By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
Although St. John’s Wort may provide benefits for some conditions, it appears that autism is probably not among them.
A review of the literature turns up just one small study: Niederhofer (2009) found that St. John’s Wort may have a very mild effect, with parents and mentors noting slight improvements in irritability, repetitive behaviours (stereotypies), and inappropriate speech. However, no significant improvements were observed by clinicians. Also, the study included just three subjects.
The majority of parents who have tried the remedy with their autistic-spectrum children have found it to be ineffective. Of 150 Autism Research Institute parent ratings for St. John’s Wort, only 16% saw improvements, 66% reported no change, and 18% said that symptoms worsened. Ratings for Asperger’s syndrome were equally low, with improvements noted in only 12% of cases, no change in 73%, and a worsening of symptoms in 15%. Overall, the percentages of parents noting improvements are low enough that any benefits may have just been coincidence or placebo effects.
There is evidence that St. John’s Wort may be beneficial in treating mild depression for some people, and depression often accompanies autistic spectrum disorders. However, research indicates that it’s not effective for treating serious depression and can interact with a number of medications (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, December 2007).
For more on the effectiveness of various supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (December 2007). “St. John’s Wort and Depression.” NCCAM.NIH.gov.
- Niederhofer, H. (2009). “St John’s Wort Treating Patients with Autistic Disorder.” Phytotherapy Resources, 23(11), pp. 1,521-1,523.