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St. John's Wort

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum [Latin]), also known as goatweed and hypericum, is a perennial plant native to Northern Europe and Great Britain. This plant secretes red oil when its leaves or stems are pinched, and was named St. John's wort by early Christians, who thought it oozed its signature red oil on the anniversary of St. John's beheading. Both ancient Romans and early Christians believed that this herb protected against evil, and in medieval times it was used it to treat insanity believed to be caused by demonic possession.

Today St. John's wort is commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, and has also been shown to fight infection and help relieve pain and inflammation.

Although St. John's wort is not recommended for treatment of severe depression or bipolar disorders, countless clinical studies have proven that St. John's wort is as effective as many pharmaceutical drugs when used to treat mild to moderate depression. However, unlike mainstream drugs prescribed to treat depression, St. John's wort doesn't cause unwanted side effects such as sexual dysfunction, headache, diarrhea, dry mouth, and insomnia.

St. John's wort has also shown promise as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and the mood swings associated with menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In Germany, St. John's wort is used to treat depression 4 times as often as Prozac.

St. John's wort increases the body's supply of melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes a sense of relaxation and well-being. In addition, the phytochemicals hyperforin and hypericin in St. John's wort help to regulate production of the mood-regulating neurochemical serotonin, while increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, the brain's natural "feel good" chemicals. High levels of serotonin have been linked to digestive irritation, which may be why European doctors sometimes recommend St. John's wort oil for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In laboratory studies hypericin has demonstrated an ability to fight against many viral infections, including herpes, polio, hepatitis C, and HIV. Studies have also shown that St. John's wort oil is antibacterial, and helps prevent infection and speed wound healing. Germany's commission E approves the use of topical St. John's wort preparations to treat minor wounds and burns and to prevent scarring.

Currently, researchers are studying a hypericin-based HIV drug, but people already taking pharmaceutical drugs for treatment of HIV should not use St. John's wort since it interferes with the performance of these medications.

St. John's wort increases sun sensitivity and should not be taken by those taking HIV drugs, narcotics and antidepressants, as it can interfere with the performance of these medications. It can also increase the effects of alcohol and supplemental melatonin.

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