SCIENCE REPORT- Saint John's Wort and Depression

By Nancy Steinbach

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

American researchers say a new study has found that a substance made from the plant known as Saint John's wort is not effective in treating serious depression.

Depression is a feeling of deep sadness that continues for at least fourteen days. People who are depressed may have decreased energy, feelings of guilt or thoughts of killing themselves. They may experience changes in how much they eat or sleep. They may be unable to work or care for their families. Some kinds of depression are more severe than others.

Saint John's wort has become very popular in the United States to treat depression. It is sold in many stores. Researchers say the latest study is the first large scientific trial of Saint John's wort in patients suffering serious depression. It involved two-hundred people at eleven medical centers in the United States.

The patients received either Saint John's wort or an inactive substance. After eight weeks, the researchers found no real difference between the group taking Saint John's wort and the group taking the inactive substance.

Richard Shelton is a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He led the study and published the results in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He said the study means that people suffering depression should not take Saint John's wort. They should go to a doctor and receive medicine that is known to help depression.

The new results dispute the findings of at least twenty earlier studies. These studies showed that Saint John's wort did help people suffering a less serious kind of depression. So Doctor Shelton and the other researchers re-examined their study results. They looked for any effects from Saint John's wort on less serious depression.

Again they found that the substance was not effective. Doctor Shelton said no proof exists to support the use of Saint John's wort for any kind of depression. But he also said more studies are needed to confirm the findings of his group.

He said a larger study is being done at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, D-C. It is examining the effects of three substances on depression. They are Saint John's wort, an inactive substance and a popular medicine for depression. Results of that study are expected later this year.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach.

Voice of America Special English