Is St. John’s Wort a Game-Changer for Anxiety Management?

  • Time to read: 9 min.
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Anxiety. It’s a word that’s on everyone’s lips these days. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or you’re simply feeling the pressures of a fast-paced, ever-changing world, you’re likely looking for ways to keep those feelings of unease at bay.

One name that may have cropped up in your search for natural remedies is St. John’s Wort. But is this herb really a game-changer when it comes to treating major depression and managing anxiety? Let’s take a deep dive into what St. John’s Wort is and what the science says about its effectiveness.

What is St. John’s Wort?

St. John’s Wort, scientifically known as Hypericum perforatum, is a plant with yellow flowers that’s often found in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. It’s named after St. John the Baptist, as its blooming season usually falls around his feast day.

This plant isn’t just a pretty face, though. For centuries, it has been used in traditional medicine for various ailments, including mood disorders. Its reputation as a remedy for anxiety and depression stems from its active ingredient, hypericin, which is thought to have an effect on certain chemicals in the brain, including serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.

But does it really work? What does the research say about this supplement for anxiety?

How St. John’s Wort Works

To understand how St. John’s Wort might be effective for anxiety, we first need to understand a bit about how our brains work. Our brains use chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, to communicate information. In the case of mood regulation, neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine play a crucial role.

St. John’s Wort is thought to work by maintaining higher levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. The herb contains hypericin and hyperforin, compounds that inhibit the reuptake of these neurotransmitters, meaning they stay available in the brain for a longer period. This action is similar to how selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of prescription antidepressant, work.

Understanding the Research

Research on this supplement has been quite extensive, but also a bit of a mixed bag. While some studies indicate potential benefits, others suggest minimal effects. This variance might be due to several factors, such as the severity and type of anxiety, the dosage of St. John’s Wort used, the duration of the study, and individual biological differences.

Many of the positive studies have shown that St. John’s Wort might be beneficial for mild to moderate depression and potentially for general anxiety. However, evidence supporting its use for severe depression or specific anxiety disorders like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder is lacking.

For example, in a study published in the journal Phytomedicine, researchers found that individuals with somatoform disorders (a type of anxiety disorder where a person experiences physical symptoms that have no apparent cause) did not show significant improvement when treated with this supplement compared to a placebo.

It’s also worth noting that the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort seems to vary by country, potentially due to different processing standards and product quality. In countries like Germany, where the herb is widely prescribed and regulated, the results have generally been more favorable.

Understanding Dosage and Duration

The dosage of St. John’s Wort can also make a significant difference. Studies showing positive effects typically use doses between 300-1200 mg per day. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all dosage for everyone, and it can take a few weeks to feel the full effects.

One study in the British Medical Journal indicated that higher doses (up to 1800 mg per day) might be more effective for treating moderate to severe depression. However, higher doses could also increase the risk of side effects.

Side Effects and Risks

Despite St. John’s Wort’s natural origins and centuries-long use in traditional medicine, it’s important to remember that it’s not free from potential side effects. You see, even the most innocuous-looking plant can pack a punch when it comes to interacting with our complex human bodies. So, what might you expect if you decide to give this supplement a try?

The good news is that many people tolerate St. John’s Wort quite well. But, as with all things, individual experiences vary. You might be one of the lucky ones who sails through without a care, or you might find yourself grappling with dry mouth, dizziness, or stomach upset.

Even seemingly unrelated symptoms like fatigue, headache, or sensitivity to sunlight can be attributed to St. John’s Wort. So it’s important to keep an eye out and listen to your body’s signals.

Moreover, this supplement can play the uninvited guest and meddle with other medications you’re taking. Imagine this: You’re diligently taking your birth control pills, but St. John’s Wort steps in and hampers their effectiveness.

Or you’re on certain heart medications, and St. John’s Wort causes them to miss a beat. It can even have serious interactions with antidepressants, leading to a potentially dangerous condition called serotonin syndrome.

Expert Opinions

Experts are like lighthouses guiding us through the confusing sea of medical information. So, what do they have to say about St. John’s Wort for anxiety? Well, they’re cautiously optimistic. While they recognize the promising results from several studies, they also point out the limitations and insist on more comprehensive research.

They stress the importance of using St. John’s Wort under the guidance of a healthcare provider, especially considering the potential for drug interactions. If you’re already on medication, adding St. John’s Wort to the mix might cause a cocktail effect, leading to unexpected and sometimes serious complications.

So the bottom line from our lighthouses? St. John’s Wort might be beneficial for some individuals with mild to moderate anxiety, but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Always consult with a healthcare professional before adding new supplements to your routine.

Where to Find St. John’s Wort

So, you’re considering giving St. John’s Wort a shot. But where do you find this herb, and how do you make sure you’re getting a quality product? Here are some pointers:

Health Food Stores and Pharmacies

Your local health food store or pharmacy is a good starting point. They often carry a variety of supplements, including St. John’s Wort. The advantage of buying in-store is that you can check the product upfront, inspect the packaging for any damage, and read the labels carefully.

Online Retailers

Online marketplaces like Amazon, iHerb, or Vitacost also offer St. John’s Wort, often with a broader range than physical stores. Plus, customer reviews can provide valuable insights into the product’s effectiveness and any potential side effects. But do remember to check the retailer’s reputation and ensure they’re selling products from trusted brands.

