9 Health Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea L., also known as golden root, arctic root, and roseroot, is a flowering plant species commonly found in colder climates and mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. The plant grows nearly three feet tall and produces yellow flowers with a rose-like fragrance.
Rhodiola rosea L. extract — a core ingredient in Androsurge™ — is now one of the most popular adaptogenic herbs found in dietary supplements, right alongside ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). An adaptogenic herb, or adaptogen, helps the body adapt to and overcome stress, specifically distress (aka "bad" stress). Hence, Rhodiola extract is exceptionally versatile for treating physical and mental stress-related symptoms such as fatigue, compromised immune function, high blood pressure, brain fog, poor mood, and sex hormone imbalances.
As of June 2021, there have been roughly 50 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on Rhodiola rosea extract demonstrating its promising health benefits for various conditions, especially generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and mild-to-moderate depression . Some cultures believe Rhodiola may significantly reduce cancer risk and work as an "anti-aging" treatment, though more human research is needed to confirm these suppositions.
With that in mind, this guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the history of Rhodiola rosea and how it works, as well as the evidence-based health benefits, potential side effects, and applications of Rhodiola extract.
A Brief History of Rhodiola Rosea L.
Though there are several species in the Rhodiola plant genus, Rhodiola rosea is ostensibly the best for treating stress-induced health conditions and mental fatigue. Therefore, it's generally assumed that people are referring to the rosea species when they mention "Rhodiola."
Other Rhodiola species include:
- Rhodiola crenulata
- Rhodiola cretinii
- Rhodiola integrifolia
- Rhodiola imbricata
- Rhodiola kirilowii
- Rhodiola rhodantha
- Rhodiola tibetica
Rhodiola crenulata is becoming a popular adaptogenic herb, much like Rhodiola rosea, but the latter continues to garner most of the focus in research and clinical trials. From a phytochemistry standpoint, they both contain similar bioactive constituents (e.g. rosavin and salidroside) .
Rhodiola use dates back as far as ancient Greece, and the term “golden root” was given to the plant by Chinese emperors who would travel all the way to Siberia to retrieve it. This adaptogen has also been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for treating radiation, hypoxia, fatigue, and stress . Furthermore, the Vikings were said to use Rhodiola for boosting physical stamina and strength.
In modern-day Europe and Asia, Rhodiola rosea is often brewed as a hot tea for fighting off pathogens and alleviating altitude sickness. The plant is quite popular in Russia and Scandinavia, where it has been studied intensively for nearly five decades.
Now, let's examine how an extract of Rhodiola rosea works and the putative phytochemicals responsible for its therapeutic effects.
HOW DOES RHODIOLA ROSEA EXTRACT WORK?
Much like KSM-66® ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that helps our bodies counteract adverse stressors that we face daily. These stressors may be physical, chemical, or mental in nature.
An example of a physical stressor is heat exhaustion, whereas exposure to a toxic substance like carbon monoxide or formaldehyde is a chemical stressor. However, mental stress, particularly anxiety and depression, impacts our daily lives the most.
Extract of Rhodiola rosea, particularly a root extract, works by restoring and maintaining homeostasis (i.e. "balance"). It makes us more resilient to stress-induced physical and mental fatigue, which by extension, can improve overall quality of life and general health.
For example, if stress causes a specific biomarker to increase significantly above a healthy baseline value, an adaptogen like Rhodiola rosea may help reduce that parameter back to a more normal (baseline) level. Likewise, it may help restore a deficient biomarker to a healthy range.
A more practical example: if you lack mental energy, Rhodiola will give you some "pep" to focus and concentrate; if you're feeling a little "on edge" and anxious, it will calm you down.
As you can see, the effect of Rhodiola rosea is appropriately described as "modulatory." Pretty neat, eh? But how does Rhodiola rosea work in both directions, so to speak?
Current evidence suggests that glycosides from Rhodiola rosea, notably salidroside and rosavin, help balance levels of neurotransmitters - specifically catecholamines (e.g. dopamine, and adrenaline), acetylcholine, and serotonin - in the central and peripheral nervous systems . Consequently, Rhodiola rosea helps improve mood, reduce stress, enhance cognitive function, promote focus, and a variety of other health benefits.
