What's the secret of St. John's wort?

The Buzz: A new brand of St. John's wort (SJW) from Pharmaton Natural Health Products boasts that Movana "balances emotions" and "maintains healthy motivation and self-esteem." Movana is positioned as different from other SJW products because it is rich in hyperforin.

The Basics: St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) appears to raise the levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin. Most brands are standardized to contain a certain amount of hypericin, which until recently was considered the plant component responsible for the herb's antidepressant effects. Research has since called that assumption into question. Hyperforin is another active component of SJW, but is it the important one? Movana's makers believe it is and guarantee that its product contains 3% hyperforin in a stabilized form. It retails for $9.99 for a 12-day supply.

The Bonus: SJW is used extensively in Europe for the treatment of anxiety and mild to moderate depression based on numerous studies. There is evidence that SJW works better than no treatment and as well as prescription antidepressants for mild depression. And recent research from Germany found that a SJW extract standardized to 5% hyperforin was more effective than an extract containing 0.5% hyperforin (equal amounts of hypericin) or a placebo.

The Bust: While many herbal experts agree that hypericin is probably not the most important active component, it's premature to annoint hyperforin as its successor. Moreover, Movana contains only 3% hyperforin.

"There are probably multiple active constituents," herbal expert Varro Tyler, Ph.D. tells EN. PharmaPrint, a California company, recently identified five SJW components with disease-related activity, including both hypericin and hyperforin, and is guaranteeing all five are in its new Centrum Herbals SJW product.

An important final note: Depression is a clinical disorder that should be evaluated by a psychiatrist.

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