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Rhodiola Rosea Benefits (Scientific Research)

Rhodiola rosea is a perennial plant in the Crassulaceae family that grows in cold, mountainous regions and/or on cliffs.  Rhodiola is most commonly extracted from regions such as the Arctic, Central Asia, as well as the Alps, Pyrenees, and Carpathian mountains.  The flower produced by rhodiola rosea is visible as a yellowish or yellow-green color, and may contain subtle amounts of red within its tips.

As a supplement, rhodiola rosea is classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning its ingestion shifts neurophysiology towards homeostasis.  Many people that have taken mind-altering psychiatric drugs and illicit substances find that their neurophysiology becomes significantly disrupted as a result of long-term consistent ingestion of these exogenous chemicals.  In other words, their neurophysiology has shifted significantly away from pre-drug homeostasis.

Supplementation of rhodiola rosea holds potential to restore normative neurophysiology as a result of its well-documented adaptogenic effect.  Furthermore, it is believed that supplementation of rhodiola may alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress, and various forms of depression.  Many consider rhodiola to be a “jack of all trades” supplement in that it can simultaneously improve multiple neurological abnormalities.

Rhodiola Rosea: Mechanism of Action (How It Works)

Rhodiola rosea’s exact mechanism of action is complex and remains unclear.  It is capable of slowing enzymatic breakdown of various neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin).  Various phytochemical compounds within rhodiola (rosavins, rosiridin, salidroside) act by inhibiting monoamine oxidase – an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters. In other words, rhodiola rosea could be classified as an herbal MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor).

The specific compound within rhodiola rosea that is elicits the greatest monoamine inhibitory effect is “rosiridin.”  Rosiridin is noted as specifically inhibiting MAO-B to a significant extent (over 80%).  In addition to MAO-B inhibition, the herb has been documented as inhibiting MAO-A.  Upon inhibition of monoamine oxidase, the brain is able to receive greater concentrations of essential neurotransmitters.

The increase in concentrations of various neurotransmitters leads to improved neural communication.  In addition to increasing levels of neurotransmitters, rhodiola is thought to improve efficiency and speed of monoamine transportation.  In other words, rhodiola assists the brain in moving around neurochemical messengers.

In addition to the enhancement of neurotransmission, rhodiola rosea is noted to modulate catecholamine release and cAMP levels in the myocardium during exposure to stressors.  Furthermore, it is known to interact with the HPA system – facilitating the reduction of cortisol.  Other proposed mechanisms include interactions with protein kinases p-JNK, nitric oxide, defense mechanism proteins (e.g. heat shock proteins), and regulation of beta-endorphins and opioid peptides.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19168123
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7756969
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25172797

Rhodiola Rosea Benefits (Scientific Research)

Highlighted below are many of the [hypothetical] benefits associated with the herb rhodiola rosea.  Understand that while there is scientific evidence in support of many of these benefits, there may be limitations associated with the research.  That said, many anecdotal reports document noticeable attained benefits from rhodiola supplementation.

Anticancer effect: Many reports document potential anticancer effects of Rhodiola rosea.  Research in 2004 noted that certain preparations of Rhodiola was capable of inhibiting the growth of cancerous tumors.  Evidence in 2008 documented Rhodiola as an herb capable of stimulating the immune system.

This research suggested that Rhodiola has potent anticancer effects that could be utilized for the treatment of leukemia.  Following up research highlighting anticancer effects in 2008, another study published in 2011 documented the potential of salidroside (a bioactive compound within Rhodiola) to inhibit growth of bladder cancer.  Researchers concluded that salidroside may be useful to treat and prevent bladder cancer.

Another 2015 publication investigated the effect of salidroside for the treatment of colon cancer.  They analyzed its effect on “SW1116 cells” (colon cancer cells) by administering high doses of salidroside (10/20/50 μg/ml).  They noted that it suppressed additional growth of these cells, but the specific mechanisms of action warrant additional research.

It should be noted that much of the research conducted has been in rodents rather than humans.  Many speculate similar anticancer effects could be attained by humans with regular supplementation.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21520297
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18241696
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15252224
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25755753

Antidepressant effect: Rhodiola rosea has long been regarded as an effective herbal antidepressant.  In fact, some reports suggest that Rhodiola rosea may be a favorable treatment over pharmaceutical antidepressants for cases of mild to moderate depression due to its favorable side effect profile.

2015: A group of researchers conducted a proof of concept trial to investigate the efficacy and safety of Rhodiola rosea for the treatment of mild to moderate depression.  In this study, they compared Rhodiola rosea to the popular pharmaceutical antidepressant Zoloft (Sertraline).  Authors hypothesized that Rhodiola could produce similar therapeutic benefit to Zoloft with less side effects.

