Herbal depression medicine is commonly promoted as a viable alternative to pharmaceutical treatment of depression. However, the final verdict on the usefulness of herbal depression medicine needs yet to be made. While the effectiveness of herbal anti depressants has to be analysed on a case-by-case basis it can be said that a general problem with assessing the potential of herbal depression medicine lies in the fact that not much clinical, statistically relevant data exists. Also, there seems to be only limited interest from medical establishment to embark on studies testing the effectiveness of most herbal depression medicine. So what is the evidence that herbal anti depressants are effective depression treatments?
St John's Wort
St. John's wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is the most well-known and best studied of the herbal anti depressants. It has been known as herbal depression medicine and ailment for other diseases for centuries. In Europe, where this herbal depression medicine is commonly prescribed by medical doctors, a number of clinical studies have shown St John´s wort to be an effective herbal anti depressant in cases of mild to moderate depression. However, two clinical studies in the US have recently indicated that St. John´s wort extracts were no more effective than a placebo in major depression (it has to be noted though that one of the studies was funded by the pharmaceutical industry). Further studies with this herbal depression medicine are underway, but it may take years before a definite verdict can be made on St John´s wort. The exact mode of action of this herbal depression medicine is unknown, though some evidence exists that it acts on serotonin production or -activity. Despite all limitations and open questions, St. John´s wort currently stands as the only herbal depression medicine with a clinically demonstrated effect in certain types of depression.
Other herbal depression medicine
Other herbal anti depressants commonly mentioned are Gingko Biloba and Siberian Ginseng. For each of those alleged herbal anti depressants circumstantial evidence exists that seems to show their potential as herbal depression medicine. However, no clinical studies have been conducted so far that prove or disprove any claims made with regards to their effectiveness as ailments for depression.
An additional major problem with all herbal depression medicine, apart of limited clinical evidence, is that the quality of different marketed herbal extracts may vary substantially and that there may be purity and effectiveness issues. Furthermore, the common misconception that herbal depression treatment is natural and hence does not have any side effects is outright wrong and the depressive patient should be aware of the potential risks of taking herbal anti depressants without consultation through a medical professional.
Concluding it must be said that, although herbal depression medicine is widely used, on the whole there is (maybe with the exception of St. John´s wort) no definitive evidence for the usefulness of herbal anti depressants. Especially when compared to standard prescription drugs for depression herbal depression medicine usually does not stand out as a first choice treatment option. However, when other more established treatments fail, or in particular in the case of St. John´s wort, in cases of mild depression, using herbal depression medicine may be worth trying. In any case the user should realise the limitations and potential dangers of herbal depression medicine.