A new preliminary study suggests a herbal remedy may someday serve as a treatment option for depression.
This outcome stems from a small study that found the alternative medical approach provided almost the same relief without side effects.
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine (University of Pennsylvania) performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, comparison trial of an oral R. rosea (rosewood) extract versus the conventional pharmaceutical antidepressant therapy (sertraline) for mild to moderate major depressive disorder.
The study, led by Jun J. Mao, M.D., MSCE, associate professor of Family Medicine, Community Health and Epidemiology and colleagues, has been published in the journal Phytomedicine.
Depression is one of the most common and debilitating psychiatric conditions, afflicting more than 19 million Americans each year, 70 percent of whom do not fully respond to initial therapy.
Cost concerns and substantial side effects often result in a patient discontinuing use of the prescribed medications prematurely.
In the study, all 57 adult participants had a DSM IV Axis 1 diagnosis of MDD, meaning they exhibited two or more major depressive episodes, depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in life activities for at least two weeks.
They also presented symptoms including significant unintentional weight loss or gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue, and diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death.
The participants received 12 weeks of standardized R. rosea extract, sertraline, or placebo. Changes over time in Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression (CGI) change scores were measured among groups.
Patients who took sertraline were somewhat more likely — as measured by Ham-D scores — to report improvement in their symptoms by week 12 of treatment than those who took R. rosea, although these differences were not found to be statistically significant.
Patients taking R. rosea had 1.4 times the odds of improvement, and patients on sertraline had 1.9 times the odds of improvement versus those on a placebo.
However, patients on sertraline experienced twice the side effects — most commonly nausea and sexual dysfunction — than those on R. rosea: 63 percent versus 30 percent, respectively, reported side effects.
These findings suggest that R. rosea may possess a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for individuals with mild to moderate major depressive disorder.
“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,” Mao said.
“Larger studies will be needed to fully evaluate the benefit and harm of R. rosea as compared to conventional antidepressants.”