By Jeremy Laurance

Health Editor

The Independent –

specially prepared extract of the herb St
John’s Wort
is at least as effective in treating depression as the
powerful antidepressant drug Seroxat [Paxil] and has fewer side-effects, a study
has indicated.

St John’s wort has long been known as an effective
herbal treatment for mild depression but the latest study is the first to
suggest that it may have equal effectiveness with one of the biggest-selling
pharmaceutical treatments for moderate to severe depression.

who asked 301 people with depression to take part in the trial found that half
of those given St John’s wort for six weeks reported an improvement in their
symptoms, compared with only one third given Seroxat.

group knew which drug they were taking, but those given Seroxat also reported
more side-effects.

has been at the centre of allegations that in some patients it causes agitation
at the start of treatment and withdrawal effects in those trying to come off it.
An investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority concluded
last year that it should be avoided in mild depression, because of the
side-effects. The authority ordered a ban on its use in patients under 18.

study is published in the online version of the British Medical Journal. The
researchers from Germany say: “Our results support the use of [St John’s wort
extract] as an alternative to standard antidepressants in moderate to severe
depression, especially as it is well tolerated.” They add that the drug should
be assessed for long-term treatment, because many patients suffer chronic
depression and the “favourable ratio between efficacy and tolerability” of St
John’s wort makes it an “interesting option” in these patients.

2004, about 19 million prescriptions for antidepressants were issued to about
3.5 million patients at a total cost of £400m in the UK.

recommendations issued in December, the National Institute for Clinical
Excellence (Nice) said that given the well-known side-effects of such drugs,
including anxiety, insomnia, headaches and stomach complaints, alternative
treatments should be considered for people with mild depression.

recommended that counselling including cognitive behavioural therapy should be
considered. But the Royal College of GPs said the shortage of counsellors and
psychotherapists meant this was impractical. “GPs often feel they have little
choice but to prescribe antidepressants,” a spokesman said.

Germany, where St John’s wort is a prescription drug, it outsells Prozac by four
to one.

drawback is that St John’s wort interacts with several prescription medicines to
reduce their effectiveness.

Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

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Posted: 01/14/2007 at 10:48 AM
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Posted: 01/14/2007 at 10:48 AM
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