In 1993 while researching How to Heal Depression, we heard a great deal about natural treatments for depression. Everything from herbs (hypericum topping the list) to air (breathing exercises to ozone therapy) was recommended for healing depression.
Unfortunately, these claims were not then verified by extensive medical research. A study here or a study there may have been suggestive, but not enough to be considered fact. That didn't make the claims untrue, simply unproven.
In writing How to Heal Depression, however, we had no way, short of setting up a research institute, for separating the factual from the fanciful, so we chose to walk the scientifically proven straight-and-narrow.
That same year, more than a dozen medical studies on the effect of hypericum on depression were reaching completion. The results of these studies were remarkable:
The herb hypericum, in a significant number of people, relieved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as prescription antidepressants. In addition, hypericum had virtually none of the negative side effects often associated with antidepressant medication.
All this from the extract of a flowering plant known since ancient times for its medicinal qualities -- Hypericum perforatum, also known as St. John's wort. (Wort, by the way, means "plant.") Extracts of the plant are inexpensive and available without a prescription. Hypericum has fewer side effects than aspirin. Treatment costs about twenty-five cents a day.
In October 1994, the medically respected Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology devoted its entire issue -- seventeen scientific research papers in all -- to "Hypericum: A Novel Antidepressant." Michael A. Jenike, M. D., editor, commented:
Hypericum's effectiveness in treating depression comes as good news to the mental health community. Physicians and therapists have a new tool to help patients, especially those who have not been helped by current antidepressant medications.
Traditionally, the health professional is an adjunct to the health care and preventative medicine practiced daily by the patient. What the patient cannot prevent or self-cure, the health care professional is called on to diagnose and treat. Until now, all forms of depressioneven mild to moderate depressionrequired a diagnosis and a prescription from a physician.
But since the side effects of hypericum are mild and few (in one major study, less than 2.5 percent of the patients studied reported any adverse side effects at all), well-informed consumers mightafter sufficient researchtry hypericum as they would any other herb, vitamin, mineral, or over-the-counter medication. Hypericum thus allows the mental health professional to focus on those most seriously depressed.
Germany has been a world leader in researching hypericum. As a result, hypericum products account for more than fifty percent of the German antidepressant market. Prozac has less than two percent. Will the same revolution soon be taking place in America?
The excitement of discovering something new and useful absolutely requires (for us at any rate) telling others about it as soon as possible. And so we share this information with you in the best forum we know, a book.
With further study science will be able to chart more precisely the longitude and latitude of hypericum's usefulness in treating depression. With broader use and further investigation, side effects not yet attributed to hypericum may be discoveredespecially in long-term use. Anyone considering taking hypericum should realize this and may want to contact his or her physician to discuss it.
One primary caution stands out: If you are currently taking prescription antidepressants, please do not change your dosage without your doctor's guidance. If you are taking a prescription antidepressant and suddenly stop, the "rebound effect" can be severe.
This book gives enough information for you to makein consultation with your health care professionalan informed choice as to (a) whether you need treatment for depression, and (b) what that treatment might be.
With more research, the types of depression that can be successfully treated with hypericum may increase. For now, the twelve million Americans and 1.2 million Canadians who have mild to moderate depression but are not receiving proper treatment have a new, safe, and inexpensive treatment option.
Copyright © 1996 by Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. and Peter McWilliams