The design of the study was a randomized and placebo-controlled, and was part of a Phase II clinical trial.  A total of 57 individuals participated in the clinical trial over the course of 12 weeks.  These individuals received either: Rhodiola rosea extract, Zoloft (Sertraline), or a placebo.

Baseline measures were taken using the Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Clinical Global Impression Change (CGI/C).  Results suggested that none of the treatment groups experienced significant reductions in depression scores.  HAM-D score reductions were greatest among those receiving Zoloft (-8.2), followed by Rhodiola rosea (-5.1), and then the placebo (-4.6).

Authors noted that Rhodiola rosea may produce less reduction in depressive symptoms compared to Zoloft, but also had significantly less side effects – making it well-tolerated. (Read: Rhodiola Rosea side effects).  They noted that Rhodiola rosea may have a superior risk-benefit profile for those with mild or moderate depressive symptoms.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25837277

2007:  A study was published in 2007 documenting the efficacy and safety of Rhodiola rosea rhizomes (SHR-5) for the treatment of mild to moderate depression.  This study was part of a Phase III clinical trial and was conducted in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled format.  A total of 99 participants that were diagnosed with depression were divided into 3 groups: Group A – taking 340 mg/day (2 tablets of SHR-5), Group B – taking 680 mg/day (2 tablets twice per day of SHR-5), and Group C – taking 2 placebo tablets daily.

Prior to the trial, assessments were conducted to record baseline scores of depression using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Hamilton-Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D).  After 42 days, these same measures were collected and compared to the baseline.  It was noted that individuals in Group A and Group B experienced significant improvements in depressive symptoms, insomnia, emotional instability, and somtatization.

Those receiving the placebo in Group C did not report any significant symptomatic improvement.  Researchers concluded that the extract SHR-5 is capable of producing a potent antidepressant effect when administered at doses of 340 mg/day or 680 mg/day for 6 consecutive weeks.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17990195

2008: A study discovered the effect of Rhodiola supplementation on dietary intake of sucrose and water in depressive rats.  Researchers wanted to specifically understand how Rhodiola rosea influenced body weight among rats with depression caused by stress.  For this study, rats endured chronic stress for a month to become depressed.

Following the stress-induced depression, the rats were given Rhodiola for 3 weeks.  Measures of body weight, sucrose intake, and water consumption were recorded weekly.  Among the rats who didn’t receive Rhodiola supplementation, decreased intake of sucrose and body weight was noted.  Those receiving the Rhodiola experienced increases in body weight and sucrose intake to match the control group.

Results suggest possibly adaptogenic mechanisms of Rhodiola supplementation, perhaps reversing stress-induced depression.  In addition, the results suggest that Rhodiola rosea may help appetite changes (particularly reduction) associated with depression.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18782541

2007: In a report assessing the adaptogenic effects of Rhodiola rosea, authors noted that extracts with 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside stimulate an antidepressant effect in mice.  This antidepressant effect occurs when doses of Rhodiola rosea extract are administered at 10 mg/kg, 15 mg/kg, and 20 mg/kg.  The antidepressant effect does not appear to be associated with the dose – all dosing options facilitate a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Even more exciting is the fact that Rhodiola rosea extracts demonstrate antidepressant effects after the first administration.  In other words, mice can derive benefit from Rhodiola rosea extract after taking just one dose.  Many speculate similar antidepressant effects can be derived by humans.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17072830

Anxiety treatment: Many people find Rhodiola extremely effective for simultaneously reducing anxiety and boosting mood.  This is due to the fact that it slows the enzymatic breakdown of various neurotransmitters, leading to increased levels of serotonin and reducing levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).

2007: In 2007, researchers investigated the effects of oral Rhodiola rosea supplementation (with 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside) in mice.  Researchers collected a variety of information regarding the herb’s antidepressant, adaptogenic, anxiolytic, nociceptive, and locomotor effects.  The dosages administered to mice included: 10 mg/kg, 15 mg/kg, and 20 mg/kg.

Results from this study suggested that Rhodiola rosea significantly reduced anxiety, producing anxiolytic effects in mice.  This effect didn’t have any association with dosage – higher doses didn’t produce any additional anxiolytic effect.  Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the anxiolytic effect was attained with simultaneous increased stimulation.

Most anxiolytic agents tend to decrease activity in the CNS and make us feel drowsy; reducing our arousal.  In some people, Rhodiola may reduce anxiety without reducing energy levels or causing brain fog – a phenomenon often associated with antidepressant and/or benzodiazepine usage.

2008: In 2008, researchers sought to determine whether Rhodiola rosea could significantly reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).  They noted that while the herb has been noted to produce anxiolytic effects, it was unknown as to whether it could produce clinical symptomatic relief.  The researchers set up a small-scale pilot study with a total of 10 participants – all of whom had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

All participants were middle-aged (between 34 and 55 years old) and were recruited by UCLA Anxiety Disorders Program to participate in the study.  All participants received 340 mg of Rhodiola rosea on a daily basis for a term of 10 weeks.  Prior to the study, their baseline level of anxiety was measured with the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS).

