Rhodiola: What is it, the benefits and how to take it?

Eu Natural
October 19, 2020
Fact checked
Dr. Stephanie Nichols, ND

Rhodiola Rosea is an herb well known for its medicinal properties, tracing back to 77AD!

Rhodiola also goes by the names of: Golden Root, Rose Root, Arctic Root, Aaron’s Rod, King’s Crown, and Orpin Rose.

The herb ranges in size between 5-40cm and has several stems which flower yellow petals in the summer months. Rhodiola is native to Europe and Asia and grows in high altitudes.

In this article, we’re going to identify some of the best-known benefits of taking Rhodiola medicine and what science has to say! 

What are the benefits of Rhodiola?

The root of the Rhodiola plant is where the magic happens! 

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The root is known as ‘adaptogen’ and, therefore, best known for possessing anti-fatigue and anti-stress activities.  

Adaptogen is the name of a family of plants known to help the body fight stress.

It doesn’t stop there. The roots contain an abundance of components, including:

  • Flavonoids
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • Tyrosol
  • Cinnamyl Alcohol
  • Glycosides
  • Organic Acids
  • Essential Sugars
  • Fats
  • Alcohols
  • Protein

It’s an extensive list, but the part that piques our interest most is the flavonoid element.

Flavonoids refer to a family of compounds rich in antioxidants and found naturally in fruit, vegetables, and plants.

Alongside stress and fatigue, some other well-known health benefits of Rhodiola include: 

  • Anxiety and depression relief 
  • Supporting brain function
  • Increasing endurance in exercise performance
  • Anti-cancer properties
  • Reducing blood sugar levels

Rhodiola is an herb that claims to do a lot! So let’s see whether science supports these claims.

Rhodiola and Stress

Rhodiola stress

Rhodiola is part of the adaptogen family, and as a result, many studies focus on the relationship between Rhodiola and stress.

One study involving 118 participants aimed to target the burnout source to prevent it from recurring instead of reducing only the symptoms. 

The participants were to take 200mg twice daily for 12 weeks and were assessed before and after 12 weeks. The study based the assessments on burnout symptoms, including cynicism, difficulty concentrating, impaired sexual life, and somatic symptoms. The outcome measures considerable improvement for each burnout symptom over the 12 weeks.

Another study identifies the impact Rhodiola has on reducing stress in students going through an examination period. 

The study was double-blind to understand Rhodiola's efficacy of stress in comparison to a placebo. 

A low dose of Rhodiola was taken twice daily over the 20 day examination period.  The study assessed participating students on their physical and mental performance both before and after the 20 days.

In the Rhodiola extract participants, the study saw significant physical fitness improvements, mental fatigue, psychomotor, and general well-being tests compared to the placebo group.

When the results from the examination came back, the students who had taken the Rhodiola extract had a higher average mark than those taking the placebo.

The adaptogenic activity suggests that Rhodiola could help with stress management. 

Rhodiola, Anxiety and Depression

Rhodiola depression 1

Herbal therapies are becoming more and more favorable, especially when it comes to anxiety and depression. Exploring this area through research and studies has become increasingly popular and is necessary if we’re choosing herbs over other forms of medication and therapy. 

The result of a study report that Rhodiola seems to:

“stimulate expression and release of neuropeptide-Y in neuroglial cells, to regulate more than 50 genes involved in the regulation of behavior, mood, and depressive disorders.”

A separate, small study intending to understand Rhodiola’s effect on anxiety and stress had on participants take a daily dose of 340mg of Rhodiola over ten weeks. 

Assessments of the participants occurred before and after the ten weeks. The assessments include the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS), the Four-Dimensional Anxiety and Depression Scale, and the Clinical Global Impressions of Severity/Improvement Scale. 

Following the ten weeks, the participants had momentous improvement with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) symptoms and reduced their original HARS scores.

One analysis of several studies aims to identify Rhodiola’s effect on anxiety and depression. The investigation found a decrease in symptoms, including irritability in each study. 

The analysis of several studies suggests that Rhodiola is a:

“potential alternative treatment for individuals who are intolerant to conventional antidepressants or seek to avoid them.”

Rhodiola has shown to have a positive effect on both depression and anxiety, and could be a natural alternative to antidepressant and antianxiety medications. 

Rhodiola and Fatigue

rhodiola fatigue 2

Fatigue refers to the feelings of tiredness, weariness, and exhaustion. These are symptoms we’re all likely to experience at some point in our lives, but when it becomes regular, then it’s a problem. 

Because of Rhodiola’s proposed adaptogenic properties, it’s thought that the plant can reduce fatigue symptoms.

One study aimed to identify the effect of Rhodiola on 100 patients, both male and female, who had been experiencing fatigue for at least two months. 

The participants were given a 200mg dosage dry extract of Rhodiola twice daily over eight weeks. 

The study took assessments concerning fatigue at weeks one, four, and eight. The outcome was hugely positive; a reduction in chronic fatigue symptoms was evident at the end of week one, continuing to decline until week eight. Following these positive results, it strongly indicates that Rhodiola may be useful in treating chronic fatigue.

Over eight weeks, there was a significant improvement in chronic fatigue symptoms. The most noticeable improvement was under the ‘general fatigue’ subscale.

The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola also make it a great natural alternative to help fight fatigue! 

Rhodiola and Brain Function

Rhodiola brain

Rhodiola contains several chemical compounds, one of which are flavonoids.

Flavonoids are known for having a positive effect on brain health, including the “potential to protect neurons against injury induced by neurotoxins, an ability to suppress neuroinflammation, and the potential to promote memory, learning, and cognitive function.”

