Q&A With Dan Lukaczer, ND

Fish or St. John's for depression?

Q: I take St. John's wort for depression and recently heard that fish oil also helps. How does it compare to St. John's wort?

A: It's difficult to compare the two, although both may help ease depression. They seem to work in different ways and affect different types of depressive disorders. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) helps improve mild-to-moderate unipolar depression. How it works is not completely understood. It appears to prevent the neurotransmitter serotonin from breaking down, thus keeping more of this mood-elevating chemical in circulation.

Fish oil has been shown most effective in treating bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, not depression. Recently, researchers at Harvard Medical School performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 30 patients who suffered from bipolar disorder. These patients were kept on their usual medications with the addition of 9.6 g omega-3 oils, found in fish oil, or placebo (olive oil). During the four-month study, the omega-3 supplemented group showed significantly longer periods of remission and measurable improvement in other areas, suggesting that omega-3 oils may complement—not replace—bipolar-disorder medications and improve the course of illness (Archives of General Psychiatry, 1999, vol. 56, no. 5).

Rosemary: A tasty antioxidant

Q: Is it true that rosemary may have health benefits?

A: Indeed it does. Beyond flavoring food with its pungent, earthy taste, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is used as a preservative to prevent the oxidation of fats and oils. In fact, this preservative quality led to research confirming the existence of compounds in rosemary that deactivate free radicals (Xenobiotica, 1992, vol. 22, no. 2). And these are no ordinary antioxidants: Specific molecules in rosemary neutralize free radicals which then change into new molecules that knock out more free radicals. This cascade effect probably explains why rosemary has a significantly higher antioxidant capability than vitamin E, which must be recycled after neutralizing a free radical before it can "stop" another attack. Interestingly, there is some evidence that rosemary gives double protection by acting as an antioxidant while also recycling vitamin E (Food Research International, 1993, vol. 26). Should you decide to take a rosemary supplement, pick one that is standardized to carnosic acid and carnosol to ensure you are getting that optimum free-radical-fighting activity.

Dan Lukaczer, ND, is director of clinical services at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of HealthComm International Inc., in Gig Harbor, Wash.