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Rhodiola May Be As Effective as Prescriptions for Depression, With Fewer Side Effects

Depression affects more than 19 million Americans every year.  Approximately 70% of them do not respond to the first therapy they try. A recent study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that rhodiola, also known as roseroot, may help treat major depressive disorder without some of the side effects of prescription medications.


Participants in the study - which took place from December 2010 to April 2013 - included 57 adults who had a DSM IV Axis 1 diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Major depressive disorder was defined as having two or more major depressive episodes, depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least two weeks, plus significant unintentional weight loss or gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue, diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death.


Over the course of 12 weeks, the participants took either a rhodiola extract, a prescription antidepressant called sertraline, or a placebo. The researchers measured the participant’s depression using the Hamilton Depression Rating, Beck Depression Inventory, and Clinical Global Impression tests.


At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that the sertraline group reported slightly higher improvements on the Ham-D scores than the rhodiola, however the differences were not statistically significant.  Compared to the placebo, sertraline showed a 1.9 time odds of improvement, while rhodiola showed 1.4 times.


The significant difference between the two was actually seen in the side effects, the most common of which were nausea and sexual dysfunction. 63% of the sertraline group reported negative side effects including nausea and sexual dysfunction, while only 30% of the rhodiola reported negative side effects.  16.7% of the placebo group reported negative side effects.


The study was published on March 15, 2015 in Phytomedicine.  It was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania.


Previous studies suggest that rhodiola may help with higher energy and stamina, improving sexual function, irregular heartbeat, and high cholesterol. It has been used in folk medicines in the arctic regions of Europe and Asia for centuries. The best way to consume rhodiola is as an extract.

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