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Weekly Alibi Nurse Ratchett

Preachers and Herb

By Mike Ratchett, Staff Nurse

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  Much has been written about the so-called "miracle" of St. John's Wort in publications as diverse and far-reaching as Newsweek and The Globe, and the current mutterings about the herb do more than just hint at its supposed, and in some cases scientifically proved, effectiveness as an antidepressant and antiviral, among other things. Of course there are no true antivirals, drugs that effectively ward off any of the thousands of known strains of the little boogers, but St. John's Wort has recently been touted as nature's Prozac, and there seems to be a fair amount of evidence supporting the claim.

St. John's Wort (or hypericum perforatum, which simply means something like "plant with perforated leaves") is rumored to have been in use as a medicinal calming agent for 2,000 years and was reportedly a favorite of John the Baptist, hence the herb's common name. Exactly how it supposedly works, of course, is an exercise in the great unknown. But human test subjects and people who like attention have repeatedly claimed that the stuff works just like the chemical compounds--Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc.--that have become breakfast for millions of bummed Americans. There's still much debate on the topic, but some researchers believe that SJW acts as an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor), blocking certain chemicals in the brain that have been linked to diagnosed clinical depression. But shit, it's an herb, right? So why the hell not run my own damn experiment? And with co-workers more than willing to hork down any pill, powder or paste I shove at them, it couldn't have been easier. Length of the trial was six weeks; dosage was the recommended 300 milligrams, three times per day.

Subject 1 ("Mike"): Staunchly refused to give any merit to claims that SJW does anything but later reneged and admitted that it had effectively cured his road rage. "I used to scream at other drivers on the way to work," he explained. "Now I simply fantasize that they're all dead."

Subject 2 ("Grampa Cree"): Continues to report that his keel is much more even since he went on the wort. But you should ask an Alibi staff member for confirmation.

Subject 3 ("Nick"): Early on, "Nick" reported crying jags and fits of blubbering emotional outbursts. He even went so far as to say, "I just wanted to crawl under my desk, roll up into a little ball and sob." Later in the study, "Nick" claimed that the wort had indeed served to calm him, even to the point that his wife's bland cooking seemed to improve.

Subject 4 ("Hayley"): Oh, boy. She wouldn't take it regularly, reported a series of breakdowns and blamed everything on the wort. Problem is, we were all confused about whether she intended to blame her sporadic behavior on taking or not taking the little pills. She was our control--sort of.

So what do these results tell us? Well, nothing really. But there are some fairly alarming side effects and special conditions to take into consideration before buying into all the hype. SJW increases one's sensitivity to sunlight, has been reported to cause fatigue, minor weight loss, hypertension, increased heart rate and angina. And if SJW does, in fact, act as an MAOI, people taking it should avoid alcohol (especially red wine), aged cheeses and parts-is-parts meat products like sausage. Failure to do so can lead to serious health problems and even death. Pregnant and nursing mothers would be stupid to start taking the stuff, and there probably isn't a doctor alive that would recommend or approve it in such cases. And by no means nor under any circumstances is SJW recommended as a safe alternative to antipsychotics, tricyclic antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. But I'm not advising against taking SJW for a spin. Just use your head.

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