The roots of Rhodiola rosea contain 28 distinct constituents classified into six separate groups:
- Phenylpropanoids (rosavin, rosin, rosarin)
- Flavonoids (rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, tricin, acetylrodalgin)
- Phenylethanol derivatives (salidroside, p-tyrosol)
- Monoterpenes (rosaridin, rosiridol)
- Triterpenes (beta-sitosterol, daucosterol)
- Organic acids (gallic acids, caffeic acids, hydroxycinnamic acids, chlorogenic acids)
While each of these constituents may have its own unique benefits, rosavin and salidroside appear to be the most biologically active of the bunch . Nootropic supplements will generally state the specific potency of Rhodiola root extract by giving the percentage of rosavin and salidroside.
In addition to their antioxidant actions in the body, these compounds promote multiple aspects of health and longevity, including :
- Reducing physical and mental fatigue
- Improving mood
- Fighting stress and anxiety
- Enhancing muscular and brain energetics (ATP, creatine phosphate, etc.)
- Protecting the cardiovascular system
- Decreasing the toxicity of anti-cancer drugs (and potentially increasing their efficacy)
As you can see, Rhodiola has rather ubiquitous activity throughout the body. It may seem like the jack of all trades and master of none, but there is no shortage of evidence backing the magnitude of these effects.
For example, Rhodiola rosea has been shown to decrease fatigue biomarkers (e.g. blood urea nitrogen, lactate dehydrogenase) after intense exercise, even stimulating glycogen synthesis in skeletal muscle tissue . Another study found that Rhodiola rosea extract markedly increased mean anaerobic power and peak watts during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) . A recent systematic review also suggests that Rhodiola may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and remedy chronic fatigue by attenuating myocardial and adrenal catecholamine secretion .
Furthermore, Rhodiola rosea appears to inhibit the growth of various cancer cell lines and augment the anti-cancer properties of chemotherapy drugs (while mitigating their harmful side effects) . Murine research on tumor growth and blood cell precursors in bone marrow found that mice given a combination of Rhodiola rosea extract and cyclophosphamide — a chemotherapy drug — experienced nearly twice as much reduction in tumor growth and less toxicity on bone marrow cells compared to cyclophosphamide monotherapy .
While the data is promising, more human research is needed to substantiate the anti-cancer, anti-stress, and exercise-performance effects of Rhodiola rosea. The following section will outline the health benefits you can expect from using a high-quality Rhodiola extract.
What are the Health BENEFITS OF RHODIOLA ROSEA?
Extracts of Rhodiola rosea have been in traditional medicine for thousands of years and are currently among the most popular adaptogenic herbs found in dietary supplements, typically nootropics. Clinical trials continue to uncover the multifunctional effects of Rhodiola rosea, which are numerous.
According to the data thus far, here are nine salient health benefits of a repeated low-dose regimen with a Rhodiola rosea dietary supplement :
- Fighting stress-related mental and physical fatigue
- Alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression (via increasing serotonin precursor transport)
- Controlling inflammation
- Promoting calmness/relaxation
- Enhancing cognitive function and memory
- Bolstering the immune system
- Supporting healthy sex steroid balance
- Promoting weight loss by increasing lipolysis
- Improving exercise performance and muscle bioenergetics
What’s particularly intriguing about this adaptogen is that it can help increase mental and physical performance without stimulating the heart and depleting levels of catecholamines in the CNS (like many stimulants do over time).
For example, you likely have noticed that the effects of caffeine tend to diminish the more you consume it; the initial increase in cognitive and physical capacity is followed by a “crash” that leaves you feeling worse than baseline. Conversely, like extracts of Rhodiola rosea, adaptogens increase initial work capacity without a significant diminution in performance thereafter.
That is likely due to distinct mechanisms of action between the constituents in Rhodiola and classical stimulants like caffeine. (Not to say caffeine isn’t beneficial, because it certainly is when used in moderate amounts and at the appropriate frequency.) In fact, caffeine may have additive effects with Rhodiola rosea.
