Rhodiola rosea, or roseroot, has been used to survive the Siberian winter for centuries. Researchers have found that it could also treat depression — perhaps even better than conventional drugs. 

In a study published in the journal Phytomedicine, a team of researchers from Pennsylvania University showed that roseroot was almost as effective as the drug sertraline. The herb also produced fewer side effects, making it the possibly better choice for treatment against depression, which affects 250 million people around the world.

To compare the effectiveness of roseroot against sertraline, researchers used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison trial, the first of its kind to be successfully carried out.

A total of 57 adults participated in the study, receiving either a placebo, sertraline or roseroot extract over a period of 12 weeks. The researchers then measured changes in the depression levels of the participants over the course of the study.

The results showed that participants receiving roseroot were 1.4 times more likely to improve their condition and those receiving sertraline were 1.9 times more likely to improve their condition, as compared to placebo users. The researchers said the difference was not statistically significant, which demonstrates a more-or-less same level of effectiveness between roseroot and sertraline.

Of the participants taking sertraline, 63 percent reportedly experienced effects like nausea and sexual dysfunction, whereas only 30 percent taking roseroot suffered the same.

Roseroot's minimal side effects could make the herb a great alternative to traditional treatment. 70 percent of those affected by depression don't fully respond to initial stages of therapy. The cost of anti-depression drugs, along with their many side effects, often causes patients to quit treatment early on.  

"These results are a bit preliminary but suggest herbal therapy may have the potential to help patients with depression who cannot tolerate conventional antidepressants due to side effects," said Jun Mao, an associate professor from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

Though more research will be needed to fully evaluate the herb's treatment potential, the study suggests that roseroot is a very promising low-risk natural alternative.

Roseroot can be found in cold regions around the world, mostly throughout the Arctic and the mountainous regions of Europe. It has been used for hundreds of years by people in Russia and Scandinavia to deal with stress and the cold climate of their countries.

Photo: Randi Hausken | Flickr

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