The significance of "nonsignificance" in randomized controlled studies: a discussion inspired by a double-blinded study on St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) for premenstrual symptoms

J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Dec;10(6):925-32. doi: 10.1089/acm.2004.10.925.


Objectives: This study aimed to investigate the efficacy of St. John's wort extract (SJW) as a treatment for premenstrual symptoms.

Design: The study was a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, with two parallel treatment groups. After a no-treatment baseline cycle, volunteers were randomized to either SJW or placebo for a further two menstrual cycles.

Settings/location: A postal trial conducted from The University of Reading, Berkshire, England.

Subjects: One hundred and sixty-nine (169) normally menstruating women who experienced recurrent premenstrual symptoms were recruited onto the study. One hundred and twenty-five (125) completed the protocol and were included in the analysis.

Interventions: Six hundred milligrams (600) mg of SJW (standardized to contain 1800 microg of hypericin) or placebo (containing lactose and cellulose).

Outcome measure: A menstrual diary was used to assess changes in premenstrual symptoms. The anxiety-related subgroup of symptoms of this instrument was used as the primary outcome measure.

Results: After averaging the effects of treatment over both treatment cycles it was found that there was a trend for SJW to be superior to placebo. However, this finding was not statistically significant.

Conclusion: The possibility that this nonsignificant finding resulted from insufficient statistical power in the study, rather than a lack of efficacy of SJW, is discussed. Following this discussion the recommendation is made that, in future, similar studies should be powered to detect a minimum clinically relevant difference between treatments.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypericum*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Regression Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Plant Extracts