug's potential side effects?
Will a new prescription cause an adverse reaction with any herbs, vitamins, OTC medications, or prescription drugs I am already taking? What is the risk of such a reaction?
Will I need to change my current diet or cut out any particular foods while taking this medication?
Your children are far too important to jeopardize their health in any way. While depression is a serious condition, the obvious question that begs to be asked is: With notable exception, can a child age 5 or younger be depressed enough to require medication? A debatable issue, to be sure, but regardless, antidepressants just don't seem to be worth the risk in the majority of cases. Remember the FDA's black box warning. Remember the researchers' conclusions: The risk of a child suffering a serious adverse event while taking antidepressant medication "raises serious concerns about their potential for harm." And remember that conventional medicine often isn't the best answer.
Peter W. Crownfield is the executive editor of To Your Health. Direct all comments and questions to