St. John’s wort exploded onto the health scene a number of years ago when it was discovered that it could be used as an herbal cure in the treatment of depression. Since then, the herb has fallen from the front pages of the health news. Just recently, however, St. John’s wort is back in the spotlight— but for a different reason than treating depression. It turns out the herb may exert heart protective effects as well.
Researchers at the Isfahan Research Institute in Iran prefaced a new clinical trial by noting that diets high in cholesterol increase lipoprotein and apolipoproteins in the bloodstream, thereby increasing the risk of atherosclerosis. Apolipoproteins are proteins that bind fats and cholesterol to form lipoproteins. They transport the lipids through your lymphatic and circulatory systems where they can be used by your body.
For their study, the researchers looked at the anti- atherosclerotic effect of St. John’s extract on rabbits with high cholesterol compared with a popular statin drug called lovastatin. Twenty-five mature male rabbits were randomly divided into five groups of five and were fed for 60 days as follows: standard diet (Group I); standard diet and an extract of St. John’s wort; 150 mg/kg daily of St. John’s wort (Group II); standard diet, St. John’s wort at 150 mg/kg daily, and cholesterol intake at one percent of food content (Group III); standard diet and cholesterol intake at one percent of food content (Group IV); and standard diet with 10 mg/kg of lovastatin, plus cholesterol intake at one percent of food content (Group V).
The researchers found that St. John’s wort significantly decreased the levels of apolipoproteins, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (CRP). The herbal extract also lowered the risk for atherosclerosis and increased HDL cholesterol levels in Group III, compared with Group IV. According to the research team, the effect of the St. John’s wort extract in decreasing the level of some of the negative factors of high cholesterol and fats was significantly greater than that of lovastatin. They concluded that St. John’s wort possesses hypolipidemic and anti-atherosclerotic effects and could be beneficial in the management of heart disease.