It's not often that results of herbal clinical trials are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. One herb, Rhodiola rosea, has just had such an honor, and came out as very powerful support for those with mild-to-moderate depression. The abstract for this double-blind, placebo controlled study is show below. But first, a bit of general information about Rhodiola.
This tonic herb dates back to the early history of Scandinavia. Viking kings passed laws that prohibited taking more than a certain amount of root out of the ground, as the plant was valuable as a medicine and in demand by their trading partners. In 1943, this herb was discovered to be one of a category called “adaptogens” by scientists working under top-secret "Order #4654P of the People’s Commissar’s Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."
This secret research was being conducted to improve the stamina and performance of soldiers and Olympic athletes.
As originally defined by the Soviets, an adaptogen was a substance that had to 1) show some non-specific effect, such as increasing bodily resistance to physical stress, chemical stress, or biologically noxious agents, 2) have a normalizing effect on the pathology, and 3) be innocuous and not disturb bodily functions at normal levels. In other words, adaptogens help the body resist the effects of stress of all kinds and help to normalize the workings of the body. These plants identified by Soviet scientists were indeed special tonics.
Rhodiola was one of the original adaptogens identified in this early work, which also included Eleutherococcus senticosus, Schizandra chinensis and several other botanicals -- each of which had the common effects of the adaptogen category, along with specific advantages for each herb in a given area. For Rhodiola, it was energy and mood elevation.
Much of the Vikings early use of Rhodiola would later be substantiated by clinical trials performed by a variety of academic researchers in Russia, Sweden and other parts of the world where these plants grow. Those benefits include protection against stress, support of a positive mood, mental clarity, and assistance in bringing the body back to its normal level of energy. The follow research paper is published in the September 2007 issue of the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry:
Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 2007 V. 61, No. 5, Rhodiola rosea and the Treatment of Depression
V.Darbinyan, G.Aslanyan, E.Amroyan, E.Gabrielyan , C.Malmstro, A.Panossian (The PBM Clinic, Institute of Health Competence, Stockholm-Globen,Sweden)
Abstract: The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy and safety of standardized extract SHR-5 rhizomes of Rhodiola rosea L. in patients suffering from a current episode of mild/moderate depression. The phase III clinical trial was carried out as a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study with parallel groups over 6 weeks. Participants, males and females aged 18-70 years, were selected according to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression, the severity of which was determined by scores gained in Beck Depression Inventory and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) questionnaires. Patients with initial HAMD scores between 21-31 were randomised into three groups, one of which (group A: 30 patients) received 340 mg/day, a second (group B: 29 patients) received two tablets 680 mg/day, and a third (group C: 29 patients) received two placebo tablets daily. The efficacy of the extract with respect to depressive complaints was assessed on days 0 and 42 of the study period from total and specific subgroup HAMD scores. For individuals in groups A and B, overall depression together with insomnia, emotional instability and somatisation, but not self-esteem, improved significantly following medication, whilst the placebo group did not show such improvements. No serious side effects were reported in any of the groups A-C. It is concluded that the standardised extract shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression when administered in dosages of either 340 or 680 mg/day over a 6 week period.