It was hailed a wonder drug, and as antidepressant Prozac turns 25 years old in January, its popularity is still on the rise.

The drug, launched in 1988, was prescribed 3.9 million times in 2011 and its sales soared, with a 9.2% increase since 2010, along with its price, which has gone up by 22.6%, according to the NHS.

But herbal remedies are also on the rise, with over a quarter of GPs saying they would recommend remedies like St John's Wort over antidepressants, according to natural remedies provider Schwabe Pharma, which surveyed 201 GPs.

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Dr David Edwards, an Oxfordshire GP, said: "Often GPs have become increasingly reluctant to treat cases of low mood with antidepressants such as Prozac as these drugs are both powerful and, for some patients, are not without side effects.

"Nevertheless, antidepressants have been shown to be an effective treatment in more serious cases of clinical depression.

"However, since the introduction of new licensed herbal medicines last year, many people have felt more confident in turning to a herbal remedy such as Rhodiola or St John's Wort to manage symptoms of low mood prior to seeking help from their family doctor."

St John's Wort is reported to be significantly more effective than a placebo and equally effective as antidepressant drugs in the short-term treatment of low mood.

A recent survey of 2,000 people by suppliers KarmaMood suggested 80% of herbal remedy users felt the mood-boosting benefits after just two weeks, while 99% of antidepressant users had experienced side effects, with loss of libido cited as the most common.

George Lewith, professor of health research at Southampton University, said: "There have been countless clinical trials on the effectiveness and safety of St John's Wort. It's very well tolerated, with most patients seeing fast results, with very few side effects and fewer withdrawal symptoms.

"If you are feeling low on a regular basis, perhaps irritable, moody, suffering insomnia or gaining weight, your first stop should be the GP."

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