Mental illness in the United States is a serious public health issue, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as almost 44 million adults (18.5%) experience some type of mental illness in any given year.1
Of these 44 million, 2.6% have bipolar disorder, almost 7% had a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months, and 18% have an anxiety disorder. Given these numbers, it is not a stretch to consider that many of your patients may struggle with some type of mood disorder and want an alternative, or an augmentation, to standard mood-stabilizing drugs. In cases such as these, the herb rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) may be an excellent option. What is this herb, and how can it help your patients improve their mood?
Rhodiola, sometimes referred to as golden root or arctic root, grows wild in cold mountainous areas of Europe and Asia. The plant itself is often used as ground cover, while its root has been used for centuries in traditional medicine throughout Scandinavia and Russia. The two main active ingredients in the root, rosavin and salidroside, are aptogens, which can help the body and brain regulate its response to stress.
Stress and anxiety
Rhodiola’s adaptogenic quality makes it ideal for helping to overcome stress and anxiety. A 2017 article in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment examined the effect of rhodiola in treating burnout as a result of stress and anxiety.2 A group of 118 patients received 400 mg of rhodiola daily for 12 weeks. Improvement in stress symptoms was seen by the end of the study, with some areas showing improvement as soon as one week into the study.2
Fatigue can often be a symptom of depression. A 2017 article from Complementary Medicine Research examined the effect of rhodiola benefits in treating fatigue associated with stress.3 A group of 100 patients with symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome were given 200 mg of rhodiola twice a day, over the course of eight weeks. Similar to the study in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, symptoms started to improve starting at the first week and continued throughout the remainder of the study.3
Depression is, by far, the most common type of mental issue. Unfortunately, standard medications to treat symptoms of depression often come with a wide range of undesirable side effects. A 2015 article in Phytomedicine provided results from a study comparing rhodiola to either the popular prescription antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) or a placebo.4 A group of 57 patients diagnosed with depression were randomized to receive 340 mg of rhodiola, 50 mg of Zoloft, or a placebo over the course of 12 weeks. The dose of rhodiola was increased over time, depending on patient response.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that, while Zoloft was more effective at treating symptoms of depression, patients tolerated rhodiola better and had fewer adverse events. The researchers concluded: “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.”4
Given the prevalence of mood disorders in the general population, you may wish to consider including questions about them as part of your general medical history questionnaire. Additionally, supplements such as rhodiola may provide your patients options to standard mood-stabilizing medications. If they wish to use it in addition to standard medication, you should strongly advise them to also talk to their prescribing physician.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health by the numbers. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers Updated Dec. 6, 2018. Accessed March 24, 2019.
Kasper S, Dienel A. Multicenter, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2017;13:889-898.
Lekomtseva Y, Zhukova I, Wacker A. Rhodiola rosea in subjects with prolonged or chronic fatigue symptoms: Results of an open-label clinical trial. Complementary Medicine Research. 2017;24:46-52.
Mao JJ, Xie SX, Zee J, et al. Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2015;22(3):394-399.