Study: St. John's Won't Cure Big Blues

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Sixty-two-year-old Lee Roelke, a retired insurance executive, says he could not function if not for his St. John's wort pills.

After a lifetime battling depression , Roelke says the herb St. John's wort made all the difference. "I've been free of depression for a number of years. It was like being reborn. It's wonderful."

Are You Depressed?
Almost 19 million Americans suffer from depression each year. Below are some symptoms of depression:
  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, pessimism, worthlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment
    Need Help?
    There are resources available to help you deal with depression.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health
  • National Mental Health Association
  • National Mental Health Association's depression screening site
  • The Center For Mental Health Services

    (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

  • St. John's wort, or hypericum perforatum, can be found in almost any health food store in America. Especially popular in Europe and cheaper than standard antidepressant medications, this "poor man's Prozac" has been around for centuries.
    Click here to learn about other popular herbal remedies.

    But now a new study claims it's not effective in treating certain forms of depression — especially severe depression.

    "Since there are effective treatments for depression, I would chose that first rather than going with St. John's wort," said Dr. Richard Shelton of Vanderbilt University.

    Stephen Betts is one the 1,700 people used in the study. "It might be the perfect thing for someone else, but it certainly didn' do much for me."

    But critics of the study point out few doctors have ever recommended St. John's wort for severe depression. And the study was paid for by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer — a leading manufacturer of antidepressant drugs.

    Psychiatrist Dr. Hyla Cass recommends St. John's wort for many of her patients. "I know the research, I know that it does work, but every time it works it's like a miracle to me, to think that this little yellow flower has such potency."

    A more conclusive, three year study by the National Institute of Mental Health is due out by the end of this year. In the meantime, people who swear by the effects of St. John's wort will stick with it — day in and day out.

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