The use of Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) in major depressive disorder
Depression is a common mental health condition characterised by symptoms that affect the way a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities such as sleeping, eating, or working. Depression is estimated to affect 350 million people globally, and is the fourth most common medical disorder in the world. Along with psychological therapy, conventional treatment for depression primarily involves pharmaceutical medications, which have limited efficacy and significant side effects1. With a lifetime prevalence rate of about 16%, depression is associated with a high risk of suicide and considerable medical co-morbidity2.
Rhodiola has a long traditional history across Eastern Europe, Asia and Scandanavia for stimulating the nervous system, alleviating psychological distress and fatigue, and enhancing physical and mental performance1. Its versatility sees it preventing and relieving conditions such as depression and anxiety1.
In a recent 12-week randomised, double-blind placebo controlled trial patients were prescribed Rhodiola alongside their sertraline (ie: Zoloft) medication in either a low dose or a high dose1. The study found significant reductions in depression markers of both Rhodiola groups relative to placebo; the most significant reductions observed in the group receiving high-dose Rhodiola. The authors concluded that the anti-depressive potency of Rhodiola supplementation in patients with major depression disorder when administered as an adjunct to conventional antidepressant medication1.
In another 12-week phase II randomised controlled trial, a graduated but low dose of Rhodiola alone was pitted against sertraline. This study found that while the trialled dose of R. rosea produced less antidepressant effects when compared to sertraline, it also resulted in significantly fewer adverse events and was better tolerated. The researchers concluded that despite less efficacy when compared with sertraline, it may be a more favourable risk to benefit ratio for people with mild to moderate depression2.
R. rosea’s adaptogenic properties were strongly demonstrated in a literature review carried out in 2016. The results showed that Rhodiola demonstrated a multi-target effect on various levels of the regulation of cell response to stress, affecting a variety of components of the neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter receptor and molecular networks associated with possible beneficial effects on mood3. They also note that in contrast to conventional antidepressants, Rhodiola appears to be well-tolerated with a favourable safety profile3.
**This article does not replace medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any conditions. This medicine may not be right for you. For safety and efficacy, herbal medicines should be prescribed by a qualified Herbalist or Naturopath. References available on request.