Secondary measures included the Four-Dimensional Anxiety and Depression Scale and the Clinical Global Impressions of Severity/Improvement Scale.  Participants taking Rhodiola at 340 mg daily for 10 weeks had significantly reduced levels of anxiety (compared to baseline) as determined by the HARS.  The significant reduction in anxiety reported in this pilot study is similar to reductions documented in clinical trials.

Authors suggest further research be conducted to expand upon these preliminary findings.  Specifically larger-scale, double-blind, placebo controlled studies would give Rhodiola more credibility as a clinically-effective anxiolytic herb.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17072830
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18307390

Brain fog: There are many people suffering from “brain fog,” a condition characterized by inability to think clearly and slowed cognitive function.  There are many causes of brain fog including: mood disorders, anxiety, neurotransmitter imbalances, abnormal brain waves, etc.  Some individuals may find that Rhodiola rosea helps correct various neural abnormalities and significantly decreases brain fog.

Rhodiola is known to have a stimulating effect, and can simultaneously reduce anxiety while increasing stimulation.  This may be due to the fact that it acts as an MAOI, allowing for increases in dopamine and serotonin.  It also is thought to alter hormone levels associated with stress such as cortisol.

The fact that Rhodiola rosea is considered an adaptogen means it functions to restore neurophysiological homeostasis.  This means that it corrects imbalances in your brain and physiology that could be contributing to your brain fog.  While no scientific studies have been conducted to investigate Rhodiola’s potential brain fog reducing effect, many anecdotal claims suggest benefit.

Cardioprotective effect: There is increasing evidence that Rhodiola supplementation may protect your heart or be “cardioprotective.”  A study conducted in 1994 analyzed the effect of Rhodiola rosea on stress-induced cardiac damage.  Researchers determined the degree of stress-induced cardiac damage by evaluating accumulation of “99mTc-pyrophosphate” in the heart.

Administration of Rhodiola rosea was noted to elicit cardioprotective effects by inhibiting stress-induced cardiac damage.  The mechanism behind the cardioprotective properties may have been related to inhibition of catecholamine release and simultaneous inhibition of cAMP increases in the myocardium.  In addition, it was noted to lower adrenal-induced catecholamine production during stress.

The simultaneous anxiolytic and cardioprotective mechanisms of Rhodiola rosea result in less accumulation of “99mTc-pyrophosphate” – suggesting less damage and greater protection.  A publication in 2004 suggested that the bioactive compounds (salidroside, rosin, rosavin, rosarin, tyrosol) may all inhibit stress-induced heart damage and arrythmias.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7756969
  • Source: Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15252224

Cognitive function: There is some evidence suggesting that Rhodiola rosea supplementation may improve cognitive function, especially among individuals with deficits.  A study published in 2007 evaluated the safety and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea in treating physical and cognitive deficits.  A total of 120 adults participated in the study (50 to 89 years old) and all were noted to have physical and cognitive dysfunction.

The 120 participants were divided into 2 groups: one group of 60 participants received 2 capsules of Rhodiola rosea after breakfast, while the other group (of 60 participants) took 1 capsule after breakfast and 1 following lunch.  Cognitive and physical function was recorded at baseline (prior to treatment), again after 6 weeks, and following 12 weeks.  Results indicated that significant rates of improvement in both physical and cognitive function were reported in all 120 participants.

Furthermore, following 12 weeks of supplementation, the average time to complete a cognitive “digit test” significantly decreased.  The group taking 2 capsules of Rhodiola rosea after breakfast experienced greater benefit than the alternate dosing regimen.  The treatment was considered effective for over 80% of patients as documented by self-reports and physicians – and was regarded as safe.

While future research is necessary to expand upon these findings, it is clear that Rhodiola rosea is capable of improving cognitive and physical functionality.  In addition, the herbal extract may serve as a nootropic or cognitive enhancer among those without any notable cognitive deficits.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17901042

Drug withdrawal: Many people undergoing withdrawal from psychiatric drugs end up with significant imbalances in neurotransmission, hormone levels, and as a result, have a difficult time resetting their homeostatic neurophysiological functioning.  Many people experience antidepressant-induced chemical imbalances when they discontinue treatment.  These imbalances may lead to post-acute withdrawal syndrome or a discontinuation lasting significantly longer than expected.

Among the 10 best supplements for antidepressant withdrawal, or withdrawal from any substance is Rhodiola rosea.  While this supplement cannot be taken with a pharmaceutical antidepressant, it can be taken after you’ve fully discontinued.  As a result of the adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola, it may help correct neurotransmitter abnormalities, reduce stress, and restore homeostatic functioning among those undergoing withdrawal.

