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Wondering about St. John’s wort for anxiety? Here’s everything you need to know.
Anxiety is extremely common. In fact, an estimated 31 percent of all U.S. adults will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in life.
If you’ve ever researched natural treatments for anxiety, you may have seen recommendations for St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum — a plant-based supplement often used as a natural mood booster.
So, does it work for treating anxiety, and if so, how long does St. John's wort take to work for anxiety?
There’s currently limited scientific evidence to suggest that St. John’s wort provides benefits for other mental health problems, such as depression. However, there’s very little research on St. John’s wort as a natural anxiety treatment, with few studies showing that it’s effective or helpful.
Ahead, we’ll explain what St. John’s wort is and why it’s popular as a supplement for depression and other mood disorders.
We’ll also talk about why it’s generally best not to rely on St. John’s wort if you’re prone to anxiety and want something that can control your symptoms. Finally, we’ll share some evidence-based treatments you may want to consider if you’re one of the tens of millions of American adults affected by an anxiety disorder.
St. John’s wort is a widely used herbal medicine. Dating all the way back to ancient Greece, it has a long history as a natural treatment for mood disorders.
Today, St. John’s wort is most commonly used as an herbal supplement for treating depression, particularly depression that’s mild or moderate in severity. You can find St. John’s wort extract capsules online and in health food stores, usually sold as herbal remedies for depression.
Over the years, several studies have looked at the potential effectiveness of St. John’s wort for treating depression — with generally mixed results.
Although some research suggests St. John’s wort might offer benefits, it doesn’t appear to be consistently effective for treating depression. Worse yet, it’s linked to reductions in the effectiveness of certain medications, including prescription mental health treatments.
Despite these mixed findings, St. John’s wort has remained a popular herbal treatment for anxiety, largely because it’s available over the counter.
Our full guide to natural remedies for depression goes into more detail about St. John’s wort, along with other popular supplements for minor depression.
So, does St. John’s wort offer any benefits for anxiety? Anxiety disorders and major depression are closely linked, which has led some people to speculate that St. John’s wort might also work as a natural treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other types of anxiety.
Currently, there’s very little scientific evidence suggesting that St. John’s wort lowers the severity of feelings of anxiety or that it’s effective for specific anxiety symptoms.
However, some studies have found that St. John’s wort may have a positive effect on emotional processing in general, which may be helpful for people with anxiety.
In a randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2019, 48 people were given either St. John’s wort or a placebo supplement, then given a battery of tasks to assess their cognitive function and emotional processing.
Researchers behind the study found that the people who received St. John’s wort displayed similar changes to those who use other antidepressants, such as increased memory for words with a positive meaning.
However, it isn’t yet clear if this change in emotional processing and cognitive function has any effect on feelings of anxiety or diagnosable anxiety disorders.
This doesn’t mean St. John’s wort isn’t necessarily effective for treating anxiety. But it does mean we don’t yet have enough evidence to confidently state that St. John’s wort has any benefits as an anxiety treatment.
As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health explains, there’s “not enough reliable evidence” to know whether St. John’s wort is beneficial for improving anxiety symptoms or whether it works for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Though evidence on its effectiveness as an anxiety treatment is limited, St. John’s wort seems to be safe for most people. That said, there are several safety risks you should be aware of before using St. John’s wort to treat anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition.
The first is that St. John’s wort can make certain medications, including medications for depression and anxiety, less effective. This means that if you already take medication to reduce the severity of anxiety, using St. John’s wort might make your symptoms worse.
Medications affected by St. John’s wort include antidepressants, certain heart medications, birth control pills, blood thinners, statins, HIV medications, cancer medications and medications used to protect transplanted organs.
St. John’s wort can also cause side effects when used with medications that increase levels of serotonin in the body. This includes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) commonly used to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
These side effects may include serotonin syndrome — an issue that can occur when SSRIs and other medications are used with substances that also increase serotonin levels.
Serotonin syndrome is a serious, potentially life-threatening issue. Symptoms can occur quickly and may include high blood pressure, agitation, an increased body temperature, diarrhea, a fast heartbeat and hallucinations.
If you use any medications for major depressive disorder (MDD) or other mood disorders, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider before considering this herbal supplement. They can help you figure out if it’s safe and discuss a potential St. John’s wort dosage for anxiety.
St. John’s wort may also cause side effects when used on its own. Known side effects of St. John’s wort include increased sensitivity to sunlight, insomnia, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, fatigue, sexual dysfunction and gastrointestinal issues.
In some cases, St. John’s wort may also cause anxiety or make your existing anxiety symptoms more severe as an adverse effect.
St. John’s wort has not been tested during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you’re pregnant, don’t start using St. John’s wort without first talking to your healthcare provider to make sure doing so is safe.
Currently, there’s just not enough high-quality scientific evidence to suggest St. John’s wort is a good treatment for any type of anxiety disorder, from generalized anxiety to social phobia.
But the good news is that real, evidence-based treatments are available for most anxiety disorders. These treatments include medications, talk therapy and changes you can make to your habits and lifestyle to reduce the severity of your anxiety symptoms.
Most anxiety disorders can be treated using anti-anxiety medications, including antidepressants such as SSRIs.
Your healthcare provider may suggest taking medication to treat anxiety if you have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder. But bear in mind you may need to take it for several weeks before noticing any improvements in your symptoms.
We offer medications for anxiety and depression online, following a consultation with a licensed psychiatry provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a major part of treatment for many mental disorders, including anxiety disorders.
Talk therapy involves working with a mental health provider to identify negative thought patterns, behaviors and reactions. Together, you’ll work to change these thoughts and behaviors to help you better deal with situations that can cause anxiety.
We provide online therapy as part of our range of mental health services, allowing you to talk to a mental health provider and take part in private therapy sessions from your home.
In addition to using medication and taking part in therapy, making changes to your daily life can often reduce the severity of anxiety. You may want to consider:
Using relaxation techniques to deal with stressful, anxiety-inducing moments
Practicing mindfulness and adding mindfulness meditation to your daily routine
Reducing your consumption of caffeine and other substances that worsen anxiety
Letting your close friends and family members know how they can help
Taking part in a local support group or online support group
Our guide to calming anxiety shares other techniques and lifestyle changes you can use to manage your anxiety symptoms and improve your mental well-being.
St. John’s wort is a popular dietary supplement often recommended as a natural treatment and form of alternative therapy for mild-to-moderate depression.
Although St. John’s wort is occasionally promoted as a natural treatment for anxiety, the current evidence doesn’t suggest that it’s very effective.
Since St. John’s wort can cause adverse effects and interactions, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before considering it as an alternative medicine for anxiety, especially if you currently take any type of medication.
It’s also important to seek professional help if you think you have an anxiety disorder or a related mental health issue, such as generalized anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
You can access help from home using our mental health services, which let you connect with a mental health provider in a private, personalized and supportive setting.
You can also learn more about your options for treating anxiety, from medication and talk therapy to lifestyle changes and more, in our complete guide to anxiety disorder treatments. Get started today.
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