Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people aged 15 to 44; it affects over 16.2 million adults and is more prevalent in women than in men. The widespread nature of this disease has led researchers to conduct studies into potential ways to address symptoms without resorting to medication. Classic medication for depression (SSRIs and SNRIs) can bring about a host of side-effects, including agitation, nervousness, indigestion and stomach ache, dizziness, insomnia, low libido, and (in men) erectile dysfunction. Adaptogens have played an important role in naturopathy for many years. Known to battle stress and have a wealth of positive effects on various bodily systems, they help boost the body’s adaptive energy, so that you can face life’s vicissitudes and stressors with greater resilience. One adaptogen that has proven potentially useful in treating depression is rhodiola: also known as ‘golden root’.

Rhodiola and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

A study carried out by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the journal Phytomedicine, found that rhodiola could potentially be a good treatment option for MDD. The scientists carried out a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison trial of rhodiola extract versus conventional antidepressant therapy, sertraline, which is used to treat mild-to-moderate MDD. There was an insignificant difference between the two groups. That is, those who took rhodiola had 1.4 times the odds of improvement, compared to 1.9 times for the medication group. The scientists concluded: “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.”

Rhodiola and Anxiety

Anxiety is even more prevalent than depression in the U.S. Moreover, both conditions often co-exist. What does science say about the possible benefits for anxiety? It is important to note that anxiety medications also have potential side-effects, which range from drowsiness to dizziness, nausea, and restlessness. Thus, researchers have looked to different ways to reduce anxiety  naturally through hypnosis, exercise, sleep hygiene and the consumption of adaptogens with a relaxing effect. Controlled breathing, relaxation techniques, and holistic practises such as yoga and meditation have shown great success rates when it comes to lowering levels of cortisol. As noted by Dr. Axe, Rhodiola supplements have been shown to improve cognitive functioning and to increase the sensitivity of serotonin increase the sensitivity of serotonin and dopamine, which are vital for preventing both anxiety and depression.

A Trial among Anxious Participants

In one trial involving 80 persons who were mildly anxious, participants who took rhodiola demonstrated a “significant reduction in self-reported, anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression at 14 days and a significant improvements in total mood.” The fact that the participants noted that their symptoms were soothed is key, since stopping anxiety in its tracks is, to a great degree, a matter of perception of one’s own mental state.

Rhodiola is proving to wield potential in the treatment of America’s most prevalent mental conditions: anxiety and depression. See a naturopath to discuss appropriate dosage if you are interested in giving it a try. If you have MDD or severe anxiety, consult the appropriateness of this and other adaptogens, and inquire about any possible interactions with medication you have been prescribed.