It is likely to mitigate many withdrawal symptoms and expedite the recovery process.  Rhodiola is thought to help reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and fatigue that often occur during withdrawal.

2012: A study published in 2012 suggested that Rhodiola rosea extract is capable of reducing nicotine withdrawal symptoms.  Upon cessation of nicotine, many people experience depression, decreased libido, and decreased serotonin levels.  Research suggests that Rhodiola rosea improves behavior, serotonin metabolism and receptor expression, and increases serotonin among those undergoing nicotine withdrawal.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22921986

2010: There is also evidence that Rhodiola rosea could improve symptoms of hormone withdrawal.  Many individuals require exogenous supplementation of hormones for various health conditions (e.g. hypothyroidism).  There is some evidence suggesting that Rhodiola rosea supplementation may mitigate symptoms associated with discontinuation of exogenous hormone administration.

Individuals undergoing testosterone withdrawal theoretically may be able to offset some of the symptoms with Rhodiola.  In this 2010 study, researchers noted that Rhodiola rosea stimulates the nervous system, reduces depression, improves work performance, and reduces fatigue associated with hormone deficiencies.  Among those discontinuing exogenous hormone administration, Rhodiola may combat discontinuation symptoms until the body is capable of sufficiently producing adequate levels of endogenous hormones.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946017

Energy increase: Many studies have noted that those taking Rhodiola rosea extract experience significant increases in both physical and cognitive energy.  Those taking Rhodiola tend to experience reduced elevations in stress hormones like cortisol which are known to reduce energy.  In addition, Rhodiola is capable of increasing various neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine – both of which improve neural efficiency.

There is more evidence for energy increases among those who want to increase physical endurance and sports performance.  Not everyone will experience reductions in mental fatigue, but most studies suggest modest to moderate benefit.  Those with drug withdrawal induced fatigue or even symptoms of chronic fatigue could notice significant energy increases from Rhodiola.

Exercise performance: In a study published in 2013, the effect of rhodiola rosea on exercise performance was documented.  Researchers wanted to understand how oral administration of rhodiola rosea at 3 mg would affect exercise endurance and performance.  They also sought to determine whether participants experienced significant changes in perceived exertion, mood, and cognition.

This was a small-scale study, with a total of 18 participants assigned to receive either rhodiola rosea (3 mg) or a placebo (carbohydrates) approximately 1 hour prior to exercise testing.  The study was considered double-blind and randomized.  The test to evaluate exercise performance included a warm-up (10 minutes) and a 6-mile time trial with a stationary bike (ergometer).

Researchers documented rates of perceived exertion (RPEs) in 5 minute intervals during the time trial with a 10-point Borg scale.  They noted concentrations of: blood lactate, salivary cortisol, and salivary alpha amylase.  Other measures included: Profile of Mood States questionnaire and a Stroop Color Test.  All tests were completed prior to the warm-up and after the time trial.

Results indicated that supplementation of 3 mg rhodiola rosea significantly decreased heart rate during the warm-up compared to the placebo.  In addition, participants that had received the rhodiola rosea completed time trials significantly faster than those receiving the placebo and rates of perceived exertion (RPEs) were documented as being lower.  Authors concluded that rhodiola significantly improves exercise performance by reducing rate of perceived exertion and decreasing heart rate during phases of submaximal effort (e.g. warm-ups).

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23443221

Fatigue: Many people note significant increases in energy upon supplementation of Rhodiola rosea extract.  The increase in energy is thought to be substantial among individuals suffering from various forms of fatigue.  Regardless of whether a person has stress-induced fatigue, chronic fatigue, exercise-related fatigue, or work-related fatigue – Rhodiola rosea extract may help.

2015: Research published in 2015 suggests that fermented Rhodiola rosea extract is capable of reducing fatigue associated with exercise stress.  Prior to this research, there was substantial evidence indicating that Rhodiola rosea is likely to protect the physiology from exercise-induced fatigue.  This study was the first of its kind in that it analyzed the effect of fermented Rhodiola rosea extract.

Authors of the study noted that fermented Rhodiola rosea effectively combated exercise fatigue and stress.  This effect was noted to increase swimming time in mice, and altered biomarkers including: hepatic superoxide dismutase and serum lactate dehydrogenase.  It was noted that fatigue induced via strenuous physical activity can be offset with fermented Rhodiola rosea supplementation.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25866748

2009: Many people suffer with stress-induced fatigue.  Stress uses up excess energy stores to facilitate the fight-or-flight response and help us escape from danger.  Unfortunately, when this response is prolonged, we may experience adrenal fatigue and end up with significant reductions in physical and/or mental energy.

