St. John's Wort vs 5-HTP – Which Is Better For Anxiety & Depression

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort (scientifical name – Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant of the genus Hypericum that is often considered to be a weed as it grows in hedges and meadows. It has golden yellow flowers.

It has become a popular supplement in the last twenty years as a potential cure-all herbal remedy for many health problems. It is sold in four forms:

  • oil;
  • capsule;
  • tincture;
  • raw.

Health Benefits

Depression

According to statistics, an estimated 17 million American adults have had at least 1 major depressive episode in a given year.

Symptoms of a major depressive episode include:

  • a specific plan for suicide;
  • a suicide attempt;
  • recurrent thoughts of suicide or death;
  • psychomotor agitation or retardation which is observable by other people;
  • difficulty making decisions, concentrating and thinking clearly;
  • sleep problems on an almost daily basis;
  • fatigue or decreased energy almost every day;
  • an increase or decrease in appetite nearly every day;
  • changes in weight and appetite.

A few studies concluded that St. John’s wort is beneficial in treating mild to moderate depression.

Image credit – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Depression.jpg

For instance, according to a 2008 meta-analysis of 29 studies in 5489 patients, St. John’s wort may be as effective as prescription antidepressants for depression with substantially fewer side effects than:

  • noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant agents;
  • serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors;
  • noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors;
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors;
  • tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants.

In addition, a 2016 review of 35 international studies determined that St. John’s wort reduced signs and symptoms of mild to moderate depression similar to prescription antidepressants and more than a placebo.

St. John’s wort is very effective in treating depression as it contains a combination of antidepressant chemicals which delay or inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next across synapses) such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

As an interesting fact, according to the American Journal of Natural Medicine, in Germany, doctors prescribe St. John’s wort approximately 20x more often than Prozac (the brand name of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant).

Note – for mild to moderate depression, take 300 mg three times a day, with meals.

Premenstrual Syndrome

It is a group of symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. Approximately 90 percent of women experience PMS at some point during their lifetime.

St. John’s wort is effective at positively influencing behavioral and physical symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, according to a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Anxietyanxiety

Affecting around 41 million American adults (according to the National Institute of Mental Health), anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States. Also, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. over $43 billion a year, according to The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders.

It is thought that St John’s Wort promotes feelings of control and stability, but, currently, there is not enough scientifical evidence supporting its role as a mood stabilizer.

Note – the usual dosage of St. John’s wort for anxiety is 900 mg by mouth two times per day for a few weeks.

Scrapes & Bruises

The herb stimulates circulation of oxygenated blood in skin cells to stimulate repair. Therefore, St. John’s Wort can be used topically via tinctures or salves to speed up the healing process of bruises, burns, and scrapes.

Note

The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved St. John’s Wort for any medical condition.

Side Effects

St. John’s Wort interacts with several medications for depression, hence, it should be taken only under the guidance of a doctor.

In addition, the herb can weaken how well other drugs work, including:

  • blood thinners like – Coumadin;
  • cancer medications;
  • HIV drugs;
  • digoxin (a heart medication);
  • cyclosporine (an anti-rejection medication);
  • birth control pills.

In addition, this herb is a stimulant and may worsen feelings of anxiety in some individuals. Other side effects of St. John’s wort may include:

  • sensitivity to sunlight;
  • sexual dysfunction;
  • confusion;
  • dizziness;
  • fatigue;
  • headache;
  • dry mouth;
  • upset stomach.

Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid taking St. John’s wort.

5-HTP

5-HTP, also referred to as 5-Hydroxytryptophan, is a compound that is produced naturally in the human body. It is actually a precursor to the hormone melatonin and the neurotransmitter serotonin.

5-HTP is also made as a supplement from the seeds of Griffonia simplicfolia, a plant that is native to West Africa.

In the US, 5-Hydroxytryptophan is sold as an OTC supplement for numerous conditions, including depression, anxiety, migraines, sleep disorders, fibromyalgia, and ADHD.

Health Benefits

Depression

The results of several clinical studies established that 5-Hydroxytryptophan may help in the treatment of depression. The supplement is believed to help people with depression by increasing serotonin levels.

But, it is not known whether 5-Hydroxytryptophan is as effective as commonly prescribed antidepressant medications.

Weight Lossd

Currently, there are over 2.1 billion overweight or obese adults worldwide. Studies have linked obesity and overweight to a higher risk for health complications, such as:

  • major cancers;
  • respiratory problems;
  • depression;
  • heart disease;
  • type 2 diabetes mellitus.

20 obese study participants who took 900 milligrams of 5-Hydroxytryptophan managed to lose weight whether or not a diet was prescribed, according to a study issued in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A typical dose of 5-Hydroxytryptophan is in the range of 300 to 500 milligrams, taken either once per day or in divided doses.

Fibromyalgias

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder which causes widespread pain. Taking this supplement may help to reduce pain and improve sleep patterns.

Anxiety

Although the supplement has been proposed as a possible treatment for anxiety disorders, there are not enough studies to make a conclusion.

Side Effects

Potential side effects of 5-HTP include dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea. Occasionally, allergic reactions may occur in some people.

Bottom Line – St. John’s Wort vs 5-HTP

St. John’s wort is a flowering shrub native to Europe which has been used as a medicinal herb for its anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties for over 2,000 years. According to research, this herb has shown promise in relieving symptoms of depression.

5-HTP or 5-Hydroxytryptophan is an amino acid which the body uses to produce serotonin, a chemical which transmits messages between nerve cells. Many researchers think that an imbalance in serotonin levels may negatively influence mood.

In conclusion, for anxiety, there is not enough scientifical evidence for both supplements, however, regarding depression, both supplements seem to work, but St. John’s wort is more effective and with fewer side effects.

References

https://ebmh.bmj.com/content/12/3/78
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/485215
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415362/