Q. What is St. John's Wort?

St. John's Wort also known as hypericum herb, klamath weed or goat weed is a plant with yellow flowers that are used to make teas and tablets. For centuries, the plant has been considered a remedy for mental problems, including depression and anxiety.

Does it work? St. John's Wort is not a proven therapy for depression. There is some scientific evidence that St. John's Wort helps in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. However, there have been two major studies that showed St. John's Wort is no better than a placebo for treating moderate depression.

Before you go to a store to buy some of this herb, consult with your personal physician. There are negative side effects from taking St. John's Wort. These include: sensitivity to sunlight, anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, or sexual dysfunction. This plant can also interact with drugs you're taking.

If you believe you are depressed and want treatment, there are approved antidepressant medications that work. Most people with depression get better with treatment that includes these medicines.

Q. What is a stem cell?

In your body, you have specialized cells that make up your brain, blood, bones and other anatomical parts. Stem cells are not specialized; they are master cells. Stem cells divide to form specialized cells or new stem cells.

There are two basic forms of stem cells embryonic and adult.

Embryonic stem cells come from embryos that are a few days old. These cells can divide into more stem cells or any type of body cell. Embryonic stem cells have the greatest capacity to regenerate or repair diseased tissue in people.

Adult stem cells is a term used to describe stem cells found in adult tissues, children, placentas and umbilical cords. Adult stem cells are often present in only small quantities. The primary functions of adult stem cells are to maintain and repair tissue.

The conventional wisdom has been that adult stem cells create only one kind of specialized cell, but a new theory suggests that these cells may have the potential to do more.

For example, bone-marrow stem cells responsible for producing blood might be able to make nerve tissue.

Q. Can stem cells be used to treat Parkinson's disease?

Stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat many medical problems including Parkinson and Alzheimer's diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

Parkinson's disease (PD) may be the first disease amenable to treatment with stem cells. In the early 1960s, scientists determined that the loss of brain cells was causing PD. The cells that were depleted produced dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle activity. Today, PD is treated with drugs and surgery.

PD is a complex disorder of the central nervous system. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States, after Alzheimer's. The defining symptoms of PD include tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, and impaired balance and coordination.

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