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People’s Pharmacy: St. John’s Wort may help mood but hurt eyes

Q. I have been taking St. John’s wort every day for more than a year. I started taking it to combat depression (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) that troubles me in the gloomy winter months.

I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that my eyes are bloodshot-red in fluorescent lighting. I also suffered eye pain. My eye pupils are constricted to tiny pinholes.

I’m hoping that when I visit my doctor, I will find that I haven’t damaged my eyes for life. I really could use an alternative to treat depression.

A. One of the active ingredients in St. John’s wort is hypericin. Although this compound may be partly responsible for the antidepressant activity of this herb, it also can damage a protein in the lens of the eye when it is exposed to light (Free Radical Biology and Medicine, July 2013).

The investigators conclude that “even by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses, routine users of St. John’s wort cannot adequately shield their lenses from hypericin-mediated photosensitized damage.”

St. John’s wort is not your only option for treating SAD. You may want to consider exercise, fish oil or light therapy once the herb is out of your system. For more information on the pros and cons of St. John’s wort and alternative approaches to treating winter doldrums, we are sending you our Guide to Dealing With Depression. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. E-7, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:


Q. I try to drink hot green tea because of its touted health benefits. I have recently realized that if I drink more than one cup, I get what I can only describe as an annoying restless legs syndrome while I am awake. Have you ever heard of this, or am I just assuming the two are related? If I only drink one cup in the morning, this does not occur.

A. We have to admit that you have us stumped. The American Sleep Association actually suggests drinking green tea as a way of alleviating restless legs.

Although green tea is lower in caffeine than coffee, it does contain 24 to 40 mg in 8 ounces. Perhaps when you drink more than one cup of green tea, the amount of caffeine you consume is triggering the jittery limb movement. Caffeine has been associated with restless legs.


Q. Are there any home remedies for mouth ulcers? They can be quite painful and sometimes take a long time to heal.

A. The official name for this condition is aphthous ulcers. They are commonly known as canker sores, and no one quite knows what causes them and why some people are especially susceptible. Although doctors have tried a number of pharmaceutical treatments, none stands out as superior.

One randomized study compared 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily to placebo for six months (Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology and Oral Radiology, February 2014). The people taking the omega-3 supplement had significantly fewer mouth ulcers and less discomfort.

Other remedies include drinking a glass of buttermilk once or twice daily, taking L-lysine supplements, swishing an ounce of sauerkraut juice in the mouth or applying aloe-vera gel to the sore.

Eating a kiwifruit every other day works for many people.