St. John's wort: photosensitivity.
Date: Sat, 19 Nov 1994 22:22:54 -0800
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
Subject: HYPERICUM AND PHOTOSENSITIVITY
As to Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) causing photosensitivity in humans, I have been unable to find a single study that verifies this in vivo. Lots of research on the effects of hypericin on cattle and insects, but humans? This may be an example of assumptive jumping from mammalian lab results to humans. Anyone know a study that indicates photosensitivity in humans do to Hypericum?
From: Jonathan Treasure <jtreasure.JONNO.DEMON.CO.UK>
>As to Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) causing photosensitivity
Photoxicity of Hypericum in a small proportion of the (blonde) population has been clinically noted especially with topical application whether published or not. Here is an extract from a report from this years' Convention of Naturopathic Physicians in the US which adds some interesting information about the incidence of Phototoxicity in Puerto Rican AIDS sufferers
One doctor at the conference who treats a lot of AIDs patients said she had seen frequent cases of phototoxocity in dark skinned Puerto Ricans, especially with higher doses and long term administration. AIDS patients started taking hypericum when is was found that the hypericin had an anti-HIV effect in mice. Use has persisted in spite of later discovery that it doesn't help HIV in humans. Most AIDS patients feel much better when taking hypericum, probably because of the antidepressant effect -- depression is probably the least often mentioned symptom of AIDS.
Another doctor showed us her legs at the conference -- she had used a hypericum ulstrasound gel to treat a sprained ankle. The ultrasound drives the contents of the gel directly into the tissues. She later worked in the direct sunlight, and soon had second degree burns, complete with blisters, whevever the sunlight fell on the gel-treated skin. Six weeks later we could still see the shadow on the back of the leg where the sunlight didn't fall, and the shadow of a sandle strap across the front of the ankle. There was scarring from the blisters. By the way, she said the only thing that would help the severe pain was aloe vera gel.
From: Howie Brounstein <HOWIEB.DELPHI.COM>
> Photoxicity of Hypericum in a small proportion of the (blonde) population has been clinically noted especially with topical application whether published or not.
> frequent cases of phototoxocity in dark skinned Puerto Ricans, especially with higher doses and long term administration.
snip cut snip
> She later worked in the direct sunlight, and soon had second degree burns, complete with blisters, whevever the sunlight fell on the gel-treated skin.
Yes indeed, somewhere in my the recesses of my mind I remember hearing these tales, Jon........if forgotton for the moment. I'll remember them now.
Still, I believe that the average user treating depression shouldn't shy away from trying this Wort. The chemical alternatives have their dangers, too, including photosensitivity. I'll avoid ultrasound/hypericum treatments. Interesting idea though...to increase effectiveness I presume. Would this be the cutting edge of herbal medicine through self experimentation (like those strange Northwestern Herbalists smoking Louseworts), or is ultrasound/herbal treatments a common practice amongst those folks at the conference?
>Photoxicity of Hypericum in a small proportion of the (blonde)population
Thank you for the reply. I suspected that incidents of phototox could be found somewhere, just couldn't come up with them. I understand that Hypericin's anti-viral activities (in vitro) are dependent on "light-dose" (wavelength and duration), drug-dosage, and the presence of oxygen. It makes sense, then that phototoxicity was found at the higher, long-term usages (in addition to other factors). Thank you, again.
From: Howie Brounstein <HOWIEB.DELPHI.COM>
Subject: Hypericum and Sunlight
Or How John the Wort plays with the Sun
Glad to be back. Some sysop accidentally sent me posts from alt.flame.mushroom.mushroom.mushroom for the last few days instead of the Herb List!
> As to Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) causing photosensitivity in
I don't know of any, Peggy. I have not heard of one case of human photosensitivity...even in the blond, blue-eyed, fair skinned ones...from standard dosages of tinture. Now I haven't asked any albinos doing truckloads of hypericum a day....maybe they'd have a problem. I've known a few folks who definately did not like the feeling they got from St. John's Wort.....but being slightly saner than the average bear.....they stopped taking it. Perhaps they've shunned the sun if they continued. But albino cows definately have a problem with St. John's Wort.
