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St. John’s wort – for low mood / mild depression

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 25.04.2023 | 2 min read

St. Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a plant with an extract that’s been used for centuries as a mood enhancer – it can help to relieve mild depression and mild anxiety. You don’t need a prescription, it’s available from your pharmacy.

How does it work?

It’s not clear exactly how it works, but it’s thought that substances within the extract may block certain mood-lowering neurotransmitters in the brain, thereby preventing them from activating to cause depression. Other neurotransmitters are considered to elevate your mood, such as serotonin and dopamine, and it might increase these.

What can I expect?

A systematic review of studies found that St. John’s wort is shown to have significant effects on helping with mild depression compared to placebos. However, at best, studies show it’s only as good as a low dose antidepressant such as amitriptyline, which would be prescribed by your doctor. It’s therefore not effective for moderate or severe depression.

You can expect St. John’s wort to start working one to two weeks after you start taking it. As with most depression treatments, you shouldn’t stop it suddenly - gradually reduce the dose then stop.

Pharmacist recommended products

Any side effects?

It’s thought to have fewer side effects than prescribed antidepressants. These include reduced libido, nausea, insomnia or weight gain. However, in some it can cause trouble sleeping, upset stomach, irritability, fatigue and skin rashes, as well as sensitivity to light if taken at higher doses.

Any reason I should avoid it?

A note of caution: St. John’s wort can disrupt other medications, including many antidepressants, such as fluoxetine, amitriptyline, anti-epileptic medications, contraceptive pills, anticoagulants and immunosuppressants. If you have medications prescribed by your doctor, you must speak to them or your pharmacist before taking St. John’s wort, to check if it’s safe for you.

You should avoid it if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

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