St. John’s wort may help manage stress by improving mood and anxiety.
St. John’s wort is a flowering plant known for its medicinal properties. In regards to stress, it may be helpful through:
- Improving anxiety and mood. St. John’s wort seems to function like a nootropic by modulating neurotransmitters that affect mood and anxiety, such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine.
Named after Saint John the Baptist, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a plant known for its bright yellow flowers. In days past, the flowers were frequently used for divination and as a good luck charm; one popular belief was that bringing them into the home on a midsummer’s eve would ward away evil and witches.
Herbalists in the 19th century eventually began to note curious health benefits of the herb: it appeared to ease pain as an ointment, clean wounds as an oil, and facilitate recovery from a handful of gastrointestinal discomforts.
Today St. John’s wort extracts are used to manage a broad scope of conditions, including depression, ulcers, nervousness, sleep disorders, anxiety, and mood issues.
How St. John’s Wort May Help With Stress
Inhibitting neurotransmitter reuptake
St. John’s wort seems to simultaneously inhibit the reuptake of multiple neurotransmitters that affect mood and anxiety, making them more effective. In particular, it seems to influence: 2
- Serotonin. The hyperforin content of St. John’s wort seems to be particularly adept as a serotonergic 5-HT3 and 5-HT3 receptor antagonist.3
- Gamma-butyric acid (GABA). The hypericin in St. John’s wort acts as a GABA receptor antagonist.4
- L-glutamate. The adhyperforin in St. John’s wort may inhibit uptake of L-glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline.5
St. John’s Wort Benefits & Uses for Stress
Current research suggests that St. John’s wort is a viable natural option for improving mood, decreasing anxiety, and reducing insomnia. (Check out other natural stress relievers.)
Indeed, according to the guidelines of the American College of Physicians, the potential impact of the herb is comparable to that of manufactured antidepressants.
All in all, St. John’s wort seems to be building a reputation as an effective aid for a variety of mood problems and disorders, including excitability, nervousness, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and depression.
Research indicates that St. John’s wort may be capable of:
- Reducing anxiety. A St. John’s wort extract at 100 and 200 mg/kg showed significant anxiolytic effects in rats.6
- Improve mood. St. John’s wort extracts were found to enhance mood in rats and mice via an antidepressant effect.7
Clinical studies indicate that St. John’s wort may be a safe way to decrease anxiety and improve mood, particularly in the context of mood disorders.
In this randomized, placebo-controlled investigation patients of major depression with a seasonal pattern were given either placebo or 900 mg of St. John’s wort combined with a two-hour bright or dim light therapy every day for 4 weeks. The researchers found a significant drop in the Hamilton Depression Scale score in the St. John’s wort group.
- The study concluded that “pharmacologic treatment with hypericum may be an efficient therapy in patients with seasonal affective disorder.”8 Hypericum would appear to be an effective treatment for SAD.”9
In this multi-center, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind investigation, 151 patients with somatization disorder were given either a placebo or 600 mg per day of St. John’s wort LI 160 extract for 6 weeks. The LI 160 supplement was superior than the placebo according to various anxiety measures, such as Clinical Global Impression, Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAMA) total score, HAMA subscore psychic anxiety, Hamilton Depression Scale, Self-Report Symptom Inventory 90 items – revised (SCL-90-R), and SCL-90-R, subscore somatic anxiety. Specifically, the HAMA-SOM score for the LI 160 group decreased to 6.64 compared to the 11.97 for the placebo group.
- The study concluded that “data from this trial show excellent efficacy and tolerability for LI 160 in somatoform disorders.”10
In this open-label investigation, 12 people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) were given 450 mg of St. John’s wort with 0.3% hypericin for a period of 12 weeks 2 times a day. Evaluations using the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS), the Clinical Global Impressions of Improvement scale (CGI), the Patient Global Impressions of Improvement Scale, and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression showed that 5 out of 12 participants were rated “much” or “very much improved” on the clinician-rated CGI, 6 were “minimally improved,” and only 1 had “no change.”
- The study concluded that “significant improvement was found with Hypericum, with a drop-in Y-BOCS score.”11
Dosage for Stress
- Research studies use St. John’s wort doses of 300 – 900 mg per day
- Supplements usually provide 300 mg doses standardized to 0.3% hypericin content
- St. John’s wort supplements can also come in a tea, liquid extract, and topical preparation form
Supplements in Review Says
- St. John’s wort extract 300 mg for stress.
We recommend St. John’s wort for improving anxiety and mood. Although it doesn’t affect stress directly, St. John’s wort can still be helpful by improving anxiety and depressive mood that are often involved in chronic stress.
Start with 300 mg of standardized St. John’s wort. Most clinical studies use between 300 and 900 mg of a St. John’s wort extract per day.
- Pietta P, Gardana C, et al. Comparative evaluation of St. John’s wort from different Italian regions. Farmaco. 2001 May-Jul;56(5-7):491-6. ↩
- Bennet DA Jr, Phun L, et al. Neuropharmacology of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum). Ann Pharmacother. 1998 Nov;32(11):1201-8. ↩
- Chatterjee SS, Noldner M, et al. Antidepressant activity of hypericum perforatum and hyperforin: the neglected possibility. Pharmacopsych 1998;31:7-15. ↩
- Chavez ML, Chavez PI. Saint John’s wort. Hosp Pharm 1997;32:1621-32. ↩
- Jensen AG, Hansen SH, et al. Adhyperforin as a contributor to the effect of Hypericum perforatum L. in biochemical models of antidepressant activity. Life Sci. 2001 Feb 23;68(14):1593-605. ↩
- Kumar V, Jaiswal AK, et al. Anxiolytic activity of Indian Hypericum perforatum Linn: an experimental study. Indian J Exp Biol. 2000 Jan;38(1):36-41. ↩
- Kumar V, Singh PN, et al. Antidepressant activity of Indian Hypericum perforatum Linn in rodents. Indian J Exp Biol. 1999 Dec;37(12):1171-6. ↩
- Martinez B, Kasper S, et al. Hypericum in the treatment of seasonal affective disorders. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 1994 Oct;7 Suppl 1:S29-33.
In this investigation, 133 people with seasonal affective disorder took St. John’s wort for 8 weeks and were found to experience significant improvements in anxiety, libido and insomnia from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- The study concluded that “there was significant improvement in anxiety, loss of libido and insomnia…[and ↩
- Wheatley D. Hypericum in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Curr Med Res Opin. 1999;15(1):33-7. ↩
- Volz HP, Murck H, et al. St John’s wort extract (LI 160) in somatoform disorders: results of a placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2002;164:294-300. ↩
- Taylor LH, Kobak KA. An open-label trial of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61:575-8. ↩