And so the authorities that be in charge (of cows and bugs, anyway) in Northern California has waged a war against the poor St. John, hapless victim of human transport from Europe. By releasing bugs from afar, they strive to rid our pasture of this scourage from the old country. Alas, for I wonder...when there are only small populations left in the area...will St John become a rare and protected plant?????? The laws..the laws...
I do know that some common psychiatric pharmaceuticals DO cause photosensitivity in humans.......
And when you hold the leaves of the hypericum perforatum the the light of the sky you will see little holes...actually compartments (perforations)....that trap and use the energy of the sun to run a biochemical factory......making hypericin....the red colored constituent assumed to be one of the active ones. Squueeezze that unopened flower bud...just a hint of yellow petals peaking so cautiously from its sepal safety...sqqqueeeezze and you will delight to find a drop of redness so strong as to dye the fingers.
Now when I teach my students about this Wort...we general use flower buds and the stems and small leaves attached to them to prepare oils and tinctures. This appears to work just fine, producing extracts of wond'rous redfulness. But those who wish for an herbal nectar of delight of greater strength...they sit for hours collecting just flower petals in some zen like quest. Well....what good's an herbalist without patience :) ......Certainly they are rewarded with extract of unequaled value (not found in Cheapside).
Now I'm not one to believe new herbal scientific data until I see the experiment reproduced by other researchers (especially if they have different sources of funding). Recently I saw an article (was it Medical Herbalism?) that stated two research teams at about the same time released results of this Wort being antiviral against enveloped virus that include herpes, etc. But of interest to me was the notion that sunlight increased the Wort's anti-viral effects........that sun again......somehow..in some mysterious way linked to this plant and it's effects. Without exposure to sunlight....the herbs anti-viral effect dropped markedly.
I don't have all that much experience with bipolar and other mental disorders and Hypericum...although I believe that consistant dosages long term is the way to go.......and careful with self medication. With many of these kinds of problems.....you may not be able to tell if it's working...especially since you started taking it and you feel great...I mean really good...as you swing up into a manic phase and over one edge or the other. Have someone who can help you gauge your illness objectively (ha) or at least tell you if you've fallen off the fence. It can be hard to tell from the inside.
So ideally...the Wort would take away the highs and lows and make the emotional rollercoaster of todays hectic society more even. As opposed to the muscle relaxing tranquilizing effects of Valerian, Skullcap, Pedicularis, and such. I don't know about clinical studies...but in my experience the Wort works for some and not others for simple depression and light rollercoaster rides that do not incapacitate the riders. And it even works as a muscle relaxant in some people. Not the "sure and steady" herb that works effectively for everyone (like that bitter Hore Hound that makes everyone gag ..I mean cough.)
And this even tempered plant grows in disturbed places...roadsides, lots, loves it when its been bulldozed a year or so ago. A calming herb that grows all over disturbed areas...hmmmmm. Perhaps one shouldn't focus on the oddities and quirks of nature and coincidence....but I think it's cool.
The Wort Oil is good for skin irritations and such...I seen it help when the calendula, comfrey, penstemon...and other herbs won't work. It also helps cuts and external physical injuries in general. But in my eyes it seems to have an affinity for the nerves...........and it seems to be specific for injuries accompanyed by nerve trauma.....like I cut my arm and my finger goes numb. I wouldn't claim it reconnects severed nerves....but it will aid in healing them if traumatized. But don't be mislead by symptoms...put the oil on the arm injury......not the numb finger.
And if your out collecting this wort and happen to come across a semi-stagnant pond.....look closely....at the edge between sunlight and shadow..in an evenly balanced amoebiotic soup....a sort of thick pond slime floating freely. It's my mushroom. I set it free!
What a great post. I love this:
>Or How John the Wort plays with the Sun
I've heard of photosynthesis described as ,"plants having fun with sunlight." Makes all the sense in the world to me.