Researchers sought to determine whether administration of SHR-5 (an extract from Rhodiola rosea) could serve as an effective treatment for stress-induced fatigue.  This study was conducted as part of a Phase III clinical trial with a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design.  A total of 60 participants were divided into 2 groups: one received 576 mg/day of SHR-5 (four tablets), while the second received placebo tablets (four times per day).

Baseline measures were recorded with the SF-36 questionnaire (quality of life), Pines’ burnout scale (fatigue), Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (depression), Conners’ Computerized Continuous Performance Test 2 (attention), and saliva cortisol levels.  Significant reductions in stress-induced fatigue were noted in both groups, but the SHR-5 provided significantly greater symptomatic relief.

Researchers suggest that SHR-5 reduces fatigue significantly, while improves mental performance and decreases cortisol among patients that have experienced burnout with fatigue syndrome.  If you’ve suffered from a nervous breakdown and happen to feel fatigued, supplementation of SHR-5 or Rhodiola rosea may provide significant benefit.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404

2000: An earlier study published in 2000 analyzed the effect of low-dose SHR-5 (derived from Rhodiola rosea) on fatigue among night-shift physicians.  A total of 56 physicians participated in the study and baseline measures were assessed with a Fatigue Index.  All mental performance tests indicated mental fatigue associated with slowed cognitive performance.

The study was conducted in double-blind, crossover trial format.  Five testing protocols indicated significant improvement among those taking SHR-5 supplementation during the first 2 weeks.  Results indicated that SHR-5 reduces general fatigue associated with stressful conditions.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11081987

Libido increase: While there is no definitive scientific evidence suggesting that Rhodiola rosea increases libido, many anecdotal reports suggest that supplementation may boost sex drive.  There are numerous potential mechanisms by which Rhodiola exhibits a libido enhancing effect including: increasing neurotransmitters, combating stress, reducing fatigue, and restoring homeostasis.

When a person’s neurophysiology gets knocked out of homeostasis, many people notice reductions in libido.  This is due to the fact that their neurochemistry is imbalanced, hormone levels are altered, and energy levels may be low.  Since Rhodiola has been noted to correct imbalances and increase energy – it makes theoretical sense that libido may also increase.

Neuroprotective agent: There are numerous studies highlighting the ability of Rhodiola rosea to function as a neuroprotective agent, protecting brain cells from damage, reducing inflammation, and possibly promoting neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons).  Some speculate that Rhodiola could prevent the development of certain neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and improve outcomes among individuals that experience lesions.

2013: It is well known that excessive inflammation may trigger an array of neurological disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases.  Researchers tested the effect of Rhodiola rosea on expression of the iNOS protein and proinflammatory cytokines.  They discovered that Rhodiola rosea was able to suppress inflammation in a dose-dependent manner.

In other words, the greater the dose administered, the greater the suppression of inflammation.  Inflammatory reduction was noted via various biomarkers in the kidney and prefrontal cortex of mice.  In addition, the bioactive compound of rosin (within Rhodiola rosea) protected neurons from glutamatergic neurotoxicity.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23690847

2013: Researchers investigated whether Rhodiola rosea extract may inhibit neurotoxicity in the brains of rats.  It was noted that administration of Rhodiola rosea extract significantly reduced measures of oxidative stress and MPTP-induced biochemical alterations.  This suggests that Rhodiola could preserve optimal brain functioning in rats, but the mechanism of action warrants further investigation.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25206012

2012: Another study was able to demonstrate neuroprotective effects from Rhodiola rosea extract.  Specifically, the bioactive compound of salidroside protects neurons from apoptosis (cell death) induced by glutamate and hydrogen peroxide.  In other words, Rhodiola rosea (specifically the salidroside) can increase survival rates of neurons and protect against both membrane and morphological damage induced by oxidative stressors.

Authors note significant neuroprotective effect derived from bioactive compounds of Rhodiola rosea.  They specifically suggest that supplement formulations with large amounts of salidroside may provide superior neuroprotection compared to other formulations.  In particular, the Rhodiola rosea extract is able to increase antioxidant activity which protects cortical neurons.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22086763

2012: A study investigated the neuroprotective effect of salidroside (from Rhodiola rosea extract) and an analogue of salidroside called “tyrosol galactoside.”  Researchers assessed the degree by which these compounds protected against focal cerebral ischemic injuries (strokes) in rats.  Both compounds were able to provide antioxidative action and prevent ischemic injuries – significantly protecting neurons from damage.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22095090

2010: In 2010, the therapeutic efficacy of Phytomix-40 was investigated for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.  Phytomix-40 is a compound consisting of 40 plant extracts, one of which happens to be Rhodiola rosea.  The Phytomix-40 compound was noted as: improving immune function, hormonal markers, and exhibiting antioxidant effects among individuals with Parkinson’s disease.  This suggests that Rhodiola rosea may aid in the symptomatic reduction among those with neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21165417

2009: In a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers investigated the effect of Rhodiola rosea extract.  They sought to determine whether the herbal supplement would improve cognitive function, reduce oxidative stress, and possibly prevent injury to neurons in the hippocampus of rat brains.  The rat brains experienced a controlled lesion and behaviors were monitored.

