Herbal medicines: Physician's recommendation and clinical evaluation of St.John's Wort for depression
Why some physicians recommend herbal medicines while others do not is not well understood. We undertook a survey designed to identify factors which predict recommendation of herbal medicines by physicians in Malaysia. About a third (206 out of 626) of the physicians working at the University of Malaya Medical Centre were interviewed face-to-face, using a structured questionnaire. Physicians were asked about their personal use of, recommendation of, perceived interest in, and usefulness and safety of herbal medicines. Using logistic regression modelling we identified personal use, general interest, interest in receiving training, race and higher level of medical training as significant predictors of recommendation. St. John's wort is one of the most widely used herbal remedies. It is also probably the most widely evaluated herbal remedy with no fewer than 57 randomised controlled trials. Evidence from the depression trials suggests that St. John's wort is more effective than placebo while its comparative efficacy to conventional antidepressants is not well established. We updated previous meta-analyses of St. John's wort, described the characteristics of the included trials, applied methods of data imputation and transformation for incomplete trial data and examined sources of heterogeneity in the design and results of those trials. Thirty randomised controlled trials, which were heterogeneous in design, were identified. Our meta-analysis showed that St. John's wort was significantly more effective than placebo [pooled RR 1.90 (1.54-2.35)] and [Pooled WMD 4.09 (2.33 to 5.84)]. However, the remedy was similar to conventional antidepressant in its efficacy [Pooled RR I. 0 I (0.93 -1.10)] and [Pooled WMD 0.18 (- 0.66 to 1.02). Subgroup analyses of the placebo-controlled trials suggested that use of different diagnostic classifications at the inclusion stage led to different estimates of effect. Similarly a significant difference in the estimates of efficacy was observed when trials were categorised according to length of follow-up. Confounding between the variables, diagnostic classification and length of trial was shown by loglinear analysis. Despite extensive study, there is still no consensus on how effective St. lohn's wort is in depression. However, most experts would agree that it has some effect. Our meta-analysis highlights the problems associated with the clinical evaluation of herbal medicines when the active ingredients are poorly defined or unknown. The problem is compounded when the target disease (e.g. depression) is also difficult to define and different instruments are available to diagnose and evaluate it.