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Natural antidepressant: Does St. John's wort help with depression?

Depression or depressive mood is one of the most common illnesses in Germany. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, around 16-20% of people suffer from a depressive disorder at least once in their lives.

Table of contents:
  • Am I depressed? First signs of depression
  • Help for depression
  • Natural antidepressants: when and how does St John's wort work
  • Effects of St John's wort
  • Side effects and interactions of St John's wort
  • Tryptophan: Does the amino acid help against depression?

Am I depressed? First signs of depression

Listlessness, lack of joy, listlessness - am I depressed or just sad? Mood swings or sadness after setbacks are part of life. But how can I recognise whether these are perhaps the first signs of depression?

A depressive disorder usually develops gradually. For example, if it starts with a general lack of motivation, other symptoms such as loss of sleep and appetite, increased brooding, non-specific pain (e.g. headaches), tiredness and irritability can gradually develop. These early symptoms are quite unspecific and usually develop into depression over weeks or months. There does not always have to be an underlying stressful event or cause.

Help with depression

It is important to recognise a depressive disorder at an early stage, as it can then be treated effectively for the most part. However, it is not always easy to identify depression. A depressive disorder does not always lead to the typical symptoms such as low mood and listlessness, but can also express itself in anxiety or feelings of indifference.

A self-test such as the one from Deutsche Depressionshilfe can help to recognise a depressive disorder.

As a general rule, a GP should be consulted first in the event of depression. Further contact and counselling centres can be found here.

Natural antidepressants: when and how does St John's wort work? Depression is usually treated with psychotherapy and/or antidepressants. For mild and moderate cases, natural antidepressants can also help. These herbal remedies for depression have the advantage that they are usually associated with significantly fewer side effects than conventional antidepressants. St John's wort preparations (Hypericum perforatum), for example, are often used as a herbal remedy for the treatment of depressive moods and mild to moderate depression. It is also used for nervous unrest and is considered a "natural mood enhancer". Products containing St John's wort extract are available over the counter.

Effect of St John's wort

Studies show that taking St John's wort is effective for mild to moderate depression. However, products containing St John's wort extract must be taken over a longer period of time; it is not enough to take St John's wort capsules for just a few days. The ingredient hyperforin is responsible for the antidepressant effect. The substance influences the concentration of the neutrotransmitters noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine in the brain and their receptor structures. Hyperforin also inhibits the neuronal uptake of the neurotransmitter GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) and L-glutamate. This has a mood-enhancing effect.

Read more about the effects of St John's wort here.

Side effects and interactions of St John's wort

The advantage of St John's wort products is that they do not have the side effects of conventional antidepressants (e.g. weight gain) or these occur much less frequently. However, even herbal products are not free from side effects and interactions. When taking St John's wort, for example, skin irritations and hypersensitivity to sunlight often occur. It can also interact with other medications (e.g. blood thinners, other antidepressants or lipid-lowering drugs) and hormonal contraceptives (e.g. the contraceptive pill).

The use of St John's wort extracts should therefore be discussed with your doctor beforehand. It is generally not recommended for pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.

Tryptophan: Does the amino acid help against depression?

Another natural antidepressant is the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precursor of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. These influence our mood and, for example, our sleep. It is therefore being discussed whether tryptophan can also be beneficial for depressive disorders. You can find out more about the amino acid and its role in metabolism in this blog post.