Depression has become epidemic, affecting more than 19 million Americans every year. Of these, seventy percent do not fully respond when using drug therapy. Antidepressant medications can be expensive, and there are often side effects. Many patients stop the drugs on their own, preferring to explore alternative treatments. Now researchers have found a promising new approach, using the herb known as roseroot.
The study published in the journal Phytomedicine was led by Jun J. Mao, M.D., MSCE, associate professor of Family Medicine, Community Health and Epidemiology at the Pereleman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers enrolled fifty-seven adult participants, all of whom had experienced two or more major depressive episodes. Depressive episodes are characterized by depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities over a period of at least two weeks, unusual weight loss or gain, disruption of sleep patterns, fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and obsessive thoughts about death.
The researchers designed a proof of concept trial study as a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison of the prescription antidepressant medication sertraline, versus an oral dosage of R. rosea extract (the roseroot herb). The participants were assigned into one of three groups for the twelve week trial. One group received R. rosea extract, the second received sertraline, and the third received a placebo. The changes in the participants’ depressive status over time were tracked using the Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Clinical Global Impression (CGI).
The participants on the sertraline were somewhat more likely to experience improvement in their depressive symptoms by week 12 of the study than those who took R. rosea, but the differences were not statistically significant. The sertraline group also had 1.9 times the odds of improvement versus the placebo group, while the R. rosea group had 1.4 times the odds of improvement over the placebo group.
On the other hand, the participants on sertraline experienced twice the side effects, most frequently nausea and sexual dysfunction, than those on R. rosea: 63 percent as opposed to 30 percent.
Dr. Mao writes:
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. Larger studies will be needed to fully evaluate the benefit and harm of R. rosea as compared to conventional antidepressants.
Although more study is needed, it appears people with mild to moderate depression may soon have a natural treatment option that delivers significant relief with minimal side effects.