Rhodiola rosea has become a popular dietary supplement in recent years. Rhodiola rosea is a plant derived from the Crassulaceae family and is typically extracted from mountainous, cold climates where it can be found growing on cliffs; it is most commonly found in higher altitudes. For centuries, many people have used Rhodiola rosea as a natural remedy to combat anxiety, depression, and stress.
In addition, there is significant scientific evidence to suggest that Rhodiola rosea possesses adaptogenic properties, meaning it helps restore homeostasis. Supplementation with Rhodiola rosea is capable of correcting neurotransmitter imbalances, hormone abnormalities, and restoring normative physiological functioning. Plus, there is some evidence to suggest Rhodiola could prevent cancers and inhibit the growth of existing tumors.
It is no wonder that many consider Rhodiola rosea a utopian supplement. It is clear that many people reap significant benefits from taking Rhodiola on a regular (possibly daily) basis; some have been taking the supplement for years with minimal side effects. Although Rhodiola Rosea benefits are often therapeutic, it is important to beware of potential side effects that you may experience upon supplementation.
Factors that influence Rhodiola Rosea side effects
There are many factors that could influence the side effects you experience while taking Rhodiola rosea. Perhaps the most notable factors include: the type of Rhodiola you take, the dosage, how long you’ve been supplementing, whether you take any other drugs or supplements, as well as individual factors like genetics.
1. Type (Strain) of Rhodiola Rosea
There is significant variation in the side effects you may experience with one type of Rhodiola supplement compared to the other. It has been documented that there are over 140 different bioactive compounds within Rhodiola, but different strains of Rhodiola contain different quantities of these compounds. Examples of some common compounds derived from Rhodiola rosea include: rosavin, rosin, rosarin, and salidroside.
You may end up experiencing radically different side effects with one strain of Rhodiola compared to another. Most supplements contain 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside – but not all even contain these quantities; some may contain more, others may contain less. Even just 2% more rosavin could make a major difference in the effects you experience from your supplement.
Some people may experience more side effects with one particular brand compared to another. You should always be cognizant of the geographical location from which a supplement company is sourcing their Rhodiola rosea. One company may be sourcing theirs from Russia, another from China, and a third from India – all of which will have dramatically different ratios of bioactive compounds; this will lead to different side effects.
Some reports indicate that Rhodiola extracted from Russia is more likely to be higher in quantities of rosavin, rosarin, and rosin, but strains from China are higher in geraniol and 1-octanol. Strains cultivated in India may be higher in phenylethilic alcohol, whereas a strain from Bulgaria will likely contain more geraniol and myrtenol. It would make logical sense that a Chinese strain may yield side effects that differ from an Indian strain.
2. Dosage (50 mg to 2000 mg)
As with any drug or supplement, the dosage of Rhodiola taken will likely influence both the number and severity of side effects. Individuals taking a low dose may notice zero side effects, while those taking high doses or supratherapeutic quantities may be more susceptible to adverse reactions. Most supplements are manufactured to contain 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside, but dosage per supplement pill is subject to variation based on the brand.
Some people take Rhodiola rosea at small doses of just 50 mg, and at this dose, experiencing noticeable side effects is unlikely. Most people take moderate doses of Rhodiola ranging between 200 mg and 400 mg per day. At moderate doses, some side effects may be noticeable, but are unlikely to be problematic.
Individuals taking doses between 400 mg and 600 mg per day are more likely to experience side effects than lower ends of the dosing spectrum. In rare cases, some people have been reported to take between 1000 mg and 2000 mg per day, significantly increasing the likelihood of side effects and adverse reactions. Keep in mind that when taken at high doses, Rhodiola elicits a more potent effect on your neurophysiology – leading to side effects.
Regardless of whatever condition you’re attempting to treat with Rhodiola, it is recommended to take the minimal effective dose. In other words, take enough of the supplement to minimize problematic symptoms, but not significantly more; as this will alter homeostasis enough to trigger side effects.
3. Duration of supplementation
The duration of time over which you’ve supplemented may also influence side effects. Some people experience more side effects when they initially start taking Rhodiola rosea and find that once their body adapts to the supplementation, the side effects diminish. Others experience no significant side effects in the short-term, but begin to notice adverse reactions over a moderate term (months) or long term (years).
- Short-term: Most side effects experienced over the short-term are a result of your body attempting to adapt to the effects of Rhodiola. The introduction of any bioactive compound to the brain and nervous system may produce reactions (side effects). Should you experience significant short-term side effects, it could be due to the fact that you don’t tolerate Rhodiola.
