Study: Popular herbal remedy might rival Prozac

According to a new Cochrane review of 29 randomized, double blind studies from various countries, hypericum extracts--known commonly as St. John's wort--are superior to placebo medications. The review also found that the herbal remedy is "similarly effective" as some medications commonly prescribed to treat depression symptoms, including tri- and tetracyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Eli Lilly's Prozac. The trials included nearly 5,500 participants.

Previous studies by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health, found that St. John's wort to be "of minimal benefit in treating major depression."

The reviewers found the most striking evidence of positive effects in German-speaking countries, where patients take the herbal medicine frequently. Lead reviewer Klaus Linde of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at Technical University in Munich noted, "trials from German-speaking countries have clearly more positive effects, both compared to placebo and standard antidepressants, than trials from elsewhere."

According to the review, patients taking the hypericum extracts also experienced significantly fewer side effects compared to patients taking SSRIs, but it isn't entirely clear how the medication works, especially since the extracts can contain at least seven groups of components and is completely unregulated. 

The review disclosed that each author has received speaking or travel reimbursement fees from German drug manufacturer Schwabe.

- read the Press Association story