The medical field continues to advance in treatment of incurable diseases such as multiple sclerosis on a regular basis. However, the interest in alternative treatments and home remedies flourishes more and more as herbs and supplements are also tested in clinic trials to see if they might provide a solution not found from chemical compounds. Because there are so few options for treatment of MS, and due to the side effects and potential for long term disability, the symptoms require attention, and patients are turning to these alternatives more and more.
One potentially promising supplement is St. John’s Wort, a flowering plant that has been used as a medicinal herb to solve a number of medical and even psychological problems. The use dates back centuries, with several current therapeutic uses in place today. Of course, as with other alternative medications, the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort in treating multiple sclerosis lacks a great deal of clinical evidence. However, there are some things that may come into play that reduce the symptoms for MS patients.
What is St. John’s Wort?
St. John’s Wort is described as an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that produces creeping stems, reddish stalks, narrow yellow-green leaves, and bright yellow flowers. The term “wort” is Old English for plant, though it sounds a bit odd in modern English and brings to mind things less pleasant.
There are numerous plants that are referred to as St. John’s Wort within the same genus, so the species used as a supplement may be called common St. John’s Wort. Some of the benefits of the herb have been found in:
- Relieving symptoms of menopause
- Reducing the effects of PMS
- Calming anxiety and related disorders
- Curing seasonal affective disorder (suffered by those living in places with very little or no sunlight for long periods of time)
- Smoking cessation
- Potential for reducing depression in certain patients
- Topical wound healing in oil form
- Healing of hemorrhoids and eczema in oil form
How does St John Wort relate to multiple sclerosis?
It’s important to remember that any claims made about St. John’s Wort can’t be supported by the FDA, as this agency doesn’t regulate herbs. However, aside from some significant drug interactions, side effects of this particular herbal remedy are few and far between, with the substance being well tolerated. That means it could be worth trying, with care and a doctor’s supervision.
Patients with multiple sclerosis who smoke could benefit from the proclaimed assistance of St. John’s Wort in smoking cessation. It’s been found that smokers are at higher risk of developing MS, and those who have the disease are more likely to experience more frequent relapses and to advance to secondary progressive MS faster. In addition, like most individuals, using St. John’s Wort oils to help heal external wounds could be good for MS patients, since infections can cause a flare up or exacerbate symptoms.
The real use of St. John’s Wort for patients with multiple sclerosis is as an antidepressant. Since most people don’t like the side effects of chemicals used to relieve symptoms of depression, it might be even more unsatisfying for someone with MS to have to add yet another chemical compound to their regimen. However, St. John’s Wort has been used for at least two thousand years to treat depression.
Since those with multiple sclerosis often suffer mild to moderate depression, St. John’s Wort could be an alternative in treating the mental as well as physical effects of the condition. This can improve overall quality of life for patients, as well as help them retain a sense of independence and improved functionality, with the depression not weighing them down.
There is no evidence that St. John’s Wort can treat severe depression, and there are also factors a patient with multiple sclerosis has to keep in mind before deciding to try St. John’s Wort as an alternative medication for depression.
Drug interactions and St John Wort
Technically, St. John’s Wort is well tolerated, but when it comes to drug interactions, there are several issues that come into play, especially with the regimen of medication that a patient with multiple sclerosis may have. Interactions that could cause problems in an MS patient include:
- Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin, carbamazepine, phenobarbital, and primidone. These medications, known for their use in treating epilepsy, are often prescribed in multiple sclerosis to help reduce peripheral numbness, prickling sensations, and sharp shooting pains.
- Antidepressants that include imipramine, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline. These drugs may be given to MS sufferers, not so much for depression, but in low doses for the properties they hold in treating pain, especially related to neuropathy (nerve pain) occurring due to damage in the nervous system.
- Blood thinners such as warfarin. Because patients with multiple sclerosis have slower or less muscle movement, and they often have issues with mobility in general, they are at higher risk for developing blood clots and may be prescribed blood thinners, which react negatively with St. John’s Wort.
- Oral and possibly implanted contraceptives. This is not solely in patients with multiple sclerosis, but it’s been noted that there is an increased risk of unwanted and unintended pregnancy in women taking both contraceptives and St. John’s Wort.
Other things that patients with MS may want to consider include the fact that St. John’s Wort may potentially increase fatigue (as it reportedly does in healthy patients), as well as that it can cause some photosensitivity, which can be problematic due to the theorized need for MS patients to increase their levels of vitamin D (produced by the body with adequate sunlight and otherwise requiring supplementation).
St. John’s Wort certainly offers hope to patients with multiple sclerosis, especially those with mild or moderate depression, with the herb’s long history of treatment for the mental condition. However, it’s vital for patients to consult with their doctors prior to starting therapy with St. John’s Wort in order to determine if they might suffer a problematic drug interaction. In addition, it’s important to get recommendations for dosing since there is no particular regulated amount recommended by an agency.