Roseroot for Depression

Did You Know…the best depression treatment is NOT a drug?

A recent study done at the University of Pennsylvania offers further evidence supporting the idea that herbs—not pharmaceutical drugs—may be the best way to treat depression.    

For the University of Pennsylvania study, Professor Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, and colleagues from the Perelman School of Medicine focused on one herb in particular:  Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) or roseroot.

Mao and his co-investigators concluded that roseroot shows promise as a treatment option, especially for individuals who cannot tolerate the side effects that accompany other depression treatment regimens.

A Long History of Healing 

Roseroot has an illustrious record stretching back to the Greek physician Dioscorides, who was one of the first to document its medical applications.  He called the herb rodia riza, and described its properties in his classic text De Materia Medica in 77 AD.  Roseroot has long been known to improve your body’s ability to respond to internal and external stress factors, making it a logical candidate for alleviating depression as well.

The Case Against Antidepressants 

Depression, one of the most common and debilitating psychiatric conditions, affects more than 19 million Americans every year.  For 70% of those sufferers, initial treatment fails.

That’s hardly surprising to anyone familiar with the case against antidepressants.  In his book, The Emperor’s New Drugs:  Exploding the Anti-Depressant Myth, Dr. Irving Kirsch clearly states that at this point, it is no longer a question whether antidepressant drugs like Prozac and Effexor can outperform placebo pills.  They simply don’t—the margin of difference is inconsequential.

More and more doctors have begun to accept that reality, and are exploring alternate treatment approaches, including roseroot.

Roseroot Trumped Placebo and Drug Treatment

In order to enroll in The University of Pennsylvania study on roseroot, participants had to meet the criteria for a DSM IV Axis 1 diagnosis of major depression disorder (MDD), meaning they had all experienced…

 At least 2 or more major depressive episodes
 Loss of interest or pleasure in life activities
 Unintentional weight gain or loss
 Insomnia or sleeping too much
 Diminished capacity for concentration
 Recurrent thoughts of death

Over the course of the study, changes to participants’ moods were tracked using Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scores.

The scores of participants taking roseroot improved 1.4 times more than the scores of those taking a placebo.  The scores of those taking sertraline, a common pharmaceutical treatment for depression, improved as well, but that improvement came at a cost.

     Severe Side Effects: Participants taking sertraline reported twice the amount of side effects as those taking either roseroot or the placebo.  The two most common side effects named by those in the sertraline group were nausea and sexual dysfunction.

The findings indicate roseroot can benefit individuals dealing with mild to moderate depression.  The results are preliminary.  But, says Mao, “they suggest that herbal therapy may have the potential to help patients with depression.”