RHODIOLA ROOT EXTRACT AS AN ANXIOLYTIC NOOTROPIC
In 2008, a pilot study of Rhodiola rosea examined the effects of a root extract supplement in subjects diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) . The study included 10 participants with Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS) scores greater than 16. (The HARs is a clinical assessment used for diagnosing anxiety disorders.)
After ten weeks of taking Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax®) for generalized anxiety, the subjects’ HARS scores dropped by an average of 50%. None of the participants dropped out of the study, signifying the exceptional tolerability and safety profile of Rhodiola extract at a relatively high dose of 340 mg per day.
In addition to reducing stress and fighting anxiety, Rhodiola appears to produce modest increases in cognitive performance and learning ability/memory recall . This is a welcome nootropic benefit for scholars and people that work a mentally demanding job.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF RHODIOLA ROSEA
Another great quality about Rhodiola rosea is that it’s exceptionally safe, has very low toxicity potential, and produces virtually no notable side effects in the clinical dose range (100-600 mg per day). The LD50 (median lethal dose) of Rhodiola rosea root extract for a 165-lb man is about 235,000 mg indicating that Rhodiola has a very wide therapeutic index .
In rare cases (particularly in individuals who prone to anxiety), Rhodiola may increase agitation and jitteriness. Reducing the dose and gradually working up to a therapeutic amount may be necessary.
As with any herbal extract, you should inform your healthcare provider before taking Rhodiola supplements, especially if you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder and currently take antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety medications.
FINDING THE RIGHT DOSE OF RHODIOLA ROSEA EXTRACT
Since the roots of Rhodiola are dense with bioactive constituents, you want to find a supplement that contains Rhodiola rosea root extract. It is imperative that you read the label of any Rhodiola supplement to identify the precise potency of rosavin and salidroside, which should be at least 3% and 1%, respectively.
Be wary of any dietary supplement or nootropic containing an extract of Rhodiola rosea with no specific bioactive constituent potencies listed. If the label only states the total dose of extract, chances are it is low-grade and provides negligible salidroside and rosavin (meaning you won’t notice much benefit from it).
Assuming the potency of your Rhodiola supplement is 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside, as it is in Androsurge™, the dosing suggestions are as follows:
- For Boosting Mood and Relieving Stress — 150 mg taken twice daily on an empty stomach, preferably upon waking and again in the early afternoon
- For Enhancing Cognition and Mental Performance — 100 mg taken one to two times daily on an empty stomach about 30 minutes before meals
- For Immune, Cardiovascular, Endocrine, and Antioxidant Support — 125 mg taken once daily on an empty stomach, preferably 30 minutes before breakfast or lunch
- For Weight Loss and Exercise Performance — 150 to 300 mg taken once daily on an empty stomach, ideally 30 minutes prior to exercise
Rhodiola is best absorbed on an empty stomach, generally 30 minutes before a meal. It does not appear to interact majorly with other phytonutrients but may have a synergistic effect when taken in conjunction with stimulants like caffeine.
Since Rhodiola is an adaptogen, chronic use is advised for maximum benefit. If you’re using Rhodiola rosea for acute stress - such as an upcoming exam or athletic competition - a higher dose is necessary (e.g. 2-3 times the recommended daily dose).
Supplementing with Rhodiola rosea extract can also enhance serotonin synthesis from its molecular precursors: L-tryptophan and 5-HTP. Thus, this adaptogen stacks well with either L-tryptophan or 5-HTP if your goal is to increase serotonin/improve mood. However, caution should be taken when using Rhodiola extracts with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), notably paroxetine .
- Rhodiola rosea is one of the most promising adaptogenic herbs known to man, with versatility that is arguably unmatched by any other nootropic. Better yet, it’s essentially non-toxic and rarely causes side effects.
- There is immense potential for Rhodiola rosea use in clinical and everyday applications. Scientific studies and clinical trials should continue investigating this adaptogenic herb for the foreseeable future.
- The health benefits of Rhodiola range from enhancing cognitive function, reducing stress, improving mood, boosting athletic performance, mitigating oxidative stress, supporting cardiovascular function, and possibly even decreasing the risk of cancer.
- The rosavin and salidroside found in the roots of Rhodiola rosea seem to govern many of its biological effects. Be sure to find a Rhodiola root extract standardized to contain at least 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside.