A Rosier Outlook For Depression, Thanks To This Herb

In a new study, this pretty medicinal plant was nearly as effective at treating depression as a leading drug — without any side effects. (Photo: Corbis) 

Could there be a natural remedy for depression?

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say that Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea), a flowering, medicinal plant that goes by the name roseroot, may be an effective treatment for those suffering from mild to moderate Major Depression Disorder (MDD).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, MDD is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people between the ages of 15 to 44 and affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

Roseroot grows in the world’s most frigid and windswept regions, from the Arctic circle regions of Siberia, Canada and Scandinavia, to high mountain meadows in North America and Europe to the sea cliffs of Ireland, and has been shown in a few previous studies to have antidepressant effects. 

Related: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day To Beat Depression 

In this first double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison of oral R. rosea extract and sertraline, a common antidepressant, 57 adult volunteers were given either the herb, the med or a placebo over a 12-week period. All of the participants were categorized as patients who experienced two or more major depressive episodes, along with symptoms, such as weight gain or loss, insomnia or sleeping too often and recurrent thoughts of death, for at least two weeks.

As for the results: The participants who took R. rosea had 1.4 times the odds of improvement, while those who were given sertraline had 1.9 times the odds of improvement versus those who were offered the placebo. Yet the patients on the prescription med reported more than twice the side effects — namely nausea and sexual dysfunction — than those who had consumed the herbal plant.

Related: Why Sugar Is Poison for Depression 

“These results are a bit preliminary but suggest that herbal therapy may have the potential to help patients with depression who cannot tolerate conventional antidepressants due to side effects,” says lead researcher Jun J. Mao, MD.

Yahoo Health asked Mao about the reported side effects from roseroot. “They are very mild and few and not much from the placebo,” he says. “The only thing that may be slightly different — but not statistical wise — was dizziness.” He adds that sertraline also left some patients with insomnia.

So if you’re looking to try to this homeopathic remedy, Mao points out that the product used in their research was prepared by their Penn pharmacy, so it’s not available on the market. “However, if a patient wants to try an herbal supplement for depression, I would recommend they talk to their doctors,” he says.

“Everyone’s medical condition is different.  To avoid potential drug-herb interaction, progression of depressive symptoms, prevent suicide, maximize benefit and minimize harm, it’s better to have an open communication with one’s own physician. And believe or not, many physicians are fairly open to integrative approach to mental health.”

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