Hypericum: Photosensitivity and St. Johnswort

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism 01-31-95 6(4): 10

St Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) has long been know to potentially cause sensitivity to sunlight in grazing animals. The extent of the problem in humans has not been clearly defined. Hypericin, a constituent of St Johnswort is believed to be responsible.

At the annual convention of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians in San Diego in September, Jo Jenner, ND, or Portland, OR, reported a case of hypericum-induced photosensitivity in herself through an unusual mechanism. She had sprained an ankle, and treated it with ultrasound, including a ultrasound gel containing hypericum. The ultrasound treatment purportedly drives herbal material in the gel directly into the tissues. After the treatment, Jenner worked outdoors in bright sunlight, and developed second degree burns, with blisters, wherever sunlight fell on the treated surfaces of her ankle. She had worked in bright sunlight. Areas covered by her sandal strap, and at the back of her ankle where no light fell, were spared. The burns were extremely painful, and complete healing took more than a month. In the ensuing discussion, Jennifer Brett, ND, of Stratford, Connecticut, reported that she had seen frequent photosensitivity reactions to St Johnswort in HIV patients that she treated. Recently a New York clinical trial of hypericin in HIV-infection had to be stopped because a large number of the participants developed photosensitivity.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner   

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