People who suffer from depression may soon have a new treatment option with fewer side effects: the natural herb roseroot or Rhodiola rosea. A new study has found that roseroot may help alleviate the symptoms of depression as well as prescription medications do but without the harsh side effects.

Roseroot is a perennial flowering plant that grows in colder regions of the world, including much of the Arctic. In fact, it's been used for centuries by inhabitants of Siberia and Scandinavia to deal with the doldrums associated with living in a cold, barren environment. Recently, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at how roseroot compares to prescription medication in alleviating the symptoms of depression. 

For the study, researchers recruited 57 participants who had exhibited two or more major symptoms of depression for at least two weeks. Over the course of 12 weeks, the participants received either roseroot, the antidepressant sertraline or a placebo. The study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled comparison trial, found that roseroot relieved depression symptoms almost as well as sertraline, which is the active ingredient in medications like Zoloft. Participants receiving roseroot were 1.4 times more likely to show improvement than those taking a placebo, while those taking sertraline were 1.9 times more likely. According to the researchers, the difference between roseroot and sertraline was statistically insignificant. 

But the real difference came in the side effects felt by the participants. About 63 percent of participants taking sertraline experienced side effects such as nausea or sexual dysfunction compared to only 30 percent of participants taking the roseroot. For this reason, researchers think roseroot might make a good alternative to prescription medication, particularly for those who have a hard time taking medication due to side effects.

"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," said lead researcher Jun Mao, associate professor at Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania.  

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