- Moderate-term: Other individuals may notice that they develop side effects after a moderate period of supplementation (months). After several months, many people experiment with higher doses and find that lower doses aren’t quite as effective as in early days. The increase in dose may be responsible for the emergence of new side effects.
- Long-term: Over a long-term, it is theoretically possible to build up a tolerance to the bioactive effects of lower dose Rhodiola rosea. This may lead an individual to increase the dosage significantly over a period of years. Higher doses alter neurophysiological functioning to a greater extent than lower doses, meaning more side effects.
If you are taking any other drugs and/or supplements, it is important to consider the possibility that they may be interacting with Rhodiola rosea. While many people wrongfully assume that supplements cannot interact with other supplements and/or drugs, there is potential that interactions could trigger adverse reactions. For example, taking Rhodiola rosea with an MAOI or SSRI antidepressant may cause a condition known as “serotonin syndrome,” characterized by abnormally high serotonin levels.
Individuals that are using illicit drugs, pharmaceutical drugs (especially psychiatric), and/or other supplements should investigate all possible contraindications prior to supplementation with Rhodiola. If you notice any side effects while taking Rhodiola rosea, it is important to consider that they could be a result of an interaction and/or may be caused by the other agent rather than Rhodiola.
5. Individual variation
Why do some people experience side effects from certain drugs and supplements, yet others don’t? Much of this is a result of individual variation based on genetics, neurophysiology, arousal, and even something as simple as the time of day during which Rhodiola was taken. While there are genetic tests such as GeneSight that are helpful for predicting adverse reactions associated with antidepressants, theses tests are not available to test reactions to supplements.
Consider the fact that you may take Rhodiola rosea and experience no side effects, yet another person may take it and get dizzy or become irritable – these effects could be chalked up to certain genes. Other factors to consider that may influence side effects include: accumulated internal toxins, gut health, time of day taken, whether Rhodiola was taken with food vs. without, neurophysiology, arousal, and more.
Rhodiola Rosea Side Effects & Adverse Reactions (List)
Below is a list of side effects that you may experience while taking Rhodiola Rosea. It is important to understand that many of the side effects experienced will be subject to significant individual variation based on the aforementioned influential factors. Since Rhodiola Rosea is adaptogenic, side effects are generally mild compared to other drugs and supplements.
- Agitation: Individuals taking high doses of Rhodiola may become agitated and feel a significant amount of nervous excitement. A person may be unable to sit still and have a difficult time concentrating if they feel continuously agitated. It is thought that the stimulatory effect associated with Rhodiola rosea supplementation may be responsible for provoking feelings of agitation.
- Anxiety: While many people derive significant anxiolytic effect from Rhodiola rosea supplementation, others notice increases in anxiety. Increases in anxiety may be subject to individual variation, but could be transient and subside as a person adapts to the effect of Rhodiola. In other cases, an increase in certain neurotransmitters like serotonin could prompt an anxious response among individuals with high homeostatic concentrations.
- Blood pressure changes: While most individuals find that Rhodiola rosea doesn’t significantly affect blood pressure, others have noticed increases and/or decreases. For certain people supplementation may normalize blood pressure, yet among others it could increase it into the hypertension range. If you have a history of blood pressure changes, it may be smart to monitor your blood pressure during Rhodiola supplementation.
- Brain fog: While Rhodiola is capable of eliciting a nootropic effect and bolstering cognitive endurance, some people find that it actually causes brain fog. This brain fog, or a reduced ability to think clearly and perform cognitively demanding tasks may be transient in that it occurs during the first couple weeks of supplementation. This brain fog may be due to increases in certain neurotransmitters.
- Depression: There is some evidence that Rhodiola elicits an antidepressant effect, thus helping with depression. While many people have reaped the antidepressant benefit of Rhodiola, others find that it causes increased depression. Understand that while increases in depression could be temporary, they also may signify a neurochemistry incompatibility with Rhodiola rosea.
- Dizziness: It is possible for moderate and/or high doses of Rhodiola to cause dizziness. If you start feeling dizzier than usual and/or as if your head is spinning, you may want to consider scaling back your dose and/or discontinuing supplementation. Dizziness is a very common side effect experienced with most supplements.
- Dry mouth: Certain individuals may experience dry mouth as a result of Rhodiola supplementation. If you feel as if your mouth feels parched, saliva production has stopped, and drinking water doesn’t help – this may have been caused by Rhodiola. Keep in mind that some people experience the polar opposite (hypersalivation) as well.
- Headaches: Many people report experiencing headaches when taking Rhodiola. In certain cases, Rhodiola is known to help alleviate headaches, especially those caused by stress due to the adaptogentic, stress-reversing properties of Rhodiola. That said, higher doses of Rhodiola and other interactions can provoke excess stimulation, manifesting tension and headaches.
