It has a reputation for helping with low mood but this traditional herbal remedy may play an important role in easing other menopause symptoms.
What is St John’s wort?
St John’s wort is a wild plant with bright yellow flowers that’s used traditionally around the world, mainly for its mood-lifting benefits. It’s been researched more than many other herbal remedies, so there’s scientific evidence to back up its traditional uses. If you’re wondering how it can help you during the menopause transition, read on.
Lifting low meno mood
St John’s wort is best known for helping with low mood and anxiety. A 2008 review of international studies found it was as effective as various prescription antidepressants for easing mild-to-moderate depression, without the associated side effects. Interestingly, the herb was found to have the most positive results in German-speaking countries, where its benefits are widely accepted and it has a history of use by medical professionals. It may also help with anxiety. Other studies have shown more mixed results so the evidence is limited and it doesn’t seem to work for everyone - but it could be worth a try if anxiety and low mood are among your menopausal symptoms.
Some women swear by it. Our online menopause community member Eve says, ‘I’ve been taking St John’s wort for a year, ever since menopause hit. My mood got dangerously low and I started feeling quite anxious. I think it worked for me because I have always been a bit of a “stressy” person, quite familiar with periods of depression and anxiety since childhood, but always managed to have a great time and make a good go of things anyway! When I started St John’s wort, within 24 hours I was just less concerned about everything. I wish I’d tried it earlier in my life.’ Another member, Mayday1, agrees. ‘During my perimenopause my worst symptoms were low mood and anxiety. I spoke to my GP. I was very clear I didn't want HRT and he advised St John's wort. It worked - I took it for 5 months.’
Help for hot flushes
While St John’s wort has long been in traditional use for low mood, more recent research has also suggested the herb may have a role in easing hot flushes and night sweats. A small 2010 Iranian study of women with these symptoms found the average number of flushes in those taking the herb reduced from four per day at the start of the study to two per day by the eighth week, compared to 2.6 per day in the placebo group. The researchers also found the herb reduced the duration and severity of hot flushes. And some women have reported St John’s wort has helped night sweats, too. The reason? The herb contains phytoestrogens, the same compounds found in other plants known to help with these symptoms, such as soy. More research is needed but again, it could be worth a try if you’re plagued by hot flushes and night sweats.
How do I take it?
You can buy St John’s wort as tablets, capsules or in tincture form, or you could visit a herbal practitioner who will make up a blend personalised for you. Like other herbal remedies, it usually takes a few weeks to make a difference if it’s going to help you. If you decide to try it, it could be worth keeping a diary of symptoms so you can get a clear picture of whether it’s making a difference. Be aware you’ll probably need to persevere.
St John’s wort may be natural but that doesn’t make it safe for everyone. You should avoid it if:
- You’re taking the SSRI class of antidepressants, such as Seroxat or citalopram. It can result in dangerous interactions.
- You have mental health issues including bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – St John’s wort can cause side effects including worsening of psychosis.
- You’re on other medications, including birth control pills, antidepressants, warfarin and some cancer medications. St John’s wort can weaken a range of prescription medicines so if you’re taking any medication, you should always check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if St John’s wort is safe for you before you take it.
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding – as with any other remedy, you should ask your GP or midwife whether it’s safe before you try it.
aware depression and anxiety can be serious and you may need more support than a supplement. Always see your doctor if you’ve been affected by low mood or anxiety for more than a few weeks and self-help steps aren’t making a difference.