New research coming out of Australia casts a shadow on the natural supplement industry. The finding, that St. Johns Wort may have side effects including dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, suggests what many consumers of natural supplements have yet to grasp:
Safe and natural are two different things.
We say this because there’s a misconception that natural products can’t hurt you. Of course they can – natural supplements have active ingredients just like drugs do. They may better tolerated than certain medications, but they’ve got many of the same risks. That’s why you should speak with your doctor before taking natural supplements if you’re concerned about interactions with medication or conditions.
And as the study suggests, you’ll want to be especially cautious with St John’s Wort.
What is St John’s Wort?
St John’s Wort is a yellow-flowered weed that grows through most of the continental United States. It’s been used throughout the world for thousands of years to improve mood and for several other functions. A relatively large amount of evidence suggests St John’s Wort may be a mild anti-depressant because the herb appears to boost serotonin – the same function done by prescription medications.
The herb is available as a liquid, gel or as a dried herb to make a tea. The most common dose of St John’s Wort in studies has been 300mg, taken three times a day as a standardized extract.
St John’s Wort is linked to several side effects. Some of them appear to be from the herb, like skin rash and sunburns (St John’s Wort may be a sunburn booster. The bigger concern may be the fact that St John’s Wort appears to increase serotonin. That may be why it seems to help people with mild depression, but it also increases risk of serotonin syndrome – especially when combined with prescription anti-depressants.
Concerns For Safety
New evidence links St John’s Wort to side effects similar to those seen with Prozac. These reactions include anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, according to findings published in the July issue of Clinical & Experimental Pharmacology & Psychology.
The study authors are concerned that many people are lulled into complacency with St John’s Wort because it’s natural. But the active ingredients that make natural supplements effective also put the patient at risk of potential side effects. That appears to be a factor with St John’s Wort; there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to the herb reported in Australia between 2000 and 2013.
Compare that with 447 reports of reactions to Prozac.
The researchers based their findings on doctor reports to that country’s national drug agency, although these numbers are voluntary. The actual number of adverse effects to both Prozac and St John’s Wort may be higher, with the latter in particular to go unreported because the herb is not considered a drug.
In the United States, dietary supplements do not have to be studied for safety before they hit the market. They’re not regulated like drugs, and while that shouldn’t turn you off dietary supplements altogether, it does mean you’ll want to choose your natural products judiciously. We’ll review a few tips how to do that toward the end of this article.
Some people should avoid St John’s Wort completely. The herb is known to interact with several drug types and certain health conditions. It may trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder, for example, and is not recommended for people on the following medications:
- Birth control pills
- Blood thinners
- Some HIV and cancer drugs
You’ll also want to avoid St John’s Wort if you’re pregnant, elderly or a child.
If you’ve jumped those hurdles, and you’re still interested in St John’s Wort, speak with your doctor first. That’s a good rule of thumb for starting any herbal supplement – St John’s Wort or other.
Once taking the supplement, look out for the side effects linked to St John’s Wort, which may include vomiting, nausea, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea and skin rashes. Stop taking the supplement if they occur and tell your doctor.
Finally, look at natural supplements carefully. Because they’re not regulated like prescription medications in the United States, and may be manufactured abroad, some supplements may be diluted with toxins that are not documented on the ingredient label. That’s why you’ll want to buy a product made in North America and at a cGMP-compliant facility.
And buy a product that lists both the herb’s common and scientific name, along with a batch and lot number, list of ingredients and expiration date.
Are Natural Supplements Still Safe?
Generally speak, yes. But a little common sense goes a long way with natural supplements. Any product that claims it’s 100% safe with no side effects is blowing smoke in your ear. Your chances of side effects are low, mind you, assuming you’re not on conflicting medications or have health conditions that would cause a problem, but they’re not risk-free.
That’s why you need to speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement if you’re concerned about any of these factors.
We try to offer high-quality products here at Natural Health Source. While we’re proud to say that our products are made in the United States and Canada, the same guidelines apply to our products. Look at the ingredients for all of our products and check the expiration date. Speak with your doctor if you’re unsure of anything, and remember that you can always call us at 1-866-621-6886.
With that being said, you’ve got two advantages when you buy products with Natural Health Source. First, many of our products come with doctor recommendations, including from prominent physicians like Dr. Steven Lamm of The View. Second, you’re looking for longevity when you buy natural products, because it’s a good sign the product has outlasted its competition and has a track record of clients who can vouch for results.
The bottom line with natural supplements is to be cautious and do your due diligence. That could mean skipping St John’s Wort – at least until we know more about this popular supplement. Natural does not always mean safe, so do your homework. And feel free to walk away if you don’t get the answers you’re looking for.