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Study Links St. John's Wort To Cataracts

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, November 09, 2009 5:01 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Eye Health, St. John's Wort, Cataracts, Hypericum Perforatum

St. John's Wort flowers


IMAGE SOURCE: © Wikimedia Commons/ St. John’s Wort Flowers

New research published today in the medical journal Current Eye Research, suggests St. John’s wort, an herbal remedy often used as a natural treatment for depression, has been linked to the development of cataracts in humans.

Scientists from the University of Alabama examined the association between St. John’s wort (hypericum perforatum) and cataracts. In earlier research, Hypericin, an active ingredient in St. John’s wort, was linked with crystallization of the eye’s lenses. But, to date, the association had not been evaluated in humans.

St. John’s wort is a European weed whose extracts have been used for the treatment of mental disorders, particularly depression. It is usually taken as an herbal tea or tablet.

For the study, researchers questioned more than 31,000 people, 40 or older about whether they had cataracts and their use of herbal remedies and treatments over the prior 12 months. They found that those who said they had cataracts were 59% more likely to also report they had used St. John’s Wort.

But, researchers warn that the questionnaire format used, has limits and more research is needed. The study was unable to confirm if the relationship between St. John’s wort and cataracts was dose dependent. Additionally, researchers could determine the time frame between use of the herbal supplement and the development of cataracts.

A NewScientist study published in 1999, by Joan Roberts and colleagues from Fordham University found, hypericin can react to visible and ultraviolet light to produce free radicals. The reaction damages proteins in the crystalline lens of the eye that give lens its transparency. If the proteins are damaged it can lead to the lens losing clarity and result in vision loss, which is what cataract is. However, hypericin did not cause any protein damage when kept in the dark.

St. John’s wort is also known to cause photosensitivity in users, which can lead to rashes and pain when uses are exposed to direct sunlight.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider herbal supplements food, or drugs, therefore, they are not subject to the same testing, manufacturing and labeling standards and regulations as drugs.

Consult your physician about any symptoms you are experiencing and discuss herbal supplements before beginning use. #

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