A total of 29 trials (5489 patients) including 18 comparisons with placebo and 17 comparisons with synthetic standard antidepressants met the inclusion criteria. Results of placebo-controlled trials showed marked heterogeneity. In nine larger trials the combined response rate ratio (RR) for hypericum extracts compared with placebo was 1.28 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.10 to 1.49) and from nine smaller trials was 1.87 (95% CI, 1.22 to 2.87). Results of trials comparing hypericum extracts and standard antidepressants were statistically homogeneous. Compared with tri- or tetracyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), respectively, RRs were 1.02 (95% CI, 0.90 to 1.15; 5 trials) and 1.00 (95% CI, 0.90 to 1.11; 12 trials). Both in placebo-controlled trials and in comparisons with standard antidepressants, trials from German-speaking countries reported findings more favourable to hypericum. Patients given hypericum extracts dropped out of trials due to adverse effects less frequently than those given older antidepressants (odds ratio (OR) 0.24; 95% CI, 0.13 to 0.46) or SSRIs (OR 0.53, 95% CI, 0.34-0.83).
Authors’ conclusions: The available evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants. The association of country of origin and precision with effects sizes complicates the interpretation.