>But albino cows definitely have a problem with St. John's Wort.
Gee, wonder why it has such a bad rap!
>And so the authorities that be in charge (of cows and bugs, anyway) in Northern California has waged a war against the poor St. John, hapless victim of human transport from Europe. By releasing bugs from afar, they strive to rid our pasture of this scourage from the old country. Alas, for I wonder...when there are only small populations left in the area...will St John become a rare and protected plant??????
I actually took a botany class at UC Berkeley (CA Native Plantlife) in which one of the wonderous professors suggested covering large areas of the Central Valley with black plastic in order to eradicate St. John's Wort. Sounds like a great contract for Dow Chemical, eh?
>But of interest to me was the notion that sunlight increased the Wort's anti-viral effects........that sun again......somehow..in some mysterious way linked to this plant and it's effects. Without exposure to sunlight....the herbs anti-viral effect dropped markedly.
Yes, and another really neat thing is that the hypericin (and its phototoxicity in predator insects) is activated, in the presence of oxygen, at the same wavelength that is given off by the Hypericum leaves in the sun.(540-610 nm). Some insects that ingest Hypericum have adapted by tying together leaves and feeding inside the ties, therefore protecting themselves from the effects of the hypericin.(Sandberg, SL, et al. "Leaf-tying by tortricid larvae as an adaptation for feeding on phototoxic Hypericum perforatum." JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY, 1989 15(3):875-886.)
>And this even tempered plant grows in disturbed places...roadsides, lots, loves it when its been bulldozed a year or so ago. A calming herb that grows all over disturbed areas...hmmmmm. Perhaps one shouldn't focus on the oddities and quirks of nature and coincidence....but I think it's cool.
> But in my eyes it seems to have an affinity for the nerves
I used a Hypericum perforatum ointment that I made with lanolin and olive oil on a ganglian cyst (regularly for two weeks). The inflammation is gone and I can bend the wrist backwards again. No negative reactions on my part.
>Up a little too late
Night-owl to night-owl..Cheers-
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.RT66.COM>
Subject: HYPERICUM and GAIA
I have retailed and wholesaled herbs for 20 years and have taught and written about green stuff for 16 years (...and breathed and micturated for almost 54), and I have only run across 1 person to have shown signs of photosensitization from Hypericum. He was a student of mine in an 8-month program a few years ago. He was what my grandma used to call "Black Irish" (I guess as opposed to a Dirty-Blond Irish like myself) and had the semi-transparent skin and jet-black hair of people like Liam or Patrick Clancy. Since he suffered from some mild hereditary neuropeptide imbalances that showed up as a fairly classic long-cycle bipolarity, he was quite taken with the use of the fresh tincture of both Hypericum perf. and H. formosum which we gathered during a couple of field trips.
As he related a year later, he took a fly-fishing vacation after the class, returning to a place in the San Juans of Colorado (8,500 feet) that the class had visited. He had been going through a depressive period ("Got Those OLD Relationship Blues...scooby do-WOP... <beat>... <beat> ... scooby-dooby... do-WOP!"), and was taking up to an ounce of the Hypericum tincture (1:2, fresh plant) a day...a truly excessive amount (it's an Irish thing, y'know?). He broke out in hives that lasted nearly a month. He casually announced that he had been taking a pharmaceutical anti-depressant for nearly a decade...I hadn't even noticed. I guess I am too likely to take people as they are without a second thought; an old friend announced one day that Father Yod (...don't ask) had told him to stop smoking reefer. He had been bombed every day for a decade and I hadn't noticed. One of my teachers mentioned he was on Prozac...and I hadn't noticed...maybe that explains BOTH Orin Hatch and Dr. Kessler.
I figure the photosensitivity resulted from
A. Racial sensitivity
B. High altitude
C. VERY high dosage
D. (he was a Pisces)
E. Synergy with antidepressant meds (that he declined to identify)
Several years later another man (a customer) had a lip herpes outbreak, possibly the result of playing tennis in the sunlight while using Hypericum to help some back pain. He had had sun reactions before, so it is hard to speculate further. He too was Black Irish.
