St. John's Wort, or hypericum perforatum, is an herbal dietary supplement commonly used to treat depression. St. John's Wort is not a prescription medication and as such the Food and Drug Administration does not closely regulate it. Proponents of St. John's Wort claim that the substance works as well as name brand prescription depression medications such as Prozac and Zoloft without many of the side effects. The substance became quite popular in 1997 after its alleged depression relieving propensities received extensive media coverage. In late 2000 a study concluded that St. John's Wort could be as effective as certain major name brand prescription depression drugs.


St. John's Wort Linked to Cataracts

A new study in the October 2009 medical journal Current Eye Research is the first to link St. John’s wort to the development of cataracts in humans.

Cataracts occur when the normally clear eye lens clouds over. The lens adjusts the eye’s vision and takes in light which it then focuses onto the retina. An arrangement of proteins keeps the lens clear and and prevents light from being distorted. When some of these proteins clump together and affect the way light filters through to the retina, cataracts form.

More than 31,000 people 40 and older were included in the study. They were asked whether they had cataracts and about their use of herbal remedies and treatments during the prior 12 months. Those who said they had cataracts were 59% more likely to report they had also used St. John’s Wort.

Studies have also indicated a possible link between St. John's Wort and macular degeneration (AMD) in animals. Deterioration of tissue in the part of the retina called the macula, which is responsible for central vision, is the defining trait of macular degeneration. Central vision is the specific type of vision needed to do things, such as reading and driving, that require clear straight-ahead images.

There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry, and while macular degeneration rarely results in complete vission loss, it can dramatically reduce a person's quality of life.

In 1999, researchers from Fordham University found, hypericin can react to visible and ultraviolet light to produce free radicals. The reaction damages proteins in the crystalline lens of the eye that give lens its transparency. If the proteins are damaged it can lead to the lens losing clarity and result in vision loss.


St. John's Wort May Compromise Camptosar Effectiveness

An August 2002 report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found, St. John’s wort may interfere with the effectiveness and metabolism of a chemotherapy medication. Researchers followed several patients receiving Camptosar and St. John’s Wort or just the supplement. They discovered that when used in combination with Camptosar, St. John's Wort compromised "overall antitumor activity."

That same year, the results of a study of 340 patients was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was a trial to see if St. John's Wort could be used by doctors when developing depression-management plans for their patients. The study concluded that St. John's Wort and placebo did not differ notably when measuring the improvement of depression symptoms.


St. John's Wort & Other Drug Interactions

In early 2000 Concerns surfaced regarding St. John's Wort's interaction with other drugs, namely medications for HIV / AIDS, birth control, cancer, heart disease, organ transplant medication, and seizures. St. Johns Wort may cause the liver to process these medications differently; as such, it is important to notify your doctor if you are taking St. John's Wort or plan to take it in the future.

Medical studies have also shown that the use of St. John’s wort and/or other herbal supplements can increase a person’s risk of developing Primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH). A rare condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs is abnormally high.

See your doctor if you have experienced serious side effects associated with St. John's Wort. In addition, it may be important to contact an attorney who can help you protect your legal rights. Please keep in mind that there may be time limits within which you must commence suit.

See Also

  1. Antidepressants & Other Psychiatric Drugs
  2. Macular Degeneration (AMD)
  3. Cataracts and Eye Disorders
  4. Liver Problems
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