How St. John’s Wort Improves Your Mood
Hypericum perforatum is a flowering plant in the family Hypericaceae that has been used by physicians as a medical treatment since the early days of the Roman Empire. Today we know this plant as “St. John’s Wort” due to the fact that it flowers around June 24th, the birthday and subsequent feast day of the biblical figure St. John the Baptist. The term “wort” is a middle English (1100 – 1500) word for an herbaceous plant. St. John’s Wort has myriad health benefits, however its primary use is for the treatment of depression and anxiety. It is available as a prescription drug in Europe and as an over-the-counter supplement in the U.S.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Studies support the therapeutic benefit of St. John’s Wort in treating mild to moderate depression. In fact, some research has shown the supplement to be as effective as several prescription antidepressants.”
St. John’s Wort is able to alleviate the symptoms of depression because it contains the active compounds hypericin, hyperforin, and adhyperforin.
Adhyperforin and hyperforin are serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They limit the reuptake of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, both brain chemicals that cause happiness. When your brain cells communicate with one another, they release and reabsorb/recycle neurotransmitters. What St. John’s Wort, and synthetic antidepressants (SSRIs), do is limit the amount of neurotransmitters like serotonin reabsorbed into your brain cells, thus increasing the quantity of those chemicals in your brain. More serotonin means better mood. That’s the basic idea.
Hypericin, on the other hand, inhibits the activity of an enzyme called dopamine β-hydroxylase. This chemical converts dopamine into norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a stress-related neurotransmitter that causes people to feel anxious and scared when danger is present or perceived. Therefore, by limiting the function of this enzyme that turns happy brain chemicals into stressful brain chemicals, St. John’s Wort improves a person’s mood.
To summarize, the molecules contained within the St. John’s Wort plant preserve and protect the serotonin and dopamine in your brain. They do this by preventing your happy neurotransmitters from being converted or reabsorbed by your brain. When more dopamine and serotonin is allowed to accumulate, your mood is improved. Simple as that.
We hope you found this article informative. Thank you for reading.