In both instances the herbs were taken internally and the media was a fresh tincture... appropriate, since the dry herb is nearly inert. The student was using high quantities along with medication and the customer showed little more than passing and perhaps serendipitous symptoms, and I have had GALLONS of my Hypericum tincture and oil go through my grubbies over a couple of decades (usually used by folks going through a stretch of somato-psychic flakiness and often manifesting a peculiar, if temporary, lack of judgement regarding emotions, dosages, and self-monitoring). I consider Hypericum to be safe...this is based on personally observing hundreds of people who haved used quality Hypericum preparations (...mine). I would need a BIG study to convince me otherwise...or I would need to start getting negative feedback.
This is not an idle statement. Like the Wandering Homeopath, traveling the world seeking provings (you mean you haven't heard THAT legend? Well, the way I hear it, old Dr. Kent had retired to practice in Montana and one day this basque sheepherder came into his office...) I have always tried my best to keep track of potential side-effects of herbs. I use herbs constitutionally, and any synergy or contraindication I encounter helps me to understand the secondary effects of a remedy so I can try to fit herbs and people together more reliably.
Secondary effects are my grist (am I mixing metaphors again??). I can't work on Susun Weed's precepts level, that the body takes what it needs from what you offer it, anymore than I can work with a phytopharmaceutical model that ignores the multi-systemic effects of a plant while focusing only on a specific band of pharmacokinetics...better even (they say) to refine (reduce) DOWN to single constituents so as to better exaggerate the band and diminish the "unwanted" whispers. Sort of like taking a lovely image and running it through Photoshop plugins until you only have some raggedy and stark black-and-white outlines that bear little resemblance to the source. As most herbs, only using Hypericum for its anti-anxiety effects is to ignore the subtle shades and colors it causes as it moves INTO, THROUGH and OUT of the body. This three-dimensional hologram of effects is what makes herbs superior to drugs... in a wholistic model...and makes drugs superior to herbs in a medical model. To view herbs primarily as safer "little sister" analogs to drug therapies developed FOR the medical model is to be blind to the greater value they have in vitalist wholism, and to avoid the greater task and difficulty (and even glory) we face trying to build (rebuild) models of health and disease derived from balance and imbalance.
In the decades ahead, as environmental disease increases, and multi-agent reactions become more widespread, some of the real value of drugs and classic pathology are going to diminish as disorders are increasingly going to reflect an INDIVIDUAL'S constitutional response to the world. It is doubtful that medicine will be able to do much more than bandaid repairs as the environment holds more and more complex organics capable of finding THE constitutional weak link in our metabolism. I was born the year WWII began, and spent the first several decades in a world of fewer and less "ripened" eco-toxins and ate food with fewer chemicals and fewer "recombinants". What about folks born the year Kennedy was assassinated...or the year John Lennon was killed...having spent MOST or ALL their lives in a subtle organochem soup? The wholistic models hold more long-term value.
If you wish to pursue this depressing subject further, start with the excellent newsletter, RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENTAL & HEALTH WEEKLY, put out on the net weekly by the Environmental Research Foundation, available from <ftp.std.com/periodicals/ rachel> , or <gopher.std.comand>, <envirolink.org> and the WWW site: <gopher://ftp.std.com:70/11/FTP/world/periodicals/rachel>
Peggy sez to Jonathan
>I am much in support of bioregionalist solutions and actually got my B.S. from Berkeley in Bioregional Energy and Renewable Resource Policy. From that point, I can say that "bioregional" is as much a "new age cliche" as anything else. Berg came up with the term in the seventies, no?
