Thursday, October 09, 2008

'St John's Wort plant as effective as Prozac for treating depression', say scientists

The above heading is unduly positive. The actual conclusion of the researchers was: "Current evidence regarding hypericum extracts is inconsistent and confusing. In patients who meet criteria for major depression, several recent placebo-controlled trials suggest that the tested hypericum extracts have minimal beneficial effects while other trials suggest that hypericum and standard antidepressants have similar beneficial effects". It has usually been said in the past that the plant is good for minor depression but not major depression and that conclusion does not appear to have been unduly disturbed by these results

It has long been a happy alternative for those reluctant to pop pills for depression. But the herbal extract St John's wort now has more than just cheerful converts to testify to its mood-lifting powers. In what is billed as the most thorough study of the plant, scientists have found it is just as effective as Prozac at treating depression. It also had fewer side effects than many standard drugs used to help those battling despair.

Researchers compared the effects of the plant hypericum perforatum - popularly known as St John's Wort - with placebos or a wide range of old and new antidepressants, including those from the new generation of SSRI drugs, such as Prozac and Seroxat. The findings could prompt more GPs to prescribe St John's wort. In Germany, it is commonly given to children and teenagers.

Experts do not know exactly how the plant lifts depression, although most believe it probably works by keeping the chemical serotonin, which is linked to positive moods, in the brain for longer.

The study's lead author, Dr Klaus Linde, from the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, pooled data from 29 studies involving 5,489 patients with mild to moderately severe depression. 'Overall, the St John's wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants,' he said. But he pointed out that St John's wort products available in health food shops and chemists differed greatly and some may be more effective than others. 'Using a St John's Wort extract might be justified but products on the market vary considerably, so these results only apply to the preparations tested,' he explained.

The findings were published by the Cochrane Library, which specialises in systematic reviews of research studies. A separate study has found St John's wort, available in countless health shops, is the only alternative medicine proven to have an effect. Others, including ginseng, liquid tonic, cat's claw, gingko biloba and royal jelly, had no firm base in evidence and could be dangerous when taken with other drugs, according to the study by St James' University Hospital in Leeds.

Some other studies however have indicated that St John's wort may interfere with the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill. Other reported effects have included dizziness, tiredness and hair loss.

The extract has become a popular alternative to antidepressants such as Prozac and Seroxat in recent years following fears over the safety of SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) drugs. Doctors have been told not to prescribe most SSRIs to under-18s because of an increased risk of suicide. Experts have also said they could not rule out a suicide risk to older users.

Another study found that pregnant women who take SSRI drugs were at risk of having babies with birth defects such as cleft palates and heart problems. Four out of five GPs have admitted overprescribing Prozac and similar drugs. They blamed a lack of suitable alternatives, including behavioural therapy and social care as well as medicines.


Geeks not hunks 'get women into bed'

This is not very strong data but it may be a straw in the wind. There is a large gap between what people say and what they do

REVENGE of the nerds has struck in real life - with research suggesting intelligence - and not good looks - boosts the chances of getting women into bed. The study, published in New Scientist magazine, found when it came to both one-night stands and long-term relationships women go for geniuses over dumb hunks. While women looking for husbands searched for signs a man might be a good provider and father, when it came to flings they wanted little more than good genes.

Social psychologist Dina McMillan said sub-consciously women erred on the side of over-caution when it came to one-night stands. "There's no surprise that there's a biological tendency to want smart kids and even one time can get you pregnant," she said.

Rather than ask women to rate qualities they seek in men, as other studies had done, the North Carolina study had men perform tasks on camera which were then rated by women.

Jason Mullen, 34, has a degree in computer science and now runs New South Wales IT support company North Shore Nerds. "A girl said to me once that a guy doesn't have to look like Brad Pitt but there needs to be some kind of physical attraction. Guys are definitely like that so it's fair and reasonable for women to be like that as well," he said. "I think it's a biological thing for women to be attracted to men that will be able to provide for them." His friend Cassandra Garvey, 34, said women in their 30s were more likely to choose smart men in case it led to something more.


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