Known as the ‘Arctic Root’, the herb Rhodiola thrives in the cold, mountainous areas of Russia, Europe and Asia. As a nootropic, Rhodiola is believed to have tremendous brain boosting and energy enhancing powers. It is also believed to assist in fat burning.
Historically, Rhodiola has been used in many different traditional medicine systems across the world from the ancient Chinese to the Vikings. For centuries, Russians and Scandinavians have used the roots of this wondrous herb to treat anxiety and depression. Traditional Chinese healers used it for improving stamina and stress while the Vikings swear by its ability to enhance physical strength.
The mountain-dwelling people of Nepal, Tibet and China, the Sherpas, use this herb to help them climb at high altitudes. Other than improving endurance, Rhodiola also improves resistance to high-altitude sickness. Russians are known to use it for improving endurance and work performance, fighting insomnia, fatigue and anxiety.
What Is Rhodiola Rosea?
The scientific name of this popular herb is Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea). Other common names of Rhodiola are roseroot, golden root and king’s crown. It belongs to the Rhodiola genera in the Crassulaceae plant family.
Rhodiola is gaining fame far and wide as a dietary supplement due to its multiple health benefits. It has both adaptogenic and nootropic capabilities.
Adaptogens help your body adapt easily to physical, chemical, and environmental stress. They work by nourishing and reinforcing the adrenal system and moderating stress responses. Adaptogens help to prevent cellular damage since they usually contain plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Rhodiola Rosea: Mechanism of Action
The Rhodiola root has over 140 active ingredients of which rosavin and salidroside are the most potent. Rhodiola is effective as an adaptogen as it has several mechanisms of action. The salidroside impacts normally occurring intracellular products while rosavin helps balance cortisol, the stress hormone. Many studies have observed that the rosavin content in Rhodiola has antidepressant, adaptogenic, and anxiolytic effects.
Within the Rhodiola plant family, rosavin is unique to Rhodiola rosea even though salidroside is commonly found in many other Rhodiola species. Rhodiola rosea has higher concentrations of rosavin than salidrosides, in approximately 3:1 ratio.
According to preclinical studies, Rhodiola may influence beta-endorphins. It interacts with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Rhodiola also influences nitric oxide production, as well as defense mechanism proteins. The active components in Rhodiola may impact the corticotrophin-releasing factors. Rhodiola can affect the availability of neurologically important amines. Via GABA-ergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic receptors, Rhodiola may be able to affect catecholaminergic transmissions.
An ‘ergogenic aid’, Rhodiola rosea initiates a non-specific response, which in turn, has a normalizing physiologic influence. This herb helps fight the negative effects of stress, and is effective in improving both physical as well as mental energy levels. By preventing or reducing the hormonal changes that occur along with prolonged stress, Rhodiola helps the body adapt to stress. Rhodiola’s action mechanism to enhance stress tolerance is believed to be its influence on beta-endorphins and opioid neuropeptides. An early Russian study conducted on rats confirmed the role of opioid neuropeptides in enhancing stress tolerance.
The complexity of the herb is what makes Rhodiola so useful in a wide variety of ways. Considering the potential pleiotropic effects of Rhodiola in the central nervous system, and the way in which its metabolism occurs, it is only fair to expect that users of this smart drug may encounter a broad spectrum of experiences. At lower doses Rhodiola has a stimulating effect while users report that higher doses have a more toning effect.
Seven Proven Health Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea
From anemia and impotence to fighting infections and relieving headache, the medicinal uses of Rhodiola rosea is very long and includes treatment of tuberculosis and even cancer. Here are 7 proven health benefits of Rhodiola rosea.
Rhodiola Improves Brain Function
The best way to ensure your brain functions at its best is to get proper nutrition, adequate sleep and plenty of exercises. Nutritional supplements or nootropics such as Rhodiola rosea can also help boost brain functions by reducing mental fatigue and improving concentration. Rhodiola can also help ease the mental fatigue brought on by sleep deprivation and thus improve your cognitive functions.
A study conducted by the Department of Neurology, Armenian State Medical University, Yerevan, evaluated the effect of repeated low-dose treatment with Rhodiola rosea, on fatigue during night duty among physicians. The research using 56 young, and healthy physicians found a significant reduction in general fatigue. The physicians were given either 170 mg of Rhodiola or a placebo pill on a daily basis for a period of two weeks.
The researchers observed improvements in “complex perceptive and cognitive cerebral functions, such as associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation and ability of concentration, and speed of audio-visual perception.”
A 2003 study from the Centre of Sanitary and Epidemiological Inspection of the R.F. Ministry of Health, Moscow, Russia, investigated “the effect of a single dose of Rhodiola rosea on capacity for mental work against a background of fatigue and stress.”
161 cadets aged from 19 to 21 years were given either 370 mg or 555 mg of rhodiola, or a placebo. The researchers found that:
When compared to the placebo, both doses of Rhodiola improved the subjects’ capacity for mental work.
