Ancient herbal "blues remedy" matches modern antidepressants

The "go-to" drug for depression is a dangerous med given out more than 30 million times a year despite the fact that it often doesn't work, and packs big risks even when it does.

It's time to change that "go to" to something else, because new research finds a safe and natural treatment that's just as effective but comes with little to no risk.

The drug is sertraline, although you may know it better as Zoloft. Before it went generic, it was a blockbuster that did $3.3 billion in sales for Pfizer in a single year. Docs today are still so conditioned to prescribing it that they often never bother with anything else.

If you're depressed, then it's the drug for you. Don't even bother asking a mainstream doc about natural options such as herbs because chances are you'll get a sneer and lecture about the folly of "folk medicine."

Well, they got it half right anyway. It certainly is medicine, plain and simple, because a new study finds that an herbal remedy used for centuries in Europe is about as good as Zoloft for mild to moderate major depressive disorder.

This natural treatment is called roseroot aka Rhodiola rosea, and it went head-to-head against both sertraline and a placebo in 57 adults showing multiple symptoms of clinical depression such as withdrawal from activities, fatigue, weight gain and recurrent thoughts of death.

After 12 weeks, both the roseroot and the sertraline easily beat the placebo. The drug did a little better, but not enough to be considered statistically significant, according to the researchers.

But where roseroot really set itself apart from the drug came in the side effects department.

Just 30 percent of the patients on roseroot reported side effects, and all of them were extremely mild. Two patients reported nervousness, and two others experienced dizziness.

On the other hand, 63 percent of patients on sertraline reported side effects, and some of them were doozies. Half the patients who took the drug fought off nausea, while a third battled sexual dysfunction -- conditions reported by none of the patients on roseroot.

Patients on the drug also reported appetite changes, insomnia, palpitations and stomach problems.

Sounds to me like we have a winner: roseroot.

But if you're locked in a battle with depression, don't stop there. Another great option is curcumin, the compound found in the spice turmeric. In one study, curcumin supplements matched Prozac over six weeks.

Yes, Prozac and Zoloft -- two of the best-selling drugs of all time -- flat-out beaten by natural remedies, and those are far from your only options. Other safe remedies for depression include 5-htp, an amino acid that your body can convert to serotonin, as well as brain-boosting supplements such as fish oil and B vitamins.

Homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, exercise and of course a little prayer can also help you overcome the dark times.

If you want a little more help, seek the advice of a holistic medical doctor.