LONDON (Reuters) - The herbal remedy St. John’s Wort effectively treats symptoms of major depression, an analysis of previous studies found on Wednesday.
St. John’s Wort extracts tested in the different trials were better than placebos and as effective as standard antidepressants with fewer side effects, the researchers reported in the Cochrane review, a journal that analyses medical and scientific studies.
“The studies came from a variety of countries, tested several different St. John’s Wort extracts, and mostly included patients suffering from mild to moderately severe symptoms,” Klaus Linde of the Center for Complementary Medicine in Munich, Germany wrote.
The herb works in a similar way to some prescription antidepressants by increasing the brain chemical serotonin, involved in controlling mood.
The Cochrane review analyzed 29 studies that together included 5,489 men and women with symptoms of major depression and compared the remedy’s effectiveness with placebos and standard treatments.
The researchers found that St. John’s Wort extracts were not only effective but that fewer people taking them dropped out of the trials due to adverse side effects.
They also noted that results were more favorable in German-speaking countries where doctors often prescribe the remedy and cautioned against using the remedy without medical advice because the extracts can affect other drugs’ work.
In Germany such herbal treatments are also more controlled for content, unlike in many other markets where the quality and content of herbal products may vary considerably.
“Using a St. John’s Wort extract might be justified, but products on the market vary considerably, so these results only apply to the preparations tested,” Linde said.
Depression is a leading cause of suicide and affects about 121 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Standard treatments include Prozac, which U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co introduced in 1987.
The treatment, which belongs to a class of compounds called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), is now off patent and widely available generically as fluoxetine.
Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Maggie Fox