Consider This Before Taking St. John’s Wort

Due in large part to increasing health care costs and the unknown long-term effects of many popular medications, complementary and alternative medicine are growing in popularity. But there are some important factors to keep in mind when seeking natural remedies for common ailments.

Take depression, for example. For those attempting to manage depression without the assistance of prescription medications, St. John’s wort is often suggested as an over-the-counter alternative to an SSRI. But new data from Wake Forest University indicates that many patients may be unaware of the dangerous interactions that can occur between supplements made from the flowering plant and commonly-prescribed medications for other ailments.

“Patients may have a false sense of safety with so-called ‘natural’ treatments like St. John’s wort,” says lead study author Sarah Taylor, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in a statement. “It is crucial for physicians to know the dangers of ‘natural’ treatments and to communicate the risks to patients effectively.”

After analyzing the records of more than 2.2 million doctor’s visits between 1993 and 2010, Taylor and her colleagues discovered that 28 percent of encounters between physicians and patients involved the discussion of taking St. John’s wort in conjunction with other drugs that could cause a harmful reaction.

Dangerous drug interactions

For centuries, St. John’s wort has been used to treat everything from burns to mental disorders. The supplement can be found over-the-counter in the form of capsules, tablets, teas and extracts.

Prescriptions that can interact dangerously with St. John’s wort include the following, among others:

  • statins
  • warfarin
  • levodopa
  • benzodiazepines
  • oral contraceptives
  • SSRIs
  • calcium channel blockers
  • beta-blockers
  • antiarrhythmics
  • immunosuppressants

The combination of St. John’s wort and these prescriptions can lead to potentially lethal amounts of serotonin to buildup in the body (when combined with antidepressant medications), and may contribute to heart disease and unplanned pregnancy due to the unanticipated failure of blood pressure and contraceptive medications.

Preventing these disastrous outcomes is a multi-step endeavor, according to Taylor. She calls for more obvious labeling of risks and warnings on packages of St. John’s wort, as well as increased awareness among doctors who need to start talking to their patients about the vitamins and supplements they’re taking and how those over-the-counter ingredients can affect prescription medications.

Does St. Johns wort really work?

The Food and Drug Administration has not given St. John’s wort the green light to be used as a treatment for depression, and a collection of conflicting research results indicates that the jury is still out on whether the supplement can have a measurably positive effect on those seeking relief from the condition.

The National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions those considering taking St. John’s wort to have a candid discussion with their doctor before taking any additional supplements.

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5 Healthy Foods You Shouldn’t Mix With Medication

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

103 comments

Maggie W.
Maggie D.about a year ago

My doctor always discusses with me the prescription and over the counter drugs I'm taking to make sure there aren't any harmful interactions.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

When I was having hot flashes, a friend suggested St. John's Wort. it didn't really help at all, so I stopped taking it. I wasn't on any medications back then!

18 years later, - I have had 2 heart attacks, and am on 16 medications a day!!

JL A.
JL A.1 years ago

refreshing my memory

Nanette A.
Nanette a.1 years ago

I believe natural and holistic is best as a first choice to treat things but occasionally you do need to go beyond that. BUT you always need to do your research!

Nanette A.
Nanette a.1 years ago

I believe natural and holistic is best as a first choice to treat things but occasionally you do need to go beyond that. BUT you always need to do your research!

Lady Kaira
Lady Kaira1 years ago

thanks

Genoveva M M.
Genoveva M M.1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.
The best? Stay out of taking pills, and try a more natural way of living, the rest will just fall in place.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa1 years ago

Thank you

Joan S.
Joan S.1 years ago

makes basic sense and yet beware the pharmaceutical companies

Ineke Bee
Ineke Bee1 years ago

thanks for the info