The study was funded with $4 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It was the first clinical trial established by the NIH to test the efficacy of herbal remedies. St. John’s wort was chosen because at the time the study was designed and funded in 1996, St. John’s wort had begun to significantly increase in popularity in the U.S. This new awareness was based on media reports of a meta-analysis (statistical review of clinical trials) of 23 European clinical trials that showed that St. John’s wort was safe and effective in treating mild to moderate forms of depression.
Last April, another U.S.-based multi-center clinical trial on St. John’s wort also failed to show any activity for the herb, again in more severely depressed patients. The placebo-controlled study was criticized for targeting patients that were too chronically and severely depressed and thus not consistent with the profile of patients normally included in clinical trials. It was also criticized for not including an active control, like the drug sertraline (Zoloft®, produced by Pfizer, the funder of the study), to determine the level of response by the patients. Both trials used the leading German St. John’s wort extract (known in Germany as Jarsin® 300, made by Lichwter Pharma of Berlin, and sold in the U.S. as Kira® by Lichtwer Pharma USA).
St. John’s wort, also known by its scientific name Hypericum perforatum, is a traditional European herb that has drawn significant attention for its ability to help elevate mood in mild or moderately depressed people. At least 22 controlled clinical trials have been published in European medical journals suggesting that St. John’s wort extract is a safe and effective remedy for mild to moderate depression. An estimated 131 million doses of St. John’s wort were prescribed by psychiatrists in Germany in 1999, according to German sources.
The American Botanical Council is the nation's leading non-profit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs and medicinal plants. The 13-year-old organization occupies a 2.5 acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed journal on herbal medicine, and will publish a forthcoming book and continuing education course for healthcare professionals, The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, containing an extensive monograph on the safety and efficacy of St. John’s wort. Information contact: ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, ph: 512-926-4900, fax: 512-926-2345. Website: www.herbalgram.org.