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Senior Correspondent

Q. I’ve been depressed lately and a friend told me to take St. John’s Wort. What is it? Does it work?

St. John's Wort — also known as hypericum herb, klamath weed or goat weed — is a plant with yellow flowers that are used to make teas and tablets. For centuries, the plant has been considered a remedy for mental problems, including depression and anxiety.

Does it work? St. John's Wort is not a proven therapy for depression. There is some scientific evidence that St. John's Wort helps in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. However, there have been two major studies that showed St. John’s Wort is no better than a placebo for treating moderate depression.

Before you go to a store to buy some of this herb, consult with your personal physician. There are negative side effects from taking St. John’s Wort. These include: sensitivity to sunlight, anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, or sexual dysfunction. This plant can also interact with drugs you’re taking.

If you believe you are depressed and want treatment, there are approved antidepressant medications that work. Most people with depression get better with treatment that includes these medicines. You’ve probably heard some of their brand names such as Prozac, Zoloft and Wellbutrin.

Antidepressants are used most often for serious depressions, but they can also be helpful for some milder depressions.

There are many antidepressants that work in different ways to alter brain chemistry. The changes can improve your emotional state. The antidepressants affect the chemicals that carry information about emotions and many other functions. These chemical messengers in the brain are known as neurotransmitters.

Two significant neurotransmitters are serotonin and norepinephrine. Low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine have been linked to depression.

Antidepressants are categorized by the chemicals they affect. These categories include:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Pexeva and Zoloft; Tricyclics such as Elavil, Norpramin, Tofranil, Aventyl and Pamelor; Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor and Cymbalta; Norepinephrine and Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors (NDRIs) such as Wellbutrin; Combined Reuptake Inhibitors and Receptor Blockers (no acronym) such as Desyrel, Serzone, and Remeron, and Monamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) such as Marplan, Nardil, and Parnate.

Many doctors start by prescribing the SSRIs, because they work well and have more tolerable side effects than other antidepressants.

All antidepressants have side effects. These include dry mouth, nausea, nervousness, insomnia, sexual problems, appetite loss, headache, fatigue, weight loss.

Some people who take antidepressants notice improvement in two weeks. But most who take these drugs have to take them for at least six weeks to relieve depression.

Contrary to what some believe, depression is not just a “normal” part of aging.

There are a lot of problems to face as you get older. There are losses of all kinds that can get you down. And feeling blue for a while is a normal part of living at any age.

But, unrelenting depression is not normal. If you feel this way, you should seek medical attention. Most people get better if they treat their depression.

The following are common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than two weeks, get treatment: anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure, sleep problems, eating too much or too little, abnormal crying, aches that can’t be treated successfully, diminished concentration or memory, irritability, thoughts of death or suicide, and feelings of despair, guilt and being worthless.

Depression is a serious illness. It can lead to suicide. Don’t waste time; find help.

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