Can St John’s Wort Beat the Blues?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a four-year study to determine the safety and effectiveness of St John’s wort, a common herbal supplement, and citalopram, a standard antidepressant, compared to placebo. A total of 300 participants with minor depression will be randomly assigned a standardized extract of St John’s wort, citalopram, or placebo in a 12-week double-blind trial.

Minor depression is a common disorder that may impair a person’s functioning and quality of life and is a serious risk factor for major depression. Yet it is underdiagnosed and undertreated.

“There is high public interest in herbal remedies for depression,” says Stephen E. Straus, MD. “Our intent is to study St John’s wort for the spectrum of depressive conditions for which the public considers its use. This new study extends our earlier research efforts from the more serious form of depression to a clinically less serious one — yet one that is, in fact, of considerable public health significance,” he said.

Minor depression affects about 7.5% of North Americans during their lifetime. Although there is broad knowledge about the scope of suffering and disability due to major depressive disorder, less is known about the day-to-day struggles faced by people with minor depression. Its symptoms are the same as those of major depression, though fewer in number and causing less impairment.

National Institutes of Health, Mar 21, 2003