Combining St. John's Wort And 5-HTP: Potential Risks And Advantages

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Combining St. John's Wort And 5-HTP

St. John's Wort and 5-HTP have been shown, in some cases, to hold potential in treating mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Taking these substances together may seem like a good idea, but there are several factors to consider before combining the two.

According to the World Health Organisation, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, which is classified as a leading cause of disease. Depression is a condition associated with feelings of despair and pessimism, sometimes accompanied by self-loathing and a poor view of oneself.

Defining characteristics of the condition include lack of interest in normal activities, loss of energy, recurrent thoughts about death and suicide, poor sleeping patterns and decreased appetite.

In attempt to reduce the symptoms of depression, many people are prescribed antidepressant drugs. Although these medications may help some individuals mediate their symptoms, they also pose significant side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, erectile dysfunction and more.

In contrast, there are more natural options available including the herb St. John’s Wort and the substance 5-HTP. Both of these potential treatments have displayed effectiveness in elevating mood and may even work well when combined together, although there are precautions to consider before doing so.


Causes Of Depression

There appear to be many different variables that contribute to a depressed state, making it likely that the condition is not the result of a single cause or trigger. One of the main psychological theories behind depressive states is known as the “learned helplessness model.”

This was founded by psychologist Martin Seligman in 1965 upon studying the reaction of dogs to stressful and painful situations. Seligman's theory suggests that people with depression have learned to be helpless and that they believe themselves to have little to no control over their external environments.


On the other hand, the highly regarded physiological theory known as the “monoamine hypothesis” locates the cause of some cases of depression to an imbalance in brain chemistry, with low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Additionally, nutritional imbalances resulting in impaired biological function may also contribute to states of depression and other mental disorders. Deficiencies in B vitamins and fatty acids are often linked to such conditions.

Now that we have explored some of the mechanisms of depression, let's look a bit deeper into the roles St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP can play in treating its symptoms. We will analyse the effects of these potential remedies separately, then observe how they can work in concert to encourage even greater outcomes.


St. John's Wort

St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is reported as a natural method to elevate mood and may, therefore, hold potential in the treatment of depression symptoms. The plant is said to offer a course of effects similar to that of antidepressants, but the evidence is still inconclusive at present.

Research regarding the plant's use in treating depression is contrasting, with some evidence suggesting that St. John’s Wort is actually more beneficial as a placebo. A paper entitled “St. John’s wort for depression - an overview and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials” published in the British Medical Journal set out to investigate whether or not St. John’s wort is more effective than placebo in the treatment of depression.

Results of the study found St. John’s Wort to be somewhat effective in treating depression and actually outperformed placebo in some cases. The authors of the paper concluded that “There is evidence that extracts of hypericum are more effective than placebo for the treatment of mild to moderately severe disorders.”


Further Research

Adding to this research, the University of Maryland Medical Centre publication discusses other findings in relation to the role of St. John’s Wort on depression and mood. The authors explain that the chemicals found within the plant, such as hypericin, hyperforin and certain flavonoids aren’t well understood.

However, some researchers do suggest that the compounds act in a similar fashion to SSRI medications. These work to treat depression by increasing serotonin levels in the brain by blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter.

Some research has revealed that St. John’s Wort works just as well as certain SSRIs including Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft.

Regarding dosage, a St. John’s Wort extract containing 0.3 percent hypericin can be taken at around 900 to 1800mg daily. It should be noted that St. John’s Wort interacts with different types of medication, which is why it’s paramount to research if it is safe for for you to consume. If you are unsure, consult your physician.


Natural 5-HTP

5-HTP is a chemical by-product of the dietary amino acid L-tryptophan that is used for multiple conditions, such as sleep disorders, anxiety, migraines and eating habits linked to obesity. When it comes to depression, 5-HTP may work in a similar fashion as commonly prescribed antidepressants to relieve symptoms. After tryptophan is broken down, 5-HTP is utilised by the body in the production of serotonin within the nervous system.

Because 5-HTP is derived from tryptophan, it is an easy assumption to make that eating foods high in this amino acid will result in increased levels of the substance within the body. However, this is not the case. Instead, supplemental formulations work to boost levels of 5-HTP and may even help to counter depression, due to outcomes of improved sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, and sensations of pain.

Studies have highlighted that 5-HTP works within the league of popular antidepressants, with some research showing that it works equally as well as some specific medications, perhaps with fewer side effects.

A typical recommendation for 5-HTP dosage is between 50 to 100mg three times per day, ideally before eating a meal.


So, we have seen how each of these supplements can work independently to combat some of the symptoms associated with depression, but can they work together?

Due to 5-HTP's role as the precursor to neurotransmitters responsible for elevating mood, as well as St. John’s Wort's ability to improve mood and boost visual and cognitive perception, these two supplements appear to be a powerful match.


Anecdotal reports suggest that combining these substances results in a spectrum of outcomes. Some claim that it actually induces hyperactivity, while others experience positive effects in low doses.


Although there may be some benefit to this combination, taking both of these supplements together can increase the risk of a rare condition called serotonin syndrome, which can incite confusion, changes in blood pressure and other very serious implications such as seizures.

For this reason, it is advised to first consult your doctor to see if the combination is right for you. This is especially true in reference to its contraindications with other medications. If you do decide to move forward with this form of treatment, start off with small doses and increase from there sensibly and accurately, based on professional medical advice.

Luke Sumpter

Written by: Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter is a journalist based in the United Kingdom, specialising in health, alternative medicine, herbs and psychedelic healing. He has written for outlets such as, Medical Daily and The Mind Unleashed, covering these and other areas.

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