Rhodiola Can Decrease Stress
To handle stressful situations, adaptogens can be really helpful. Adaptogenic herbs are natural substances that improve our resistance to stress in non-specific ways. Several studies have proven that Rhodiola rosea has adaptogenic capabilities and can help reduce stress, fatigue and anxiety.
When we feel pressured or threatened, the stress gets manifested in physical symptoms such as loss of energy or exhaustion, headaches, etc. The psychological symptoms of stress get exhibited in different ways such as tension, irritability and so on. If not identified and treated correctly, chronic stress can develop bringing a whole host of diseases along with it. To avoid such burnouts, preventive measures and evidence based treatments are needed.
Whether psychological or physical, most pharmaceutical drugs treat only the stress symptoms. Psychotropic medications commonly prescribed for such symptoms usually have undesirable side effects. Rhodiola has a favorable safety profile and it offers comprehensive treatment for stress symptoms.
In a 2018 study from the Department of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich , Switzerland, the group of researchers from various countries such as the UK, Austria and Vienna, concluded that:
“Rhodiola rosea extract offers comprehensive treatment of stress symptoms and can prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications.”
They also noted that “ the main adaptogen approved by the HMPC/EMA for the indication ‘stress’ and influences the release of stress hormones while boosting energy metabolism. “
A 2015 study from the School of Psychology, University of Surrey, UK, evaluated the effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on mood symptoms such as anxiety, stress, and cognition, using 80 mildly anxious participants. The researchers noted the administration of Rhodiola resulted in:
“a significant reduction in self-reported, anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression at 14 days and a significant improvement in total mood. “
Rhodiola Offers Anti-Aging Benefits
High levels of stress over an extended period or chronic stress results in accelerated signs of aging. One of the adaptogenic actions of Rhodiola rosea is that it helps balance cortisol levels, which in turn, slows down age related symptoms. Rhodiola is a dietary supplement that makes you look good and feel great.
When we are faced with a stressful situation or a threat of some sort, your body responds with a ‘flight or fight’ response. Cortisol floods your body to enable this response from your nervous system. In today’s world, we are constantly faced with stress in various forms – exams, financial worries, job stress, family issues – on a daily basis. This constant stress keeps the cortisol levels at a continuous high, which is not natural for the body.
Whether emotional or physical, chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels lead to multiple health disorders such as abdominal weight gain, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, weak immunity, decreased blood glucose response, poor memory, etc. Accelerated signs of aging can result from this, such as atrophy of memory-related brain structures, poor cognitive performance, weight gain and fatigue. Keeping cortisol levels balanced is one of the keys to looking young, refreshed and energetic.
A 2012 study from the White House Surgery, Horsefair, Chipping Norton, UK, used 1375 subjects with life-stress symptoms, to evaluate the therapeutic effects and safety of treatment with Rhodiola rosea extract. Chosen subjects were given a dose of 200 mg Rhodiola rosea extract, twice daily for a period of 4 weeks. They noted “clinically relevant improvements with regard to stress symptoms, disability, functional impairment and overall therapeutic effect.”
The researchers concluded that “Rhodiola extract at a dose of 200 mg twice daily for 4 weeks is safe and effective in improving life-stress symptoms to a clinically relevant degree.”
Rhodiola Helps Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a more serious medical issue than most people realize. Everyone gets depressed at some point in their life, but many people are able to overcome it while some others need assistance to deal with their issues and overcome their depression.
Depression can be more than just a mood swing. Serious depression can result from the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Professional assistance may be needed to overcome such chemical imbalances and physicians often prescribe antidepressants for treating the symptoms of depression. But these medications can be addictive and may cause adverse side effects.
Alternative medicine such as ayurvedic treatments can offer relief from depression without much side effects. Rhodiola rosea is one such herb that is effective for relieving depression. A 2012 study from the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, suggested that Rhodiola rosea has antidepressant properties.
A 2009 study from the Laboratory of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland, investigated the influence of Rhodiola rosea L. roots on mood disorders. The study concluded that:
“Rhodiola rosea L. roots have potent antidepressant activity by inhibiting MAO A and may also find application in the control of senile dementia by their inhibition of MAO B.”
Rhodiola Helps Fight Physical & Mental Fatigue
If you are feeling physically exhausted, then Rhodiola can help reduce your physical fatigue. Whether you are a student, a business executive or a housewife, Rhodiola can help improve your productivity and output. Rhodiola rosea is known for its ability to help clear brain fog or other similar symptoms of mental fatigue.
Rhodiola is great for improving focus and concentration. When low-intensity, but frequent movements or exercises leave you feeling exhausted, Rhodiola is a great pick me up. It also helps the deal with the fatigue that results from sleep deprivation. Naturopathic physicians often prescribe Rhodiola rosea as a treatment for adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue and issue related to athletic or physical performance.
A 2015 study by a group of Chinese and Korean researchers investigated the protective effects of fermented Rhodiola rosea extract against fatigue and exercise stress. They found that:
“Fermented R. rosea extract was found to significantly increase swimming time, hepatic superoxide dismutase content, and serum lactate dehydrogenase in mice, while decreasing serum blood urea nitrogen content.”
They concluded that fermented “R. rosea extract effectively protects against fatigue caused by strenuous exercise.”
A 2012 Canadian study reviewed the evidence of efficacy and safety of Rhodiola for physical and mental fatigue. The researchers found evidence suggesting that “the herb may be helpful for enhancing physical performance and alleviating mental fatigue.”
Rhodiola Improves Athletic Performance
Many cultures around the world use Rhodiola for increasing strength and stamina. Traditional healers recommend it for raising energy levels and improving athletic performance.
Having a high count of oxygen carrying red blood cells (RBCs) helps delay the onset of fatigue and can dramatically improve the performance of athletes. Rhodiola increases endurance and stamina by lowering oxidative damage and by increasing the red blood cells count. Rhodiola is believed to boost erythropoietin, which in turn, stimulates RBC production.
A 2005 study from the Istituto di Chimica Biologica Giorgio Fornaini, Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy, found that Rhodiola rosea acted as an antioxidant in red blood cells.
A 2004 study from the Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics Laboratory, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, evaluated “the effect of acute and 4-week Rhodiola rosea intake on physical capacity, muscle strength, speed of limb movement, reaction time, and attention.”
The double blind placebo-controlled study using 12 participants, found that
“Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise capacity in young healthy volunteers.”
Rhodiola Helps Burn More Belly Fat
An incredible benefit of Rhodiola supplementation is that it encourages and assists the body in burning stored body fat for fuel. Interval exercises or HIIT workouts are great for fat loss. Adding in a regimen of Rhodiola rosea can take your fat burning experience to a whole new level. Rhodiola is especially beneficial in reducing belly fat.
Since Rhodiola has been found to reduce cortisol levels and stress, it helps reduce those stress related cravings for unhealthy and fattening comfort foods such as chocolates and icecreams. Cortisol is also associated with fat accumulation in the abdomen. So lowering cortisols help prevent more fat accumulation.
The active ingredient in Rhodiola rosea, rosavin, helps trigger a fat burning response by stimulating an enzyme known as “hormone-sensitive lipase”. This particular enzyme breaks down body fat (adipose tissue) which is stored in the belly area.
A 2014 study from the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, USA found that treatment with Rhodiola extracts on rats resulted in the conclusion that
“Rhodiola extracts have actions on central monoamine pathways and have the potential to be beneficial for the treatment of obesity.”
To get that extra edge in weight loss and fat burning combine your exercise routine with Rhodiola rosea supplementation.
Rhodiola Rosea Dosage
Rhodiola rosea supplements can be easily purchased online or from health stores. Rhodiola extracts are available in the form of tea, tablets or capsules. Pill forms are advisable as this helps with accurate dosing.
It is very important to but Rhodiola supplements from a reputed brand and seller as these supplements are at risk of adulteration. There is a naturally occurring proportion of rosavins and salidrosides in Rhodiola roots. Standardized extracts contain the same proportions of these compounds, 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides. Always cross check the labels of Rhodiola supplements to ensure they contain the recommended proportions of active ingredients.
200–600 mg in a single dose per day is the optimal dose of Rhodiola for overcoming fatigue or stress. It’s best to take Rhodiola on an empty stomach, before breakfast or lunch. Avoid taking it before dinner or at bedtime as Rhodiola has mild but stimulatory effects that may keep you awake for longer. It’s advisable to start at a lower dose and build up gradually over a period of time, to allow your body to get used to the drug and avoid adverse side effects. to help with absorption, higher doses can be divided and taken at two intervals, such as once before breakfast and then before lunch.
Potential Side Effects of Rhodiola
Rhodiola is considered to be safe and well tolerated by most people. Studies have found that it has less potential for side effects when compared to prescription drugs such as antidepressants. When you first begin Rhodiola supplementation, you may feel some dizziness or experience a dry mouth sensation, but this usually passes as you get used to the medication.
If you are on any kind of medications, first speak with your doctor about possible drug interactions before starting on Rhodiola.
The Final Note
Rhodiola rosea has been used safely for centuries by traditional healers from various cultures, including the Chinese, and the Vikings. Rhodiola has been found to have brain boosting benefits can improve mood and focus, prevent stress and reduce fatigue, making it an effective ‘smart drug’ or nootropic for those looking to increase their cognitive performance and productivity.
As an adaptogenic herb, Rhodiola improves our physical and mental tolerance to stress. It helps balance cortisol levels, improves athletic performances and helps reduce body fat faster. When taken within the suggested doses, Rhodiola is safe for consumption.
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist who writes health and wellness articles online. The holder of two graduate degrees, she combines her passion for advertising with her knowledge of the health industry to create custom content for healthcare products. She is the founder and editor of the health website fitnesshacks.org. Find out more about her from her LinkedIn profile or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.