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Herb 'as effective as drug'.

Byline: BY Western Mail

St john's wort is at least as effective in treating depression as a widely-prescribed antidepressant drug, researchers said.

A study compared the effectiveness of a specially-manufactured extract from the herb with the drug paroxetine - also known as Seroxat - in treating patients with moderate or severe depression.

The team concluded that the herb was just as effective, if not better, than paroxetine, and patients experienced fewer side effects.

In the study, researchers in Germany used patients with moderate to severe depression to test St John's wort and paroxetine - from a class of anti-depressant known as selective serotonin re- uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

The two substances were given to the patients, aged 18 to 70, for six weeks.

At the end of the trial half of those taking St John's wort - 61 out of 122 - found that there depressive symptoms were in decline.

But only a third of those patients on paroxetine - 43 out of 122 - went into remission.

The patients on paroxetine also suffered more side- effects, with 269 adverse effects reported during the six-week trial.

Those on St John's wort reported 172 adverse effects.

In both cases the most common side effect was stomach disorders.

The researchers concluded, 'Our results support the use of hypericum extract WS 5570 (St John's wort) as an alternative to standard anti-depressants in moderate to severe depression, especially as it is well tolerated.

'As in any effective anti- depressant, potential interactions with other drugs deserve clinical attention.'

They called for further research to confirm their findings.

Last year experts called for doctors to use alternative therapies to treat depression rather than automatically prescribing antidepressants, especially in milder cases.

The possibility of side effects, including suicidal thoughts and self-harm, prompted the largest ever review of SSRIs.

In December the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) issued a raft of recommendations for doctors to make sure the drugs are only used where most appropriate.

Nice said that for patients with mild to moderate depression psychological treatments, such as counselling, could be as effective as drug treatments.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 11, 2005
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