Highland herb treats depression, new trial confirms



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January 4, 2008  
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CM NEWS, Medicinal News Today – A new clinical trial has found that an extract of Rhodiola rosea (hong jing tian in Chinese, ???) roots and rhizomes demonstrated anti-depressive activity in patients with mild to moderate depression.

rhodiola-roseaWhat is Rhodiola rosea? Rhodiola rosea L., also known as “golden root” or “roseroot” belongs to the plant family Crassulaceae. Rhodiola rosea grows primarily in dry sandy ground at high altitudes in the arctic areas of Europe and Asia.2 The plant reaches a height of 12 to 30 inches (70cm) and produces yellow blossoms.

For centuries, Rhodiola rosea has been used in the traditional medicine of Russia, Scandinavia, and other countries. Between 1725 and 1960, various medicinal applications of R. rosea appeared in the scientific literature of Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Iceland. Since 1960, more than 180 pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies have been published.

Traditional folk medicine used Rhodiola rosea to increase physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, resistance to high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections, and nervous system disorders. In mountain villages of Siberia, a bouquet of roots is still given to couples prior to marriage to enhance fertility and assure the birth of healthy children.

In Middle Asia, Rhodiola rosea tea was the most effective treatment for cold and flu during severe Asian winters. Mongolian doctors prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer. For centuries, only family members knew where to harvest the wild “golden roots” and the methods of extraction. Siberians secretly transported the herb down ancient trails to the Caucasian Mountains where it was traded for Georgian wines, fruits, garlic, and honey. Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the “golden root” for medicinal preparations.

In another study, Rhodiola rosea has been shown to increase lifespan of fruit flies.

This is the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of Rhodiola rosea in patients diagnosed with depression. Patients given the Swedish-made Rhodiola rosea extract showed significant improvements in depression compared to those given placebo.

The trial, published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, utilized a proprietary Rhodiola rosea root extract called SHR-5, a standardized extract used in a product produced by the Swedish Herbal Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The 6-week trial was conducted on 89 subjects, aged 18 to 70, who were assessed with clinically significant depression according to two different standard measurements used in psychiatry. Patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group received 2 tablets once daily (340 mg/day) of SHR-5, the second group received 2 tablets twice daily (680 mg/day) of SHR-5, and the third group was given 2 placebo tablets once daily. (Placebos were identical in appearance to the treatment tablets and contained 170 mg lactose.)

There were no statistically significant differences in the average depression scale scores among the subjects in the three groups before the herb extract or placebos were given. Following treatment, both groups given SHR-5 experienced statistically significant declines in average scores compared to placebo. The placebo group did not show statistically significant decreases in scores by the end of the trial.

At both dosage levels of SHR-5, people experienced statistically significant improvements in insomnia, emotional instability, and levels of somatization (the conversion of anxiety into physical symptoms), compared to insignificant changes in the placebo group.

The authors concluded that SHR-5 demonstrates clear and significant anti-depressive activity in patients suffering from mild to moderate depression, evident from both overall depression levels as well as from specific symptom levels of depression. They further noted that no adverse effects could be detected in either of the groups given the Rhodiola rosea extract.

Richard P. Brown, MD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a co-author of a comprehensive review of Rhodiola rosea and a book on the subject said, “Two dose levels of Rhodiola rosea were found to significantly reduce symptoms of depression in patients with mild to moderate depression compared to placebo in this randomized clinical trial. In addition to mood elevation, evidence indicates that R. rosea has numerous other benefits, including enhancement of cognitive function, sexual function, and both mental and physical performance under stress. Additional studies are needed to explore and establish the potential applications of this herbal extract. In the meantime, phytomedicinal researchers and consumers can be encouraged by these findings.”

(Note: This study was funded by the Swedish Herbal Institute.)

[Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 61, Issue 5 2007 , pages 343 – 348]

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