- Heart palpitations: In some cases, a person may experience heart palpitations or sensations of rapid, fluttering heart beats. While it isn’t common for heart palpitations to occur as a result of Rhodiola rosea supplementation, they are more likely to occur at higher doses and/or when combined with a stimulatory agent (e.g. caffeine).
- Hypersalivation: Another side effect that has been noted in some reports is excess saliva production or hypersalivation. If you notice that your mouth is producing more saliva than usual and/or you start to slobber throughout the day while taking Rhodiola – it could be more than mere coincidence.
- Insomnia: Individuals taking Rhodiola in the afternoon or at night may experience insomnia. This is due to the activating effect of the supplement which boosts mental and physical energy. To avoid insomnia from Rhodiola, it is recommended to take earlier in the day such as the morning (i.e. upon waking). Reducing the dosage may also help minimize your insomnia.
- Irritability: Some people can become increasingly irritable when they take Rhodiola. Irritability has been documented to occur more frequently at higher doses. If you’re taking a high dose and experiencing irritability, it may be time to downscale your dosing as to avoid this side effect.
- Jitteriness: It is possible to experience jitteriness when taking Rhodiola. The jitters could be a sign of an adverse reaction, an interaction (with another substance), or just a sign that you don’t tolerate it well. Understand that the jitters can often be mitigated by taking lower doses.
- Libido changes: If you notice an increase (or decrease) in your libido (sex drive) after taking Rhodiola, you’re not alone. Some people experience significant increases in sexual interest, stamina, and performance. Due to the adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola, most people experience an increase in sexual drive and performance and enjoy this side effect.
- Mood swings: Many people notice an improvement in mood while taking Rhodiola. A person may undergo an adjustment phase when they initially start supplementing that throws their mood into chaos. As a person’s neurochemistry balances itself out via the adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola, the mood swings usually subside.
- Nausea: Certain people may feel increasingly nauseous when taking Rhodiola. This nausea may be highly uncomfortable, making you feel as if you’re going to vomit throughout the day. If you experience nausea from taking Rhodiola, consider cutting the dose and/or taking it without food in the morning.
- Rapid heartbeat: In addition to heart palpitations, some people notice that their heartbeat becomes more rapid. This may be associated with heightened levels of anxiety, agitation, and blood pressure changes. Most individuals can avoid rapid heartbeat from Rhodiola by taking lower doses and considering interactions with other supplements.
- Restlessness: Another reported side effect that may occur among those taking Rhodiola is restlessness. If you feel unable to sit still, agitated, and have high amounts of energy – this could impair work or school performance. The restlessness experienced while taking Rhodiola is generally due to its stimulatory effect.
- Weight changes: Some people swear by taking Rhodiola as part of a supplement stack for weight loss, yet others may find that it causes weight gain. If you notice weight changes on Rhodiola, it could be due to appetite changes, energy increases, and metabolic changes associated with your individual response to the supplement.
Note: Most side effects associated with Rhodiola Rosea are not regarded as being “clinically significant.” Therefore, most will suggest that Rhodiola has “no side effects.” That said, many people experience side effects and may even have an allergic reaction. Should any side effects be a cause of concern, consult a medical professional.
Rhodiola Rosea: Weighing the Therapeutic Benefits (Pros) and Side Effects (Cons)
When taking Rhodiola Rosea, it is important to weigh the pros and cons associated with supplementation. In other words, you’ll want to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the therapeutic effects (benefits) outweigh the side effects (costs). Individuals that are experiencing significant side effects such as impairments in critical thinking, worsening of depression and/or anxiety, or insomnia may find that the costs exceed the benefits.
Many people taking Rhodiola will not notice any side effects, but will derive significant therapeutic effects such as mood improvement and stress reduction. In this case, it is relatively obvious that continued Rhodiola supplementation provides nothing but benefit without any apparent drawbacks. Those that experience a mix of therapeutic benefits and unwanted side effects are often in a trickier position.
Should you derive therapeutic benefit from Rhodiola (e.g. a mood boost), yet experience a side effect (e.g. insomnia) – you’ll need to determine whether the mood boost is worth the tradeoff for insomnia. Most people are able to clearly distinguish whether the therapeutic effect exceeds the side effects and/or vice-versa.
Have you experienced side effects from Rhodiola Rosea supplementation?
If you’ve supplemented with Rhodiola Rosea, be sure to share any side effects you experienced in the comments section below. To help others better understand your situation, share the specific side effects that you endured and whether they subsided over time. Also mention the brand of Rhodiola you were taking, your daily dosage, and whether you were taking any other substances that could’ve influenced the efficacy or side effects you associated with Rhodiola.