Some studies suggest that Rhodiola is beneficial in improving cognitive function and memory.

These studies have primarily used animal models, but the outcomes have been positive nonetheless.

One analysis of several studies was to understand the effect of Rhodiola on brain function using animal models. 

The analysis looks at 36 existing studies to understand Rhodiola extract’s effect on learning ability and memory function.

At the end of each study, the researchers assessed the animal models on their ability in several tests. The tests include escaping a Morris Water Maze, a dark avoidance test, and step down test.

The results reveal that the animals that had taken the Rhodiola extract reduce the frequency and the length of time spent in the Morris Water Maze and decrease the number of errors in step down test, dark avoidance test.

Studies on animals show the potential positive impact Rhodiola has on brain health, but further studies on human participants are necessary to understand possible success.

Rhodiola has shown to enhance memory and learning ability in animal models suggesting it could be as beneficial for humans, but research is needed to confirm this.

Rhodiola and Exercise

Rhodiola exercise

Some studies suggest that Rhodiola acts through an increase in opioid production. Performance enhancement, therefore, maybe a result of this.

In 2004, a study aimed to investigate Rhodiola’s effect on physical capacity, muscle strength, limb movement speed, reaction time, and attention.

During phase one, the study took measurements from the participants for speed of limb movement, visual reaction time, and ability to sustain attention, one hour after taking a 200mg Rhodiola supplement. A repeat of this took place on the second day. There was then a repeat of the experiment following a five day washout period.

Phase two was similar to phase one, but instead, participants were to consume a placebo.

The study results show that when the healthy, young participants were taking the Rhodiola supplement, there was an increase in their time to exhaustion and oxygen consumption.

Another study identifies the benefit Rhodiola has on endurance in exercise. The study follows the physical impact of using an indoor electronic bike by 15 active women. Before warming up, using the bike, and cooling off, the women took an oral dose of 3mg Rhodiola. 

The results speak for themselves. The women that had taken the Rhodiola extract all completed the six-mile time trial course in a shorter time than those who had taken the placebo. The conclusion is that Rhodiola decreases the heart rate in response to high impact exercise and improves endurance performance.

There is a lot of evidence to support that Rhodiola could help boost your workouts! 

Rhodiola and Cancer

rhodiola cancer 1

In 2004, a study set out to analyze the potential effect Rhodiola has on cancer. The study was initiated from the thoughts that Rhodiola can increase cancer chemotherapeutic agents’ effectiveness while protecting bone marrow stem cells against toxicity.

The study gave female rats Rhodiola root extract (3% rosavins: 1% salidroside) orally at 30% of the recommended human dose for 30 days.

The study results demonstrate that Rhodiola interacts positively with the estrogen receptor, suggesting that Rhodiola has estrogenic or antiestrogenic potential.

The study suggests that when Rhodiola root extract is taken orally, it is unlikely to present an estrogenic risk to women who want to avoid these agents. 

Another study supports the correlation between Rhodiola and estrogenic activity. The study suggests that Rhodiola induces an early estrogenic response, reducing growth and formation over tumors over time in breast cancer cells.

While these studies show promise of Rhodiola having a positive effect on preventing cancer cells’ growth and spread, further studies on human participants are necessary to understand the full potential Rhodiola can have on treating cancer. 

Rhodiola may have anticancer properties. If considering taking the herb for this benefit, speak with a medical healthcare professional beforehand. 

Rhodiola and Diabetes

Rhodiola diabetes

An analysis of several studies that had administered Rhodiola extract orally to diabetic induced rats found a positive outcome. The Rhodiola extract had a significant anti-hyperalgesia effect (similar to pain associated with nerve irritation or damage) and showed signs of protection against early nephropathy (deterioration of kidney function).

The study identified a reduction in plasma glucose levels in the rats, as well as an improvement in hyperglycemia (high levels of sugar, or glucose in the blood).

The outcome of these studies suggests that Rhodiola has a positive impact on treating diabetes, and further research on human participants is necessary to understand future treatment potential. 

How do I take Rhodiola?

capsule

Rhodiola root is commonly available as a capsule, powder, or liquid extract to take on an empty stomach. It’s best to take earlier on in the day to avoid sleep interference as it can have a stimulant effect. 

If you are using a liquid extract, add a couple of drops to a glass of water to consume.

There isn’t an exact daily recommended dosage; however, 200mg is taken twice daily in several of the above studies, suggesting this is a safe dose for adults. 

Current research studies the effects of taking Rhodiola over a short timescale; therefore, there is insufficient evidence for the safety of taking Rhodiola long term. 

Be aware, Rhodiola supplements can be a combination of additional ingredients. If you’re looking for Rhodiola in its purest form, make sure to check the label to know if you’re getting the real deal or not! 

Are there any side effects of Rhodiola?

Side effects of taking Rhodiola are uncommon, however there have been reports that Rhodiola may:

  • Add to the stimulant effects of caffeine
  • Encourage platelets in the blood to clump together
  • Interfere with birth control pills
  • Interfere with diabetic or thyroid medication

Avoid taking Rhodiola if you are a pregnant or breastfeeding woman as there is no evidence to support safety during pregnancy or lactation. 

As always, if you have any concerns, do speak with a medical healthcare professional.

Wrapping up

Rhodiola is a traditional medicine that dates back to 77AD. It’s still in use today and for a good reason! Many studies show significant evidence that Rhodiola has a plethora of health benefits with low-risk side effects.

If you suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, or perhaps you just want to increase your exercise endurance, why not put Rhodiola to the test?

What next? Read how Ashwagandha and Rhodiola work together to make a power combo.

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