GRAEDONS | People's Herbal Pharmacy St. John's wort study creates confusion

Q. I have been taking St. John's wort for the past three years for mild depression. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am doing better than I used to. My mood and outlook improved without the side effects I experienced on antidepressant medication.
I saw a report on the news that St. John's wort is ineffective against depression. I do not believe my improvement is imaginary, but now I am beginning to question its benefit. Should I stop St. John's wort cold turkey to see what happens?
A. The research on St. John's wort published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 10, 2002) is somewhat confusing. The investigators chose to study & quot;major depression & quot; rather than the more mild disorder you describe.
The study, based at Duke University, compared a standardized extract of St. John's wort with the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) and an inactive placebo. Neither St. John's wort nor Zoloft proved more effective than placebo on the primary outcome measure of depression.
St. John's wort is not recommended for serious psychological problems, so it is not surprising that this herb was ineffective in the study. More puzzling, however, is the finding that Zoloft also proved ineffective, which makes this study difficult to interpret. If you are doing well on St. John's wort, we see no reason for you to discontinue. Check with your doctor if you are taking other medications.
Q. I have a sensitive stomach and cannot tolerate aspirin, ibuprofen or even Celebrex or Vioxx. Tylenol isn't very helpful for my stiff fingers and sore knees.
My doctor seems frustrated about treating my arthritis pain. I have tried glucosamine and chondroitin, but although they helped a little, my cholesterol went up. Do you have any recommendations on natural ways to control cholesterol and alleviate arthritis pain?
A. The side effects of many pain relievers can put arthritis sufferers in a bind. Many people can't tolerate anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Although Celebrex and Vioxx are supposed to be gentler on the stomach, some people do experience heartburn, indigestion or even ulcers as a reaction to them.
We have heard from hundreds of people who have found home remedies helpful, but no single one works for everybody. One reader says: & quot;My husband could hardly get out of a chair or open a car door. His whole body ached! I gave him 4 ounces of this mixture daily with meals: 16 ounces apple juice, 4 ounces grape juice and 4 ounces apple cider vinegar. It has worked like a charm. & quot;
A similar concoction is used by some people to lower cholesterol. Many natural remedies for arthritis and high cholesterol can be found in our book & quot;The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies. & quot; You can find it in your local library or bookstore, or purchase it directly by calling (800) 732-2334 ($8.99 includes postage and handling).
Q. Have you ever heard of using castor oil for bruises? My mother-in-law swears by this remedy. Whenever one of my kids bumps a knee, she rubs castor oil on it, and there is never a bruise.
A. Arnica and calendula are herbs that have long been used to relieve muscle aches and prevent bruises after minor injuries. Castor oil is used internally as a laxative, but many tell us it works externally for warts. Now we will add bruises to the list.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019, or e-mail them at or via their Web site: Their newest book is & quot;The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies & quot; (St. Martin's Press).
& copy; 2002 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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