Dear Pharmacist,

I’ve been fighting low- to mid-level depression for years and at the same time trying to avoid becoming dependent on anti-depressant medication. I’ve tried St. John’s wort, and it didn’t help me. Can you recommend another alternative treatment?

–D.C. Gainesville, Florida

Answer: Actually, yes. The herb rhodiola (Rodiolia rosea) has been safely used for centuries in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia to help people deal with stress and bounce back from debilitating illness. Many herbs have come under the scrutiny of modern science, but researchers are definitely able to validate rhodiola’s traditional uses… and then some. Rhodiola can relieve stress, lift depression and improve attitude. NFL fans, take solace, rhodiola could help you deal with the lock-out!

Rhodiola is a plant that thrives in Siberia and withstands the harshest growing conditions on the planet, so it has to be tough. Remarkably, it can help you withstand ‘harsh’ conditions too, meaning stress! Natives in Siberia and other countries along the Arctic Circle have traditionally reached for rhodiola whenever faced with dauntingly stressful challenges, both physical or mental.

In a 2007 study published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, researchers gave rhodiola extract to a group people with clinical depression -the kind that requires medical care and constant follow-up. Of the 89 study participants, only the groups which received rhodiola supplements (two different dosages) experienced “a significant anti-depressive effect” over a period of six weeks as compared to the group who were given dud pills. Physical symptoms related to depression improved, such as insomnia, emotional stability and feelings of self-esteem.

It’s just amazing that not one single study participant reported any negative side effects from taking the herb. Did you hear that? ZERO side effects! Mind you, all prescribed anti-depressants currently available come with a whole gamut of potentially devastating side effects, everything from sexual dysfunction to brain fog.

Rhodiola enhances levels of key brain chemicals such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. There is research to support it’s benefit on the heart, specifically certain cardiac arrhythmias. You can ask your cardiologist if he/she minds you trying this supplement.

Rhodiola appears to enhance performance of cosmonauts and athletes. And in a Moscow study, scientists gave rhodiola to military cadets who face mentally and physically demanding work, 24/7. The cadets receiving rhodiola performed better on a variety of tasks and experienced much less mental and physical fatigue than those who took the placebo. And get this, I found another study about students taking rhodiola before their exams! It’s a smart pill. The students all had slightly higher scores. Hmm… sounds to me like this could be a good herb to take right before a college-entry exam or a big job interview! Keep in mind, it may take a few weeks for optimal effects.

Did You Know?

Pomegranate juice helps your heart by keeping “nitric oxide” around longer, that’s a good thing.