St. John's Wort (Hypericum)

Q. I have taken several prescribed antidepressants over the years, but was not on any when I was offered a cup of St. John’s wort tea. It elevated my mood surprisingly well. I began drinking the tea intermittently and eventually added St. John’s wort tablets to my daily supplement regimen.

Within six months, I began to develop increasingly severe eye problems–hypersensitivity to light, blurriness, tearing and extreme dryness at night. The problems became worse and worse. I didn’t make the connection to St. John’s wort.

After searching the web, I found data linking St. John’s wort to vision damage. I stopped taking the supplement immediately.

To my relief, my eyes are slowly recovering. I want to warn others about this dangerous side effect of St. John’s wort.

A. One of the active ingredients in St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is hypericin. This compound can damage both the lens and retina when the eye is exposed to light (Photochemistry and Photobiology, Nov-Dec, 2012). Even wearing sunglasses is not necessarily protective. Thanks for the reminder of this side effect.

You can learn more about St. John’s wort and other ways to ward off depression in our book, Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy, available in libraries and online.

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  1. Mary

    The time on my comment is 3 hours off for some reason. It is 10:48pm not 1:48am. Thanks

  2. Serena N.
    Earth, TX

    What factors were taken into account in making the conclusion that St. John’s Wort may damage eyes. Have you considered age, and the fact that – since you are older now, you may have age-related macular degeneration? Also, the combined effect of evaluating pharmacology and herbal products over time can have a cumulative effect on the liver that could result in vision loss over time. I am interested in seeing your research findings on this conclusion, not just your initial assumptions based on your personal experience. I would also like to hear from others who have had this same experience.

    • Mary
      Phoenix, Az

      I just want to say that I have been taking St Johns Wort since 1990, and I am 51 years old, and I havent had any problems with it except the brightness of the sun, or bright lights. But My eyes are fine.

  3. Yoly

    Moderation is perhaps the key here. I have used St. John’s Wort for depression/anxiety or to help with sleep for example, on a very long plane flight. However I only use it that one time and it helps greatly. For help with extended depression and sleeplessness I have used Valerian root and have not had any side effects that I could readily see. Also, before I take any natural meds I research them in various sources so that I am aware of the effects on the system.
    Yoly from New Mexico

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