Results suggested that during a maze test, the lesion resulted in significant reductions in spatial learning and memory.  In addition, neurons in the hippocampus were severely damaged.  However, administration of Rhodiola rosea prior to the lesion resulted in significant protection from cognitive deficits, neuron loss, and oxidative stress.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19950527

Neurotransmitter restoration: If you have a neurochemical imbalance, particularly one involving serotonin (5-HT), Rhodiola rosea extract has potential to correct the condition.  A 2009 study investigated the effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on serotonin levels, cell proliferation, and number of neurons within the hippocampal region of rats with depression induced by chronic mild stress.  The study incorporated 70 rats, all of which were divided into 10 groups – three of which were treated with Rhodiola rosea extract (low, medium, and high doses).

Just 3 weeks of treatment with Rhodiola rosea had increased levels of brain cells within the hippocampus.  In addition, Rhodiola rosea had increased serotonin levels from a deficiency stemming from several weeks of chronic mild stress.  Stress-induced neurotransmitter reduction, particularly serotonin – can be replenished with Rhodiola rosea supplementation.

Other research has suggested that the adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea can alter various monoamines (neurotransmitters) and opioid peptides (e.g. beta-endorphins).  The changes in neurotransmission as a result of Rhodiola are thought to be beneficial for mood and cognitive function.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19403286
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11410073

Sports performance: There is some evidence to suggest that Rhodiola rosea may help athletes by improving performance.  The hypothesized mechanisms responsible for promoting improved athletic performance include: increasing utilization of fatty acids, enhancing antioxidant activity, and improving resistance to physically strenuous exercise.  A study published in 2010 analyzed the effect of Rhodiola rosea on competitive athletes during an endurance exercise.

Researchers administered Rhodiola rosea for a 4 week term to 14 athletes; all were male.  Baseline measures were taken at baseline and included: cardio-pulmonary exhaustion tests and extraction of blood samples (for antioxidant evaluation).  The collected data was compared to the same 14 athletes after ingestion of a placebo.

The results noted that Rhodiola rosea supplementation reduced: plasma free fatty acids, blood lactate, and plasma creatine kinase.  This suggests that supplementation with Rhodiola may help reduce skeletal muscle damage, enhance the effect of fatty acids, and improve exercise performance.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20308973

Stress reduction: As was already mentioned, Rhodiola rosea can produce a substantial anxiolytic effect and alleviate symptoms of anxiety.  The anxiolytic effect may significantly help those suffering from acute or long-term stress.  It appears that Rhodiola may reverse stress-induced appetite changes, neurotransmitter reductions, and hippocampal cell levels.  In addition, improvement associated with Rhodiola supplementation may occur in as little as a few days.

2012: A study was conducted in 2012 to document the therapeutic effect of Rhodiola rosea extract among individuals with life-stress symptoms.  The study was considered non-randomized and open-label and consisted of 101 participants.  All of these participants received 200 mg of Rhodiola rosea twice per day for a period of 4 weeks.

Baseline measures included the following: Numerical Analogue Scales of Subjective Stress Symptoms, Perceived Stress Questionnaire, Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory 20, Numbers Connecting Test, Sheehan Disability Scale, and Clinical Global Impressions.  The variety of scales was implemented to document an array of stress-related symptoms.  Following 4 weeks of Rhodiola supplementation, significant improvements were noted on all measures of stress.

Some participants experienced significant symptomatic improvement within just 3 days of treatment, and continued therapeutic benefit between 1 week and 1 month.  Supplementation of Rhodiola was considered well-tolerated and a clinically effective treatment for stress.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617

2009: The anti-stress properties of Rhodiola rosea are often considered medicinal among those living in Europe and Asia.  Many studies have documented stress reduction effects associated with Rhodiola rosea supplementation in rats.  In addition to stress relief, Rhodiola rosea elicits an andaptogenic effect, which may reverse neurophysiological changes induced by stress.

A study published in 2009 documented the effect of chronic Rhodiola rosea extract (3% rosavin and 1% salidroside) among rats exposed to 6 weeks of chronic mild stress.  Researchers wanted to determine whether the Rhodiola supplementation could prevent stress-induced behavioral and physiological alterations.  Measures of food intake, body weight, and behaviors were all documented.