I am shocked and alarmed...I spend many waking hours trying to find any new age cliches in my psychic body and gouging them out with a rusty Democles' sword. As I have tirelessly/tiresomely stated (on this and any other lists that won't toss me) I would like to see herbs used, gathered, known about and dispensed locally. The international trade is wasteful, energy-expensive and miracle-pandering, and instead of dealing with herbs as perishable plant substances, the biological activity is often seriously impaired and many more plants are needed to produce a therapeutic activity. Local herbalism means more "medicine" from fewer plants. I liked the term bioregionalism...now I need to find another name. By the way, who is this Berg guy. Alban Berg died in the late 30s before finishing "Lulu"...Steve Berg is a living NFL quarterback. Is this something HE said?
Subject: Re: Bioregionalism
>I am shocked and alarmed...I spend many waking hours trying to find any new age cliches in my psychic body and gouging them out with a rusty Democles'
Michael, don't despair. Look again-I am a bioregionalist, myself. In fact, I fashioned my entire B.S. at Berkeley around Bioregional solutions! (I even, being from the Mission district in San Francisco, include in my mailing address-Isley Creek, Shasta Bioregion, USA.) From this experience I learned that lesson that we seem to learn over and over again-that the land "lords" will take our very own words, concepts, and ideas and turn them into their own rhetoric. I have heard timberers insist that allowing further cutting in the Headwaters area is "bioregional" because the cutting of redwoods in the Pacific Northwest has historically been the base of a number of local economies. Same folks also argue that the timber industry must be allowed to continue as usual (without acknowledging that much has been taken over by multi-nationals) because it is part of the bioregional "culture". Sometimes folks break into mimicking the words, "social, historical, ecological, and economic," just as I now see people mimick, "body, mind, spirit," and "physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, and social." Disturbing, but true. By cliche, I meant that the word is now used by those who use the term haphazardly, without thinking of the fullness of such a concept.
For those of us who support bioregionalism, it is indeed a perfect word. That is, until the Sierra Club got a hold of it and created totally new bioregions nationwide without any concern for the social, historical, and economic aspects. Of course, they called them "ecoregions", but used the concept of "knowing home" just as we do. According to the Sierra Club (March/April, 1994), the Pacific Coast "ecoregion" includes the pacific coast all the way down Baja and as far east as the Sierra Nevada, but does not include the Sierra Nevada! The whole idea of watershed is blown out the window.
I have donated time and artwork to a foundation in SF called the Planet Drum Foundation. These folks do Bioregional Congresses, a newsletter called *Raise the Stakes*, creative performances, research, bioregional and deep ecology workshops, etc. The founder is Peter Berg. Peter wrote a book in 1978 called REINHABITING A SEPARATE COUNTRY: A BIOREGIONAL ANTHOLOGY OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA (Planet Drum Foundation Publishers). I have often heard him credited with coining the term "bioregional". See, for example: Mills, Stephanie. "Standing in the Places We Live," E MAGAZINE, September/October, 1991. Pp. 40-43/56.
I absolutely agree with you on the environmental impacts (and reduction in quality) that results from exotic and complicated herbal formulas. That is one reason why, while many are studying Chinese, or TCM, herbalism, I have chosen to pursue the study of Western Phytotherapy. To say that you are studying Western modalities of health care is not very popular right now, but I am also convinced that herbs "used, known about, gathered, and dispensed locally" are, for environmental, spiritual, cultural, and economic reasons, the way to go.
I only warn that, in my experience, I have heard the word denuded of its original meaning to the point that it is used as justification for slicing down our redwood kin.
From: Jonathan Treasure <jtreasure.JONNO.DEMON.CO.UK>
Subject: RE Hypericum
Well... I just got 88 pages of bumpf from NAPRALERT on Hypericum and thereisn't a single mention of phototoxicity - so it seems that apart from a couple of anectdotal cases its not an issue as Michael Peggy Howie et aial say .... just keep away from the ultra sound gel in the solarium
Further to the Wort being a lover of roadsides etc Howie, it was widely distributed through Europe in Roman times by marching legionaries, who also used it soothe their sore feet. (another anecdote not in NAPRALERT)