Worts and All Shock over St John's Herb

Article excerpt

The Government yesterday issued an urgent health warning over the herbal remedy St John's Wort amid fears it can stop other drugs from working.

Women taking the contraceptive pill and heart transplant patients prescribed anti-rejection drugs were among those feared to be at risk.

Prof Alisdair Breckenridge, chair of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, said: "The consequences may be serious for some patients.

"That is why we are issuing this health warning after studying the evidence over the last two weeks."

Women on the Pill, HIV patients taking drugs to suppress the virus, epilepsy and asthma sufferers and people prescribed certain heart drugs could all be affected.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Pat Troup said: "There is evidence that St John's Wort reduces effectiveness of the Pill and therefore it would be prudent for women to stop taking it. They should continue to take the Pill."

The Medicines Control Agency is holding talks with herbal remedy shops, practitioners and manufacturers to discuss publishing health warnings on product labels.

The St John's Wort market is worth about pounds 3.75 billion in Europe and in the US sales of the herbal remedy are growing by 2000 per cent a year. Hospital doctors, GPs and people in the herbal and health industry have been sent the advice in a letter from Prof Breckenridge.

Drugs affected are:

Warfarin: Used for heart conditions and blood clots.

Digoxin: A widely used drug for heart conditions.

Anticonvulsants: Used to control epilepsy.

Theophylline: Used to treat severe asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors: Used to treat depression.

Triptans: Used to treat migraines.

Cyclosporin: Used following heart transplants to reduce risk of rejection.

Indinavir, nelfinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, efavirenz and nevirapine: Used in HIV patients.

Oral contraceptives: Taking St John's Wort and the Pill can lead to breakthrough bleeding and increase the risk of pregnancy. The Government issued the new advice in the wake of growing evidence in medical journals.

Experts were also alerted by the "yellow card scheme" by which pharmacists and doctors inform the Department of Health of adverse reactions to drugs among patients. …