By Will Dunham Tue Jun 10, 4:09 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The herb St. John’s wort does not improve children’s symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to researchers who tested it as a possible alternative to stimulant drugs used to treat this common condition.
A study published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association involving 54 children with ADHD ages 6 to 17 found that those given St. John’s wort three times a day for eight weeks did no better than those getting a placebo.
Wendy Weber of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, who led the study, said she is interested in evaluating natural treatments for ADHD as alternatives to the common drugs. Bastyr University focuses on natural medicine.
“I think parents are still quite concerned about the fact that the most commonly used treatment is a stimulant medication. And I think a lot of them are concerned about the strong effects of those medications,” said Weber.
“Clearly in this study we found no benefit at all” from St. John’s wort, Weber said in a telephone interview.
Millions of children with ADHD are treated with stimulant medications such as Novartis AG’s Ritalin and Shire Plc’s Adderall.
St. John’s wort, also known by its botanical name, Hypericum perforatum, is a plant with yellow flowers that has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. It is a popular herbal product used by people for a variety of purposes such as treating depression and anxiety.
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, a trade group based in Silver Spring, Maryland, disagreed with the researchers’ view that St. John’s wort is one of the most common herbal treatments for U.S. children with
McGuffin said it was not commonly used for this purpose. He also said the St. John’s wort product used in the study appeared to be of poor quality.
Asked if she knew about many children were taking it for ADHD, Weber said, “We really don’t.” She added that she did not know of a national estimate for such use.
In the study, 27 children with ADHD from the Seattle area were chosen randomly to get St. John’s wort while an equal number were given a placebo. They were not allowed to use other ADHD medications during the study.
The two groups recorded similar, modest improvements in ADHD symptoms such as inattentiveness and hyperactivity.
“We expected the placebo group to improve a small amount, and that’s exactly what we saw. And the St. John’s wort group had the same amount of improvement,” Weber added.
McGuffin said the primary use for St. John’s wort is maintaining good mood and a sense of well-being.
“No one who I know markets St. John’s wort for use by kids with ADHD,” McGuffin said. “It’s an out-of-the-ordinary, rare use. It might be a use that some mom thinks makes sense.”
The research team also included Dr. Joseph Biederman, the Harvard University psychiatrist who has been accused by Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of not fully disclosing payments he got from drug companies. Harvard Medical School said it is investigating the matter.
Biederman in this study disclosed financial ties to Novartis, Shire and other drug companies.
The study was funded by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health.