Edit: Okay, so after a few e-mails that read something like “If you’re thinking of suicide, remember it’s not really the end” I ought to clarify a little bit. I deliberately wrote this when I was very distraught with the idea of making the writing more poignant and a bit more personal and to add a unique twist to make an article more interesting. Day-to-day I’m fine. Mom, if you read this……don’t worry!
If I have your attention there’s a shocking inner truth I need to reveal to you:
These last three weeks I’ve morphed into an emotional wretch.
I recently moved to Portland and I’m afraid it was a mistake for a variety of reasons. I’m left with nothing to show for it except an empty wallet, hollow soul, and 6 months of hardship
My once calm and bubbly demeanor has wilted away and all that remains is a dense, knotted animus that desperately seeks familial belonging and tribal reassurance. The emotional cavity leaves a gaping wound and my stunted coping mechanisms can only grasp Kid Rock and Full House re-runs to fill the void.
I lie awake at night, unable to escape a single thought, silently asphyxiating in my own doubt until the morning comes, where it mercilessly straps myself into the daily emotional roller coaster of remorse and personal anguish.
As I write this I’m lying in my bed, emotionally destitute and psychologically naked, with nothing to give to the world except my words and bottled vegetable powders.
Cold. Desperate. Alone.
I am all that I have left.
In such an emotionally fragile condition and with nothing more than the aphorisms of Danny Tanner to keep me going, I’m afraid I’ve hit rock bottom and turned to the bottle.
You might think that means I’ve reacquainted myself with old friends Jim Beam and Jack D, but you’d be mistaken.
No, comrades, when I need to ease the pain I eschew The Goose, turn my nose up at the Captain, and fart in the general direction of Jose Cuervo.
What I actually need to make myself feel better is a bottle of St. John’s Wort.
There is a long, tangled knot of debate about whether or not St. John’s wort is a reliable way to treat depression.
It doesn’t work.
It works when you take it for at least six weeks twice a day.
It doesn’t work unless your depression is extremely mild and you live in Germany.
It works, as long as you use a particular patented strain from Switzerland, aren’t on anti-depressants, and take walks to go along with your supplementation.
You can use it, but only if you don’t have AIDS, BiPolar, are off contraceptives, stay out of the sunlight and take at least 600 mg.
Yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, YADDA!
The list of caveats and explanations about SJW and depression are endless. It’s amazing that so much research has been done and lead to so few answers.
However, if you were to parse the research for its take home points this is what you’d come away with:
- It works better for moderate than severe depression
- It works best when used with strains that are carefully purified, particularly strains LI 160, Ze 117, WS 5570, WS 5572
- Anti-depressant activity tracks the amount of hyperforin in the sample
- It has less side effects than traditional SSRI’s
Most commercial versions of Saint John’s Wort are standardized to contain a particular amount of hypericin, which is the ingredient assumed to combat depression.
They’re mistaken. It’s hyperforin.
If you measure the amount of hypericin that’s needed to enter the cell to have a clinical effect it’s much too high for what you find in most products.
However, hyperforin modifies a protein in your neurons that allows sodium and calcium to diffuse into them and slows down the re-uptake of neurotransmitters, and it’s this effect that alleviates your mood.
Most SSRI’s work in a slightly different manner by directly antagonizing 5-HT receptors and preventing serotonin from going back into your neurons.
St. John’s Wort Enjoys Light
Both hyperforin and hypericin are sensitive to light, and the ability to be modified by light gives it unique therapeutic potential.
Hypericin in particular does remarkable things when you shine a UV lamp on it. It undergoes a transformation called a double proton transfer and this process allows hypericin to produce a unique form of oxygen that kills a lot of stuff in your body…..particularly viruses and cancer cells.
Hypericin is now used as a model to treat different strains of HIV viruses and is commonly used in a cancer treatment called Photodynamic Therapy, which utilizes hypericin’s photosensitivity to act as a pro-oxidant (the opposite of an antioxidant) to provide free radicals that kill cancer cells. (A unique example of when the opposite of an anti-oxidant is very good for you).
So no, not exactly the same thing as Prozac.
Can It Kill You?
St. John’s Wort has lots of drug interactions, which is to be expected from something so pharmacalogically active. Most of the side-effects resemble those of anti-depressants.
If you secretly want to have a baby but are afraid to tell your boyfriend then it’s a good idea to take St. John’s Wort because it reduces the effectiveness of birth control. It jacks up the activity of an enzyme called CYP3A4 which is used to metabolize ethinylestradiol and norethindrone, the two active ingredients in oral contraceptives. St. John’s Wort cuts their half-life in two because of the increased activity of the enzyme.
The list of drugs it might interact with is too long and boring to talk about here so if you want a full list head over to drugs.com and check it out.
If you have AIDS think twice before taking it.
Danger, Danger, DANGER!
St. John’s Wort is often used as an example in those “dietary-supplements-are-really-dangerous-and-need-to-be-much-more-regulated-than-they-really-are” types of conversations that sprout up like weeds in the blogosphere.
Here’s an excerpt of one such article from Mother Jones:
Rather surprising, then, that it’s also been shown to negatively interact with some of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical antidepressants on the market.
Safe to say that’s fairly counterintuitive, and that it could even be dangerous.
Here’s my favorite from Psychology Today:
We consider herbal supplements to be free of toxins(link is external), pesticides and scary ingredients that no one knows how to pronounce……That’s not always the case. Consider cobra venom, puffer fish toxin, many types of mushrooms, oleander, crude oil, cyanide and arsenic. All are all highly toxic and may be fatal, and yet they occur naturally, in nature.
Oh, gag me! This guy is ridiculous.
Who’s going around selling cobra venom shots for fun and profit? No one because that’s obviously a terrible idea.
Health supplements have a problem with ingredient adulteration but they don’t pose public health risks.
Consider a comparison between St. John’s Wort and aspirin. Here’s how many people contact toxicology centers with complaints about each one every year:
St. John’s Wort: 356
If you want a visual comparison this is what it looks like:
It ain’t even close. If you’re not on medication and take reasonable doses you should be fine.
Alright kids, it’s been fun.
Now everyone, grab a stuffed animal: