What Is It?
Guidelines for Use
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale
What Is It?
A plant native to mountainous regions of Asia, parts of Europe, and the Arctic, Rhodiola rosea has long been used as a healing Herb. Traditionally it is often recommended to help combat fatigue and restore energy.
Although records show that the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides once prescribed this plant, it is primarily associated with Scandinavia and Russia. Swedish researchers, for instance, believe that the Vikings regularly used Rhodiola. And even today, a bouquet of Rhodiola may be presented to a bride and groom in Siberia to assure a rich and fruitful marriage.
Given the plant's origins, it's not really surprising that most of the research on Rhodiola rosea has been published in Slavic and Scandinavian languages. American and other Western researchers, however, have recently begun to explore Rhodiola's effect on the body and its capacity to aid in the healing process, building upon the clinical studies originally conducted in Scandinavian countries and the Soviet Union.
Of particular interest are Rhodiola’s well-documented qualities as an Adaptogen (an endurance enhancer). In this capacity it appears to help the body stay healthy and perform in top-notch condition despite physical exhaustion or environmental stresses, such as high heat or pollutants in the air and water.
Plant specialists have actually identified more than 200 different species of Rhodiola. While a number of different ones are used in traditional healing, R. rosea appears to be the most clinically effective form. The root is the part of the plant used medicinally, and some sources refer to R. rosea as "golden root" or "roseroot." (1)
In recent years dozens of uses for Rhodiola rosea have been proposed, including treating depression and fatigue, enhancing memory and intellectual capacity, increasing work performance and endurance, and stimulating the nervous system. Many of these potential benefits relate to the herb's adaptogenic qualities.
One particularly interesting aspect of Rhodiola is that it appears to work differently within the body than other adaptogens--the best known of which is the very popular herb Siberian ginseng. Rhodiola's unique mechanism of action excites researchers because it means this herb may be able to provide a therapeutic alternative to established adaptogens.
Some of the current findings on Rhodiola are still preliminary and relate to complex physiological interactions in the body's chemistry. But put simply, Rhodiola appears to work by influencing key central nervous system chemicals--neurotransmitters called monoamines (dopamine and Serotonin are examples). An imbalance of monoamines is believed to be involved in several hard-to-treat illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD); some herbalists believe taking Rhodiola to normalize monoamine levels may benefit these ailments.
In contrast, most other adaptogens, such as Siberian ginseng, seem to boost the body's reserves by enhancing the output of stress-fighting hormones from the adrenal glands.
Studies in animals suggest Rhodiola may protect against the occurrence of adrenaline-induced arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. One study showed that a single dose of Rhodiola given to rats for eight days strengthened the heart muscle of the animals. Another animal study indicated a course of treatment with Rhodiola Extract prevented the reduced blood and oxygen flow associated with heart disease. (3,8,9)
Rhodiola has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and Antioxidant activity. A recent animal study showed Rhodiola extract inhibited Inflammation while a laboratory study showed Rhodiola inhibited antimicrobial activity. Salidroside, a component of Rhodiola rosea, has shown potent antioxidant properties and may protect against Oxidative stress, which has been implicated in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. (3,10-12)
In addition to its antioxidant properties, Rhodiola extract reduced blood glucose levels in a study of diabetic mice. This indicates the extract may be beneficial for type II diabetic patients; however, more studies are needed. (13,14)
Laboratory studies with Rhodiola showed some of its components inhibited the growth of cancer cells. In addition, animal studies indicated Rhodiola inhibited tumor growth and extended survival times for various types of cancer. However, more studies are needed to determine if Rhodiola will inhibit cancerous tumor growth in humans. (3,11,15)
Other studies with Rhodiola have shown benefits in such varied areas as increased learning capacity and memory enhancement, regulation of menstrual periods and infertility, reduction of side effects from cancer chemotherapy, increased sexual libido and erectile dysfunction, enhancement of thyroid gland function, increased capacity for work and endurance, and protection from environmental toxins.(2-3)
Specifically, Rhodiola rosea may help to:
Improve performance capacity. A handful of studies have shown that Rhodiola increases performance in individuals who are working under stressful conditions. For example, a small 2000 study published in the journal Phytomedicine examined the effect of a specific extract of the herb, SHR-5, on mental fatigue in a group of 56 healthy young Armenian doctors doing night duty. In this double-blind study, measures of mental fatigue (such as impaired short-term memory, associative thinking, audio-visual perception) were very much improved after supplementation with a Rhodiola Extract compared to Placebo. (4-5)
Treat depression. In another double blind randomized controlled study using the same SHR-5 Standardized extract, subjects with mild to moderate depression receiving 340mg either once or twice a day, had significantly lower depression scores after six weeks than subjects on placebo. A total of 89 subjects were involved and, unlike conventional anti-depressants, there was no difference in side effects between the groups. (16)
Ease chronic fatigue syndrome. Rhodiola appears to have clinical benefits for chronic fatigue syndrome through a variety of mechanisms--including raising levels of neurotransmitters, improving metabolism of fatty acids, and enhancing energy molecules, such as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and CP (creatine phosphate).
Even for individuals who don't have chronic fatigue syndrome, Rhodiola is becoming increasingly popular to counter the exhaustion that occurs from working the body too hard, either physically or mentally. Rhodiola may lift problems of sleep, headache, or appetite changes related to fatigue or exhaustion. Those struggling to recover from an intense work schedule may also benefit from the herb's apparent energy-boosting powers. (6)
Treat stress and prevent stress-related illnesses. Because Rhodiola is an adaptogen, it's likely that this herb can help boost resistance to physical stresses—and the illnesses that commonly follow, from high blood pressure and heart disease to immune system suppression along with its increased susceptibility to infections. Acute stress in particular tends to shift the body's levels of endorphins and monoamines, neurochemicals that Rhodiola helps to rebalance. More clinical research is clearly needed to demonstrate this effect, but the hope is that Rhodiola taken during times of acute stress may help to stabilize the body. (3)
Ease symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Rhodiola has been used in Russia and other countries outside of the United States for decades to ease everyday insomnia, anxiety, and depression. In a 2005 pilot study, ten patients with GAD were given a total daily dose of 340mg of R. rosea extract for ten weeks. The patients showed significant improvement in their symptoms although they had mild to moderate side effects of dizziness and dry mouth. (7)
- Herbalists specify that the species of Rhodiola used in a product must be Rhodiola rosea.
- Buy Rhodiola rosea supplements from a company with a reputation for quality.
- Quality products are usually standardized to contain a set amount of rosavin, an active ingredient used in clinical studies specific to Rhodiola rosea. Look for a standardization of at least 2% rosavin.
- Carefully read the label of the product you buy. The Rhodiola content of capsules can vary from 60 mg to 300 mg, depending on the manufacturer and the rosavin concentration.
- If you are using the Tincture form of Rhodiola, 10 drops of tincture are equal to about 100 mg of Rhodiola found in a standardized herbal capsule.
- Because of the herb's stimulating effect, most studies suggest starting at a lower dose and over several days gradually increasing the amount to the recommended dose.
- For best results, after the graduated start-up period, take Rhodiola at exactly the dosage recommended, and only for short periods of time.
To improve work endurance capacity and prevent stress-related illness: 100 to 200 mg a day in anticipation of a stressful situation (increased workload, exposure to pollutants, and so on).
For chronic fatigue syndrome: 100 mg standardized to 3% rosavin, two or three times a day; dose may be increased to 200 mg three times a day if needed.
For an anticipated episode of acute stress, e.g., final examinations, an oral presentation: 200 mg a day.
Guidelines for Use
Rhodiola has been safely administered for periods ranging from one day to four months.
Until more specific information is available about long-term supplementation, take a one- to two-week pause in your daily Rhodiola regimen at least every three months to give your body a rest. In other words, for longer term use, stick to repeat cycles separated by short intervals of no supplementation.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with Rhodiola rosea. However, much remains to be learned about this herb and how it may interact with other adaptogens, such as Siberian ginseng, as well as with other dietary supplements.
Possible Side Effects
Irritability and insomnia may be a risk with high doses of Rhodiola. A high dose is considered to be daily intake above 1,500mg of a Rhodiola rosea extract standardized to contain 2% rosavin.
Mild to moderate dizziness and dry mouth have been reported at 340mg of Rhodiola rosea per day.
Care should be taken when using this herb. Research on R. rosea is still in its early stages. Even though Russian scientists have studied the herb intensively, clinical trials and more study are needed before it's clear just what to expect from taking it, and whether it may be harmful in certain circumstances.
Don't take Rhodiola during pregnancy or while breast-feeding; risks have not been adequately studied.
Because of its stimulating nature, Rhodiola should be avoided by individuals with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder.