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St. John's Wort: The Miracle Medicine

by Alan H. Pressman, D.C.

Review by David Seaman and Laura L. Post, M.D., for the NAMI Literature Committee
Apr 1999

These two recent discussions of "natureís Prozac" are rather similar and can appropriately be reviewed together.

Dr. Rosenthalís book, although more modest in its claims, is far superior to Pressmanís. Heís an NIMH researcher, a Georgetown psychiatry professor, author of an important book on SAD, and a recognized authority on depression. When he tells us that a curiously named herb (St. Johnís wort, or hypercium) from a common plant found in any cowfield becomes for many sufferers the full equivalent of commercial antidepressant drugs with very few of their side effects, attention should be paid. The herb costs less, you donít need a prescription, and it rather frequently "really works." It is taken in Europe for depression far more often than manufactured drugs (Prozac, Paxil, etc.) and is catching on rapidly in this country.

His book is authoritative, easy to read, and quite interesting. Along with the good news, Dr. Rosenthal includes some sensible cautionary advice. The herbís rather remarkable effects have been convincingly demonstrated primarily for mild to moderate depression. Its usefulness for severe (major) depression seems likely but remains unproven, and patients with that disorder should always be under medical care and not attempt to treat themselves. And, just as with any antidepressant, bipolar patients risk becoming seriously manic if they take St. Johnís wort without informed supervision.

Now for the second book. Dr. Pressman (a chiropractor) and his co-author have written an inexpensive, quickie paperback on this popular subject, covering much the same ground and giving similar advice. However, their presentation is based upon the assumptions of holistic and naturopathic medicine, and the claims they make for this herb are broader and more dramatic. Thus, in addition to depression, it is said to be good for PMS, menopausal symptoms, insomnia, fighting viruses, and strengthening immunity; its asserted anticancer and anti-addiction effects are likewise explored. We hear nothing about such wonders from Dr. Rosenthal.

NIMH and other researchers are currently intensively studying this remarkable herb, although years will doubtless elapse before a scientific consensus is reached. Meanwhile, however, the medical profession and those suffering from depression should definitely become familiar with it.

St. Johnís Wort: The Miracle Medicine
by Alan H. Pressman (Dell, 1998, 208 pages, $5.99) is available through local bookstores.

The Herbal Way to Feeling Good by Norman Rosenthal. HarperCollins, 1998. 235 pages.