St. John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) is widely used as a natural remedy for chronic depression. Researchers believe that the herb's anti-depressant properties are due to its high levels of hypericin (a natural antibiotic) and other active components like hyperforin and flavonoids. Although St. John's Wort's active ingredients have yet to be determined, what we do know is that it can increase the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates emotions. There are a number of studies that prove the efficacy of St John's Wort as a natural antidepressant. In fact, the British Medical Journal says that St John's Wort is as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants and produces few or no side effects.
Although St. John's Wort is not generally used as a natural treatment for ADHD, researchers from the naturopathic college Bastyr University wanted to see if it had any positive effects on children with the disorder. Predictably, the results of the study came out negative, but the press had a field day when the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Despite its negative results, this study is worth mentioning because it shows how science, health, money, and politics are closely interrelated. Before anything else, why would researchers want to test an herb that is rarely or never used as a natural treatment for ADHD? St John's Wort is only given to individuals with ADHD if depression is co-morbid. Another point of interest is how an obscure study by an even more obscure university ended up getting published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals, the JAMA. Not only was the study so small as to be hardly worth noticing, but it was also very poorly designed. In fact, the children who received St. John's Wort consumed an inactive form of the herb, meaning its active ingredients had been tampered with and oxidized. Finally, clinical trials that show negative results rarely get published, much less receive media attention. Why did this study become so well publicized?
The answer to this question becomes clear when you discover that the infamous Dr. Joseph Biederman was one of its authors. Dr. Biederman is a Harvard psychiatrist who published a number of studies that promoted the use of Ritalin and other medications to treat ADHD. Researchers estimate that the studies of Dr. Biederman are responsible for a 300% increase in the use of stimulant drugs by ADHD children over the last ten years. Then a Senate investigation discovered that Dr. Biederman had been receiving millions of dollars from the manufacturers of these drugs, showing that he has a financial interest in testing and endorsing ADHD medications. Why Dr. Biederman bothered to participate in this study is not known, but it is likely that he wanted to discredit the use of St. John's Wort and other herbs as natural remedies for ADHD.
So can St. John's Wort be used as a natural treatment for ADHD? Unless the individual suffers from depression along with ADHD, the answer is no. Before you give any herbal remedies to your child, ask the advice of a holistic health care practitioner.