Popular Herbal Supplement Warning
If you shop for supplements, the odds are that you have seen this popular herbal supplement on the shelf. But did you know that even though it is easily available without a prescription that it is just as powerful some prescription drugs - and just as dangerous. Here’s what you need to know before buying this popular herbal supplement.
One of the most common misconceptions of herbal supplements is that because they are natural and can be purchased from a health food shop without a prescription, that they are always safe. However, a recent study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology reveals that the herbal supplement St. John’s Wort is not always safe as many mistakenly believe.
St. John’s Wort is used by many as a natural treatment for depression. While its exact mechanism of action is not well understood, researchers believe that it works like other antidepressants by raising “feel-good” serotonin levels in the brain. In fact, in a comparative study, Australian researchers from the University of Adelaide report that some users of St. John’s Wort experience similar side effects as those experienced by patients on the antidepressant fluoxetine―also known by the brand name Prozac.
"It's concerning to see such severe adverse reactions in our population, when people believe they are doing something proactive for their health with little risk," stated lead researcher Claire Hoban for a University of Adelaide news release.
“There is a common belief that because something is natural and can be purchased from a health food shop without a prescription, it’s safe. However, people need to start thinking of St John’s Wort, and other herbal medicines, as a drug and seek advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner to be sure they use it safely,” says Ms. Hoban.
“During 2000-2013, we found 84 reports of adverse reactions to St John’s Wort and 447 to fluoxetine. While there were fewer confirmed cases of side effects for St John’s Wort, we know that less people use St John’s Wort and adverse reactions for herbal medicines largely go unreported because they are not considered drugs.”
The Risks of Taking St. John’s Wort:
• St John’s Wort can have serious reactions with some pharmacy medicines, like antidepressants, the contraceptive pill and some blood thinners.
• Users with a bipolar disorder condition could experience a manic episode brought on by the herb.
• Taking St. John’s Wort in conjunction with another serotonin-raising antidepressant could cause a person to develop a potentially fatal condition called “serotonin syndrome,” whose symptoms include confusion, tremors, diarrhea and a drop in body temperature.
• Skin rashes that are worsened by sunlight.
• Experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, vomiting, amnesia and/or aggression.
According to the University news release, Dr. Ian Musgrave, from the University's Discipline of Pharmacology, warns that the real danger is that people can access St John’s Wort without a prescription so there is no control over the dosage or what drugs people are using it with.
“Most people taking St John’s Wort will not have any adverse reactions; however, those who do take it should tell their doctor and pharmacist,” says Dr. Musgrave.
“It’s important that doctors and pharmacists know about all the drugs their patients take…based on this research, I’d also like to see bottles of St John’s Wort containing improved warnings of the potential adverse reactions,” says Dr. Musgrave.
For more warnings about supplements, here are some informative examples:
The University of Adelaide “Warts and all: how St John's Wort can make you sick”
“A comparison of patterns of spontaneous adverse drug reaction reporting with St. John's Wort and fluoxetine during the period 2000–2013” Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology; Volume 42, Issue 7, pages 747–751, July 2015