Rooting for happiness

A new study suggests roseroot fights depression nearly as well as Zoloft, without all the side effects.

A root may be as helpful as a popular pharmaceutical when it comes to fighting depression. And it doesn’t come with the long list of side effects that can plague people who take the pills.

University of Pennsylvania researchers conducted a proof-of-concept trial study to see how rhodiola rosa (R. rosea), or roseroot, stood up to sertraline (trade name Zoloft), a conventional antidepressant therapy for mild to moderate major depressive disorder, according to a university release.

More than 19 million Americans have depression. Seventy percent of them do not fully respond to initial therapy. Patients often discontinue therapy due to side effects and costs of conventional antidepressants.

The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, 12-week study included 57 adults with a diagnosis of depression. Changes in their condition were measured using standard methods, the Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression (CGI).

The people who took sertraline were somewhat more likely to report improvement in their symptoms by week 12 of treatment than those who took R. rosea, although these differences were not found to be statistically significant, according to the study. However, patients on sertraline experienced twice the side effects—most commonly nausea and sexual dysfunction—than those on R. rosea: 63 percent versus 30 percent, respectively, reported side effects. These findings suggest that R. rosea may possess a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for individuals with mild to moderate major depressive disorder.

The results were reported in the journal Phytomedicine and noted on

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

Of course, roseroot may not be the only natural option when it comes to antidepressants. Another recent study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help fight depression in populations with a high risk of depression due to inflammation.

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