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   Jul 02

The herbal medicine that has the same action and side effects as prescription drugs

New findings … Herbal medicine St John’s wort has the same side effects as prescription medicine Prozac and study has found. Picture: Supplied. Source: News Corp Australia

ALTERNATIVE medicine St John’s wort produces the same adverse reactions as antidepressants and people need to start thinking of it as a drug, research has found.

Researchers at Adelaide University compared the reported adverse drug reactions to St John’s wort, a herbal treatment for depression, with fluoxetine, a prescription antidepressant which includes Prozac.

It found both can cause serious side effects such as dangerous increases in body temperature and blood pressure.

Both treatments also caused side effects such as anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, vomiting, amnesia and aggression.

Two patients using St John’s wort reported homicidal thoughts.

Alarming results … The Adekaide University research compared St John’s wort to prescription medicine fluoxetine of which Prozac is the best known brand. Source: News Limited

“There is a common belief that because something is natural and can be purchased from a health food shop without a prescription, it’s safe,” says researcher Claire Hoban.

“People need to start thinking of St John’s wort, and other herbal medicines, as a drug and seek advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner to be sure they use it safely,” she says.

Between 2000-2013, there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to St John’s wort and 447 to fluoxetine, the study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

Fewer people use St John’s wort and adverse reactions for herbal medicines largely go unreported because they are not considered drugs, says researcher Claire Hoban.

There were more severe reactions to St John’s wort, 11.9 per cent of reports compared to 6.7 per cent for Prozac.

Users need to be aware … A greater proportion of reported reactions to St. Johns wort were severe.
Source: News Limited

The big concern is using St Johns wort and prescription antidepressants together because this can lead to serotonin syndrome including gastrointestinal upsets, haemorrhages, confusion, inattention and even death, she said.

St John’s wort renders the contraceptive pill ineffective and it has also been associated with spontaneous miscarriage, Ms Hoban said.

Senior lecturer in pharmacology Dr Ian Musgrave says the real danger is that people can access St John’s wort without a prescription so there is no control over the dosage or what drugs people are using it with.

“Most people taking St John’s wort will not have any adverse reactions; however, those who do take it should tell their doctor and pharmacist,” says Dr Musgrave.

Side effects … St John’s wort is a herbal medicine used to treat depression but can cause severe problems if used with some prescription medicines. Picture: Thinkstock Source: News Limited

“It’s important that doctors and pharmacists know about all the drugs their patients take, not just prescription drugs, because herbal medicines like St John’s wort can have serious reactions with some pharmacy medicines, like antidepressants, the contraceptive pill and some blood thinners.

Dr Musgrave says he’d like to see bottles of St John’s wort containing improved warnings of the potential adverse reactions.

Ms Hoban says she chose to study St John’s wort because it was widely used and, unlike many herbal medicines, its mechanism of action was known.

In NSW the $5 and Up study of 17,000 people aged over 45 found four per cent of people were taking the herbal medicine, while 8 per cent were using prescription antidepressants.

Source: news.com.au

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