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News1990April › The thin end of the wedge, i: are the wort's days numbered? › April 1990

The thin end of the wedge, i: are the wort's days numbered?

we bet St John's wort (Hypericum) will soon be banned in virtually every country in the West before too long

We're not gamblers, but. . . we bet St John's wort (Hypericum) will soon be banned in virtually every country in the West before too long.

It will be a sad fate for a herb that has helped many hundreds of thousands of people with mild depression. It has been used for years in countries such as Germany, and more than a handful of medical trials had confirmed that it was a very effective therapy for mild depression, and without any nasty side-effects.

Germans spend four times as much on St John's wort as on the antidepressant drug Prozac, and nearly 4 per cent of Americans have taken it for at least a month for their depression.

Then one study discovered that it was not a very effective treatment for major depression, although nobody had ever suggested it was.

This was quickly followed by various reports that suggested the herb interfered with prescription drugs, such as cyclosporin for transplant patients, and the Pill. The Irish health authorities were quick to act, and banned the herb.

But things have gone from bad to worse for this traditional remedy and, this time, the blow may well be fatal. A recent study has discovered that it can reduce the effectiveness of up to half of all prescription drugs. This extraordinary conclusion is based on a study of 12 healthy volunteers who were given the herb for 14 days.

Most will immediately say that the study is too small to be significant, but we reckon the pharmaceutical industry will seize on this to force its ban.

As they say, to understand medicine, you just have to follow the money . .

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 1500-4).


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