After 3 weeks of chronic mild stress, rats received the Rhodiola for the next 3 weeks.  A reference treatment of Prozac (Fluoxetine) was also analyzed.  The initial 3 weeks of mild stress reduced food intake, reduced exploratory behavior, and minimized weight gain.  Rhodiola supplementation reversed all stress-induced changes comparable to Prozac (Fluoxetine).

This study reveals that Rhodiola supplementation may inhibit both behavioral and psychological changes associated with chronic mild stress.  While this effect hasn’t been confirmed in humans, many speculate a similar reversal of stress-induced changes; especially those stemming from mild-stressors.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515456

2007:  Authors of a 2007 study highlight the fact that Rhodiola rosea alters the stress-response system.  It is known that physical and psychological stress results in decreased food intake among rodents.  Researchers tested Rhodiola rosea (3% rosavin and 1% salidroside) and determined whether it would reverse stress-induced hypophagia (decreased food intake).

The study demonstrated that administration of Rhodiola rosea (15 and 20 mg/kg) successfully normalized feeding patterns from stress induced via immobilization and CRF injections – thus mitigating hypophagia.  The evidence from this study suggests that Rhodiola is capable of normalizing appetite among rodents exposed to stress.  Authors speculate that the anti-stress and adaptogenic properties are responsible for this effect.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17259204

1994: It is known that high levels of stress can be detrimental to cardiovascular functioning.  Specifically, significant stress can damage the heart and trigger arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).  Research from the 1990s suggests that Rhodiola rosea is able to lower adrenal catecholamine production as a result of stress.

In addition to reducing catecholamine production, it also decreases cAMP levels in the myocardium (muscle wall of the heart).  Among those with stress-induced cardiovascular damage, Rhodiola rosea may be an effective herbal intervention to prevent future damage.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7756969

Note: It should be noted that some of these speculative benefits may be highly subject to individual variation based on neurophysiology, genetics, and specific type (and brand) of Rhodiola ingested.  In other words, one person may derive noticeable benefit from Rhodiola for stress reduction, while another person may notice no effect.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578

Limitations Associated with Rhodiola Rosea Research

While there is significant evidence suggesting benefit from Rhodiola rosea supplementation, much of the research has limitations.  Among the most notable limitations include: sample sizes, study designs, and the fact that rodents are being studies instead of humans.  In order to confirm the hypothesized benefits (e.g. adaptogenic effects), of Rhodiola, larger-scale human trials with improved designs are necessary.

  • Bioactive compounds: Certain studies isolate various bioactive components of Rhodiola rosea such as rosavin, rosin, rosarin, and salidroside. There are over 140 chemical compounds that have been identified within Rhodiola rosea.  It is difficult to determine the precise contents of these compounds within Rhodiola formulations.  Different ratios of these bioactive compounds have been utilized in research, making it difficult to determine whether another formulation of Rhodiola would provide the same therapeutic benefit mentioned in the study.
  • Brand of Rhodiola: There are many different brands of Rhodiola rosea on the market, some of which may be higher quality than others. When purchasing any brand of Rhodiola, it is important to find a quality company, know where they’re obtaining their Rhodiola (i.e. geographical location), determine the bioactive compounds, as well as the dose per capsule.
  • Dosage variation: In some studies there was no significant relationship between dose and therapeutic effect, while other studies have noted dose-dependent therapeutic effects. It is important to investigate the precise doses of Rhodiola that provide therapeutic benefit for specific conditions.  Most studies analyze the effects of different doses and the “minimal effective dose” for certain conditions isn’t known.
  • Evaluation (Measures): Many different “benefits” have been reported, but none have been fully confirmed. It is important to conduct follow-up evaluations with the same assessment scales utilized in preliminary trials.  It is important to use similar primary assessment scales in studies so that degree of efficacy can be compared to previous research.  For example, if the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) was used as a measure to determine antidepressant efficacy, this should be utilized as a primary measure in related-future research.
  • Participants: Many studies incorporated the usage of rodents (mice and rats) to assess the effects of Rhodiola rosea. While it is necessary to first test the therapeutic efficacy of Rhodiola in rodents, it is unknown whether the effects are similar among humans.  Therefore it is necessary to expand upon rodent research with human trials to confirm or dismiss similar therapeutic benefit in humans.  Furthermore, it should be investigated as to whether factors such as sex (male vs. female) or age (young vs. old) influence Rhodiola rosea’s efficacy.
  • Short-term studies: A majority of studies conducted were short-term (several weeks). While Rhodiola may be effective as a short-term treatment, it is unknown as to whether its therapeutic effects could be sustained for longer durations.  There’s an increasing need for moderate-term and even long-term studies (e.g. 1 year) to determine both the efficacy and safety of long-term daily supplementation.
  • Small-scale studies: Most studies of Rhodiola rosea were extremely small scale, with limited numbers of participants and non-diversified populations. There is a significant need for studies with larger, more diverse sample sizes to be conducted.  Using participant numbers in the triple-digits (i.e. 100+) would help us better understand existing outcomes.
  • Study designs: To establish clinical therapeutic efficacy for Rhodiola rosea, it is important to conduct a study with a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design. Most designs were pilot studies, some were non-randomized and/or non-placebo-controlled.  The findings derived from non-placebo-controlled and/or non-randomized studies don’t carry as much scientific credibility.
  • Type (Strain) of Rhodiola Rosea: It has been noted that the composition of chemicals within Rhodiola rosea is subject to significant variation based on the country in which it is grown. As an example, researchers have noted that contents of rosavin, rosarin, and rosin tend to be higher in Russian-grown species, whereas  Rhodiola strains from China tend to contain more geraniol and 1-octanol.  Strains from India often contain more phenylethilic alcohol, and those from Bulgaria contain greater levels of geraniol and myrtenol.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992135/

