Pubdate: Fri, 01 Sep 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Kitty Holland


The Irish Medicines Board has declined to comment on new research 
indicating the herb St John's Wort, popular as a remedy for depression, 
is as effective as conventional drugs and has fewer side effects.  

A report published in today's British Medical Journal says doctors 
should prescribe the herb as a "first choice" treatment for patients 
with mild to moderate depression.  

On the IMB's recommendation, the Minister for Health banned over the 
counter sales of St John's Wort from January 1st last, citing concerns 
about potential side effects.  

It remains effectively banned for most of its regular users in this 
State as it continues to be a "prescription-only" product, while 
doctors cannot prescribe it as it is not yet a licensed "medicine".  

A spokesman for the IMB said it could not comment on the findings of a 
German study until it had read the research in full. The study, of more 
than 300 patients, is the largest ever into the effects of St John's 
Wort. Half the patients studied were treated with an extract of St 
John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) and half with the conventional anti-
depressant, imipramine.  

The researchers found the two treatments were "therapeutically 
equivalent", with patients in both groups rating similar improvements 
in their mild to moderate depression.  

But patients taking the herbal extract were also more likely to have 
their feelings of anxiety dissipated than those taking the conventional 

And while 16 per cent of patients taking imipramine withdrew from the 
study because of side effects, only 3 per cent of those taking St 
John's Wort withdrew.  

Almost two thirds of the conventionally-treated patients reported side 
effects, compared with 39 per cent of St John's Wort patients. 
Imipramine takers complained of dry mouths, sweating and dizziness, 
while those taking the herbal remedy "tolerated" the treatment much 

Dr Helmut Woelk, author of the study, said: "In view of the mounting 
evidence of hypericum's comparable efficacy to other antidepressants 
and its safety record, hypericum should be considered for first-line 
treatment in mild to moderate depression, especially in the primary 
care setting."  

Welcoming the findings, Mr Martin Murray, chairman of the Irish Health 
Trade Association, said the herb was seen as "very effective in the 
treatment of moderate to mild depression" by his members and they 
regretted the restrictions on its sale.  
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MAP posted-by: John Chase