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According to new science: St John's Wort is as good as the big money-maker antidepressants for major depression, as well as minor/moderate. Up to now the pharmaceuticals have claimed that herbs can't help major depression. Also, St JW doesn't cause as many or as severe side effects as the pretty pills, though if you're going to take it you should definitely check into the possible drug interactions. For example, you might want to know that St John's Wort reduces the efficacy of oral birth control pills. Here are two abstracts:

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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD000448.
St John's wort for major depression.

Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L.

Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Department of Internal Medicine II, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Wolfgangstr. 8, Munich, Germany, 81667.
* Evid Based Ment Health. 2009 Aug;12(3):78.
* Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005;(2):CD000448.

BACKGROUND: In some countries extracts of the plant Hypericum perforatum L. (popularly called St. John's wort) are widely used for treating patients with depressive symptoms. OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether extracts of hypericum are more effective than placebo and as effective as standard antidepressants in the treatment of major depression; and whether they have fewer adverse effects than standard antidepressant drugs. SEARCH STRATEGY: Trials were searched in computerised databases, by checking bibliographies of relevant articles, and by contacting manufacturers and researchers. SELECTION CRITERIA: Trials were included if they: (1) were randomised and double-blind; (2) included patients with major depression; (3) compared extracts of St. John's wort with placebo or standard antidepressants; (4) included clinical outcomes assessing depressive symptoms. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: At least two independent reviewers extracted information from study reports. The main outcome measure for assessing effectiveness was the responder rate ratio (the relative risk of having a response to treatment). The main outcome measure for adverse effects was the number of patients dropping out due to adverse effects. MAIN RESULTS: A total of 29 trials (5489 patients) including 18 comparisons with placebo and 17 comparisons with synthetic standard antidepressants met the inclusion criteria. Results of placebo-controlled trials showed marked heterogeneity. In nine larger trials the combined response rate ratio (RR) for hypericum extracts compared with placebo was 1.28 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.10 to 1.49) and from nine smaller trials was 1.87 (95% CI, 1.22 to 2.87). Results of trials comparing hypericum extracts and standard antidepressants were statistically homogeneous. Compared with tri- or tetracyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), respectively, RRs were 1.02 (95% CI, 0.90 to 1.15; 5 trials) and 1.00 (95% CI, 0.90 to 1.11; 12 trials). Both in placebo-controlled trials and in comparisons with standard antidepressants, trials from German-speaking countries reported findings more favourable to hypericum. Patients given hypericum extracts dropped out of trials due to adverse effects less frequently than those given older antidepressants (odds ratio (OR) 0.24; 95% CI, 0.13 to 0.46) or SSRIs (OR 0.53, 95% CI, 0.34-0.83). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The available evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants. The association of country of origin and precision with effects sizes complicates the interpretation.

PMID: 18843608 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18843608?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

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and another study

BMJ. 2005 Mar 5;330(7490):503. Epub 2005 Feb 11.
Acute treatment of moderate to severe depression with hypericum extract WS 5570 (St John's wort): randomised controlled double blind non-inferiority trial versus paroxetine.

Szegedi A, Kohnen R, Dienel A, Kieser M.

Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Eschenallee 3, 14050 Berlin, Germany.
* BMJ. 2005 Apr 2;330(7494):759. Dosage error in article text.
* Evid Based Ment Health. 2005 Nov;8(4):107.
* Can Fam Physician. 2007 Sep;53(9):1511-3.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the efficacy of hypericum extract WS 5570 (St John's wort) compared with paroxetine in patients with moderate to severe major depression. DESIGN: Randomised double blind, double dummy, reference controlled, multicentre non-inferiority trial. SETTING: 21 psychiatric primary care practices in Germany. PARTICIPANTS: 251 adult outpatients with acute major depression with total score > or = 22 on the 17 item Hamilton depression scale. INTERVENTIONS: 900 mg/day hypericum extract WS 5570 three times a day or 20 mg paroxetine once a day for six weeks. In initial non-responders doses were increased to 1800 mg/day hypericum or 40 mg/day paroxetine after two weeks. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Change in score on Hamilton depression scale from baseline to day 42 (primary outcome). Secondary measures were change in scores on Montgomery-Asberg depression rating scale, clinical global impressions, and Beck depression inventory. RESULTS: The Hamilton depression total score decreased by mean 14.4 (SD 8.8) points, corresponding to 56.6% (SD 34.3%) of the baseline value, in the hypericum group and by 11.4 (SD 8.6) points (44.8% (SD 33.5%) of baseline value) in the paroxetine group (intention to treat analysis; similar results were observed in the per protocol analysis). The intention to treat analysis (lower one sided 97.5% confidence limit 1.5 points for the difference hypericum minus paroxetine) and the per protocol analysis (lower confidence limit 0.7 points) showed non-inferiority of hypericum and statistical superiority over paroxetine. The lower limits in both cases exceeded the pre-specified non-inferiority margin of -2.5 points and the superiority margin of 0. The incidence of adverse events was 0.035 and 0.060 events per day of exposure for hypericum and paroxetine, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: In the treatment of moderate to severe major depression, hypericum extract WS 5570 is at least as effective as paroxetine and is better tolerated.

PMID: 15708844 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15708844?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=11


SOURCES
thanks to Mark Davis
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18843608?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15708844?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=11

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