Further research is warranted to investigate Rhodiola Rosea

It is clear that further research is necessary to better understand the mechanisms of Rhodiola rosea extract in treating various psychological and other general health conditions.  In particular, it would be beneficial to conduct larger-scale studies and investigate the differences of various types of Rhodiola rosea supplements.  Moreover, it would be optimal to understand the isolated effects elicited by various bioactive compounds within the Rhodiola rosea (e.g. rosavin).

Preliminary evidence suggests that Rhodiola may protect the heart (cardioprotective), protect the brain (neuroprotective), and simultaneously boost mood while reducing anxiety.  The side effect profile associated with Rhodiola is relatively benign and most individuals do not experience significant adverse reactions.  The fact that Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen means that it could restore neurophysiological homeostasis, which is especially helpful for those dealing with drug discontinuation.

For most people, the benefits derived from supplementation significantly outweigh any drawbacks.  Despite the array of preliminary evidence suggesting Rhodiola’s utopian-esque profile, effects may be subject to significant individual variation.  Some people may consider Rhodiola a miracle supplement, while others may not notice any significant effect.

At this time, larger-scale follow-up studies incorporating randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind designs are necessary.  A majority of studies conducted have double-digit participants and poor designs.  Improvements in the research of Rhodiola rosea is necessary to give preliminary findings scientific credibility.

Personal Experience Taking Rhodiola Rosea

I’ve taken Rhodiola several times in my life, but haven’t consistently supplemented the drug on a daily basis.  The brand I take contains 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside.  Each time I supplement with Rhodiola rosea, I make sure to do it in the morning on an empty stomach because most research suggests morning supplementation is more effective than in the afternoon.

On an empty stomach, I think that I get better absorption.  In any regard, when the effect of the Rhodiola “kicks in,” I notice significantly decreased mental energy.  I’ve gotten a calming effect and my cognitive function actually slows significantly.  My ability to perform complex cognitive tasks drops significantly and my performance is noticeably compromised compared to if I function without Rhodiola supplementation.

I notice that the Rhodiola significantly reduces physical symptoms of anxiety and my body feels much less tense.  The first time I took it, I noticed a pro-social effect and felt significantly more comfortable in social situations.  This effect has been maintained other times I’ve taken it too, but despite the comfort associated with feeling calm and relaxed, it’s almost as if a cognitive roadblock has been inserted.

This limits my quick wit and I joke around less, almost as if my faster beta waves have been suppressed and alpha activity has ramped up.  I have noticed a neurophysiological “resetting” effect from supplementation.  Perhaps one of the most positive aspects of supplementing with Rhodiola is the “next day” feeling; I feel rejuvenated mentally and physically the following day.

My normative cognitive performance returns the day after supplementation, but I also feel noticeably less anxious.  Due to the array of aforementioned benefits associated with Rhodiola rosea, I generally supplement with it once a week or once every few weeks.  From my perspective, I experience a noticeable adaptogenic effect both physically and mentally.

Have you experienced benefit(s) from Rhodiola Rosea supplementation?

If you’ve taken the time to experiment with Rhodiola rosea extract supplementation, be sure to share your experience in the comments section below.  To help others get a thorough understanding of your experience, be sure to mention how long you’ve been taking it (or took it), whether you noticed any significant benefits and/or side effects, the dosage you took, and the specific formulation (or brand) you decided to take.  Also note whether you were taking any other supplements along with the Rhodiola.

It should be noted that many people derive initial benefit from Rhodiola rosea, but find that the effects wear off in time.  While no significant side effects are usually reported, and most people experience significantly more benefits than drawbacks from supplementation, everyone is different.  Understand that some people may experience no noticeable benefit from supplementation of Rhodiola rosea, while others are able to attain significant long-term benefit.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Luke July 23, 2015, 2:35 pm

    Very detailed information; thank you !!

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