St. John's Wort: Mood Benefits

How Does St. John's Wort Effect Mood?

St. Johnís wort is one of the most commonly purchased herbal products in the United States. This is because of its history of use in medical treatment for depression as well as its safety resulting from a lower prevalence of side effects than prescription medication. In fact, St. Johnís wort is prescribed four times more than Prozac in Germany, making it the nationís most readily prescribed antidepressant. While St. Johnís wort is touted for its safety, modern medicine backs the use of St. Johnís wort through countless research studies proving its effectiveness in treating mild to moderate depression.

While researchers are still unsure how St. Johnís wort works, it is theorized that the natural chemicals that makeup St. Johnís wort act similarly to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The function of SSRIs is to increase the mood of an individual by increasing serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. By inhibiting monoamine oxidase (MAO) and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), enzymes used to destroy neurotransmitters, the body is allowed to feel the effect that results from an increased concentration in amines. The effects of each of these amines on mood are described below:

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and often thought to be the main contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness can be dysregulated by stress and depression. The disruption of the serotonergic system is also theorized to be a significant factor involved in the development of obsessive compulsions or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). St Johnís wort, when taken as a mood-enhancing formulation containing 5-HTP (a form of vitamin B6), counteracts age-related serotonin depletion while having an overall positive impact on mood. By raising levels of serotonin activity, the body is able to increase production of a natural by-product of serotonin, melatonin. Melatonin plays a significant factor in your natural sleep cycle and dysregulation of serotonin as a result of depression is considered to be the direct cause of difficulty in sleeping when depressed.

Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter associated with concentration, attention, memory, arousal states, and sleep regulation. In affective disorders such as depression research indicates that the norepinephrine circuits become dysregulated. While the NE system doesnít appear to be the cause of depression, its dysregulation contributes to the symptoms that are commonly associated with depression including the bodyís biological response to stress. It is recognized that when treating depression the NE system must be targeted to help increase the mood of an individual. By increasing the natural levels of NE in the brain, SJW works to elevate the mood of the individual while also assisting in returning the user to a normal affect and sleep cycle.

Dopamine is also a significant neurotransmitter important in the bodyís sleep and waking cycles, motor and cognitive functions, regulating pleasure and reward, motivation and personality. Though it does not directly influence positive mood the way that serotonin does, it is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Dopamine is also considered important in regulating our sleeping and waking cycle. Since dopamine is regulated by serotonin, increasing serotonin production also increases production of dopamine. Dopamine production is also increased by periods of low to moderate intensity exercise, which is why athletes often refer to the positive biological response of working out as ďrunnerís high.Ē While most antidepressants focus on fixing serotonin and norepinephrine systems, recent research has indicated that the dopamine system also plays a significant role in treating depression.
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