St. John's Wort: Depression & Anxiety
How St. John's Wort Works
The brain makes chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that regulate moods, feelings of confidence, anxiety, and other emotions. Put simply, St. John's Wort works by increasing the activity of four mood-related neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA. When the brain's chemicals are not balanced for whatever reason, this can cause mood swings and negative emotional states, such as depression and anxiety. By boosting the brain's natural levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA, St. John's Wort helps to put a person's mood "back on track". To learn more about the specifics of how St. John's Wort does this, keep reading...
As stated, the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain is critical to emotional health. The brain regulates the balance of these chemicals in a couple of ways. The brain can either decrease or increase the production and release of these neurotransmitters. The brain can also reabsorb, or reuptake, the released neurotransmitters, thus decreasing their availability.
St. John's Wort acts as a natural reuptake inhibitor. This means it reduces the rate at which mood-related neurotransmitters are reabsorbed, allowing more to remain available to support a positive mood. Specifically, a single compound found in St. John's Wort, hyperforin, is responsible for this effect. Click on this link to learn more about hyperforin's mechanicm of action.
Many prescription antidepressants also act as reuptake inhibitors, but these drugs typically affect just one or two mood-related neurotransmitters. St. John's Wort is unique in that it boosts activity of all four neurotransmitters that play a role in depression and anxiety. And research suggests that St. John's Wort may also be safer and less likely to cause certain side effects associated with SSRI antidepressants (such as weight gain and loss of libido).
The efficacy of St. John's Wort to alleviate depression has been demonstrated in at least 23 published studies. But keep in mind that, like prescription mood drugs, St. John's Wort does not work immediately, and generally must be taken every day for many weeks before becoming effective.