Perhaps best known as a natural remedy for symptoms of depression, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is also sometimes used to treat anxiety. While research on the possibly anxiety-relieving effects of the herb is limited, some proponents suggest that St. John's wort might serve as an alternative to anxiety medications.
Why Is St. John's Wort Sometimes Used For Anxiety?
Although little is known about how or why St. John's wort might help alleviate anxiety, one theory is that compounds available in the herb may affect certain biochemical factors involved in anxiety development.
For instance, it's said that hypericin and hyperforin (two compounds found in St. John's wort) may influence a number of neurotransmitters thought to play a role in anxiety disorders. Responsible for transmitting messages between neurons (i.e., nerve cells), neurotransmitters include chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.
The Science Behind St. John's Wort and Anxiety
It's too soon to tell whether St. John's wort can help ease anxiety, according to a report published in Nutrition Journal in 2010. For the report, researchers reviewed 24 previously published studies evaluating the use of a variety of dietary and herbal supplements in the treatment of anxiety.
In their review of four clinical trials testing St. John's wort's effectiveness as an anxiety treatment, the report's authors found contradictory results. For example, one small study (published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatryin 2000) found that 12 weeks of treatment with St. John's wort led to significant improvements in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD, a type of anxiety disorder). On the other hand, a larger study (published in International Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2005) showed no significant difference between OCD patients treated with St. John's wort for 12 weeks and those given a placebo for the same length of time.
It should be noted that the report in Nutrition Journal also found "strong evidence" for the use of the herbs passion flower and kava as treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders.
St. John's wort may trigger a range of side effects, such as increased sensitivity to sunlight, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, and sexual dysfunction.
What's more, St. John's wort may interact with a number of medications (including certain antidepressants, birth control pills, and blood-thinning drugs) and make those medications less effective.
While it's possible that St. John's wort may provide some benefit to people struggling with anxiety, using this herb to self-treat an anxiety disorder is not advised. If you're experiencing the following symptoms, talk to a mental-health professional as soon as possible:
• chronic, unsubstantiated worry and nervousness
• sleep disturbance
• heart palpitations
• muscle tension
Alternatives to St. John's Wort for Anxiety Relief
There's also some evidence that several alternative therapies may aid in anxiety management. These therapies include acupuncture, massage therapy, and hypnosis. Additionally, practicing mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation may help reduce stress and stave off anxiety.
Furthermore, a number of essential oils used in aromatherapy may offer anxiety-soothing effects. Essential oils such as lavender, rose, lemon, and bergamot appear to be especially calming and anxiety-reducing.
If you're thinking of using any type of alternative medicine (including St. John's Wort) in treatment of an anxiety disorder, make sure to consult a mental-health professional prior to beginning treatment.
Article courtesy of altmedicine, found with sources here.