Direct from Manufacturers

Some dietary supplement manufacturers sell directly from their websites. Buying straight from the source can often assure you’re getting a genuine product, and you might find detailed information about the product’s sourcing, production, and quality control measures.

Buying on Amazon

Here are three highly-rated brands of St. John’s Wort available on Amazon and a comparison of their advantages and disadvantages:

Nature’s Way St. John’s WortStandardized to 0.3% hypericin
Non-GMO Project verified
No artificial colors or flavors
Dosage might be low for some (350 mg per capsule)
No USP or NSF seal
buy now button
Gaia Herbs St. John’s WortCertified Organic
Each capsule contains a high concentration of St. John’s Wort (450 mg)
Transparent sourcing and production practices
Higher price point
Some users report difficulty swallowing the capsules
buy now button
NOW Foods St. John’s WortStandardized to 0.3% hypericin
High dosage (300 mg per capsule)
Good value for money
Contains additional ingredients (like stearic acid and silica)
The company does not provide as much transparency about sourcing or production
buy now button

Please note that the advantages and disadvantages listed here are a general guide and might not apply to everyone. Also, this information is based on product descriptions and customer reviews available as of now and may change over time. It’s important to do your research and consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Choosing a Quality Product

When it comes to choosing a St. John’s Wort supplement (just like with choosing other supplements such as Tongkat ali) not all products are created equal. Here’s what you should look for:

  1. Standardization: The label should indicate that the product is standardized to contain a specific percentage of hypericin or hyperforin, the active compounds in St. John’s Wort.
  2. Dosage: Check the dosage per capsule or serving. The typical range is 300-500 mg per capsule, but this can vary.
  3. Brand Reputation: Opt for products from brands with a good reputation for quality and transparency. Look for brands that carry third-party testing seals like USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or NSF (National Sanitation Foundation).
  4. Avoid Unnecessary Additives: Choose products that don’t contain unnecessary additives, fillers, or artificial colors.

Remember, starting a new supplement should always be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider, especially when you’re dealing with mental health concerns like anxiety. They can provide advice tailored to your specific situation and monitor you for any potential side effects or interactions with other medications you’re taking.

References & Studies

Here are a few studies and reviews that delve into its effectiveness and potential uses:

  1. Linde, K., Berner, M. M., & Kriston, L. (2008). St John’s wort for major depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4.This Cochrane Review analyzes the results of several trials involving St. John’s Wort. It concludes that the herb can be as effective as standard antidepressants for major depression, with fewer side effects.
  2. Ng, Q. X., Venkatanarayanan, N., & Ho, C. Y. (2017). Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort) in depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 210, 211-221.This meta-analysis examines several studies on St. John’s Wort and concludes that it might be more effective than a placebo for treating depression.
  3. Apaydin, E. A., Maher, A. R., Shanman, R., Booth, M. S., Miles, J. N., Sorbero, M. E., & Hempel, S. (2016). A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder. Systematic Reviews, 5(1), 148.This systematic review analyzes the existing body of research on St. John’s Wort for major depression. It concludes that while the herb appears to be effective, the evidence base has significant limitations, and further research is needed.
  4. Sarris, J., Panossian, A., Schweitzer, I., Stough, C., & Scholey, A. (2011). Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: a review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 21(12), 841-860.This review paper includes a section on St. John’s Wort. It highlights that while St. John’s Wort is primarily used for depression, there’s some evidence to suggest it may also have anti-anxiety effects.
  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). St. John’s Wort and Depression: In Depth.This comprehensive review by the NCCIH provides an excellent summary of what we currently know about St. John’s Wort and its potential effectiveness for depression.


St. John’s Wort is a fascinating herb that has stood the test of time, with clinical trials demonstrating potential benefits for mild to moderate depression and possibly anxiety. However, like any substance that can affect your mind and body, it’s not without its caveats. Potential side effects and drug interactions necessitate caution, particularly if you’re already on medication.

If you’re considering trying St. John’s Wort for general anxiety or workplace social anxiety, remember: Always consult a healthcare provider first. They can help you weigh the potential risks and benefits based on your unique situation and guide you on dosage and safe use.

As for finding St. John’s Wort, you have several options, from health food stores to online retailers. Just ensure you’re choosing a quality product from a reputable brand, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. After all, it’s your health, and you deserve the best so that you can focus on the most important things in life.

Now, let’s tackle some common questions you might have about St. John’s Wort and anxiety.

FAQ – St. John’s Wort

How long does it take for St. John’s Wort to work for anxiety?

The time it takes for St. John’s Wort to start showing effects can vary. Some people might notice improvements within a few weeks, while others might need several weeks or more. It’s crucial to discuss this with a healthcare provider to manage expectations and monitor progress.

Can I take St. John’s Wort with other anxiety medications?

Because of the risk of drug interactions, including potentially serious ones like serotonin syndrome, it’s crucial to discuss any current medications with your healthcare provider before starting St. John’s Wort.

Can I stop taking St. John’s Wort abruptly?

Stopping St. John’s Wort abruptly might lead to withdrawal symptoms in some individuals. If you decide to stop taking St. John’s Wort, it’s best to do so gradually and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Can St. John’s Wort make anxiety worse?

While St. John’s Wort might help some individuals with mild to moderate anxiety, others with serious illness might not find it beneficial. In some cases, it could potentially worsen symptoms or cause side effects that increase anxiety. Always monitor your symptoms and discuss any changes with a healthcare provider.