Using Roseroot to Improve Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms

Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea), also known as roseroot, may be an effective antidepressant that is safer and better tolerated than sertraline.

Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea), also known as roseroot, may be an effective antidepressant that is safer and better tolerated than sertraline, according to the results of a study published in the journal Phytomedicine.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania tested 57 subjects with mild to moderate major depressive disorder in order to evaluate whether or not R. rosea would have similar therapeutic effects as sertraline. Between December 2010 and April 2013, the researchers subjected the patients to 12 weeks of standardized R. rosea extract, sertraline, or placebo.

Each of the patients had confirmed major depressive order based on DSM IV criteria, which included a two or more major depressive episodes, depressed mood and/ or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least 2 weeks, unintentional weight loss or gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue, and diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death.

The researchers used Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression Change (CGI/ C) scores among the groups to determine changes in depression in the participants.

The measured HAM D scores demonstrated that patients in the sertraline group were somewhat more likely to show improvement in their depressive symptoms after 12 weeks compared to the patients in the R. rosea group. However, the researchers noted these findings were “modest, albeit statistically non significant.”

The R. rosea patients were 1.4 times more likely to improve while patients in the sertraline group had 1.9 times the odds of improvement, both compared to the placebo group. The authors continued that the sertraline patients experienced 2 times as many side effects than the R. rosea patients (63 percent versus 30 percent, respectively). The common side effects in the sertraline patients were nausea and sexual dysfunction.

The researchers believe that the study suggests R. rosea may be able to provide a more favorable risk to benefit ratio than sertraline for patients with mild to moderate major depressive disorder. The authors also added that this study is the first proof of concept trial to compare R. rosea extract with the more traditional medication therapy, sertraline.

“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,” concluded Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE, associate professor of Family Medicine, Community Health, and Epidemiology at Perelman concluded in a press release. “Larger studies will be needed to fully evaluate the benefit and harm of R. rosea as compared to conventional antidepressants.”