Rhodiola Herb for Clinical Depression

rhodiola rosea treats major depression

Rhodiola fights depression.

Major depressive disorder affects some 350 million people every year, and a majority of these cases do not respond to drug treatment. Over 16 percent of adults will have depression at one point in their lives. Rhodiola rosea can help.

In the U.S. alone, more than $120 billion is spent on major depressive disorder cases. Most of these treatments come in the form of psychotherapy drugs. And psychotherapy drugs are some of the most addictive and mentally-disruptive treatments of conventional medicine.

Depression symptoms certainly stem from an inner emptiness, but they are often exacerbated by imbalances among the nervous system, which include neurotransmitter and even mineral imbalances.

For this reason, there are a number of psychiatric drugs that are used for depression, which alter the nervous system’s levels of neurotransmitters and minerals. They don’t cure the inner emptiness underlying the condition, but they can mask the symptoms.

The problem is, most of these also come with side effects that include insomnia, anxiety, cognitive issues, gut issues, hair loss and many others.

Depression-symptom drugs – depending upon which one – can also interfere with speech, driving and other coordination-related activities. Many of these drugs are in fact, somewhat debilitating.

Are there any natural strategies for depression?

For centuries, herbal medicine has been treating depressive symptoms with medicinal herbs. These are often far more subtle in their actions, and typically come with few if any adverse side effects.

Rhodiola is one of these. Rhodiola has been used for centuries for a number of ailments including fatigue, and was mentioned by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (born 40 AD) as part of his healing repertoire.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine have determined that Rhodiola rosea – an adaptogenic herb more recently made famous by its use by Russian athletes to increase endurance – can significantly reduce depression symptoms.

The research was led by Dr. Jun Mao, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Mao and fellow researchers enrolled 57 adults who had received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD). Major depressive disorder means the patient has exhibited at least two episodes of depression that lasted for two weeks or more. It also includes other symptoms such as impending feelings of death or suicide, sleeping problems, weight loss or gain, or an inability to concentrate.

Rhodiola tested against popular psychotherapy drug

The patients were divided into three groups. Over a three-month period, the patients received a daily dose from 340 milligrams to 1,360 milligrams of standardized Rhodiola extract, or between 50 and 200 milligrams of the depression drug sertraline, or a placebo.

Before and after the treatment, the patients were given depression symptom tests that included the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Clinical Global Impression Change (CGI/C) test. These tests provide clinicians with a way to gauge the extent of a patient’s depression symptoms and whether the patient is improving or sliding downward.

Drug wins, but Rhodiola does too

After the three-month treatment period, the patients that took the sertraline drug had the greatest reduction of depression symptoms, with an odds of 90 percent reduced incidence. Meanwhile, the Rhodiola extract also significantly reduced depression symptoms, with an odds factor of 40 percent reduced incidence.

However, the adverse side effects were quite high for the sertraline-treated patients, with a 63 percent adverse effect level, compared to 30 percent among the Rhodiola group and 16 percent among the placebo group.

The researchers concluded:

“Although R. rosea produced less antidepressant effect versus sertraline, it also resulted in significantly fewer adverse events and was better tolerated. These findings suggest that R. rosea, although less effective than sertraline, may possess a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for individuals with mild to moderate depression.”

What makes Rhodiola work for depression?

Research suggests that Rhodiola affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis – which is the link between the body’s neurotransmitters and hormones. The herb has an ability referred to as adaptogenic – which means that it helps balance the body’s stress response. This was determined clinical by Swedish researchers in 2005.

This is apparently accomplished by allowing precursors of serotonin and dopamine through the blood-brain barrier. This in turn allows more of these important neurotransmitters to be produced. Rhodiola also helps increase body levels of endorphins, and has been shown to halt cancer growth.

Other natural strategies for depression

In this publication, we have discussed a number of other strategies for depression as evidenced by recent research:

– We’ve shown evidence that probiotics reduce depression symptoms
– And how flotation therapy will reduce depression symptoms
– How smoking increases the risk of depression
– How plant-based nutrients reduce depression and anxiety
– That depression shortens our telomere length.
– How loving kindness reduces depression symptoms
– How depression is linked with asthma
Light therapy reduces depressive symptoms
– That chamomile treats depression symptoms
-Poor sleep or insomnia increases symptoms of depression


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Mao JJ, Xie SX, Zee J, Soeller I, Li QS, Rockwell K, Amsterdam JD. Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):394-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.01.010.

Mao JJ, Li QS, Soeller I, Xie SX, Amsterdam JD. Rhodiola rosea therapy for major depressive disorder: a study protocol for a randomized, double-blind, placebo- controlled trial. J Clin Trials. 2014 Jun 20;4:170.

Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2005 Oct;19(10):819-38.

Lishmanov IuB, Trifonova ZhV, Tsibin AN, Maslova LV, Dement’eva LA. Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 1987 Apr;103(4):422-4.

Majewska A, Hoser G, Furmanowa M, Urbańska N, Pietrosiuk A, Zobel A, Kuraś M. Antiproliferative and antimitotic effect, S phase accumulation and induction of apoptosis and necrosis after treatment of extract from Rhodiola rosea rhizomes on HL-60 cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Jan 3;103(1):43-52.


  • Case Adams, Naturopath

    California Naturopath, Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: case(at)caseadams(dot)com.

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