There are some 50 species of rhodiola, but it is the fragrant root of the species Rhodiola rosea that is used medicinally. Rhodiola rosea grows throughout the mountainous regions in the higher latitudes and elevations of the Northern hemisphere.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
170 mg daily of a standardized herbal extract
Rhodiola has been shown to promote feelings of well-being and support mental function.
The herbs discussed here are considered members of a controversial category known as adaptogens, which are thought to increase the body's resistance to stress, and to generally enhance physical and mental functioning.2 , 3 Many animal studies have shown that various herbal adaptogens have protective effects against physically stressful experiences,4 , 5 but whether these findings are relevant to human stress experiences is debatable.
Animal studies have demonstrated protective effects of rhodiola extracts against physical stresses.6 , 7 , 8 A double-blind study of healthcare workers experiencing the stress of night duty found that taking 170 mg per day of a standardized rhodiola extract prevented some of the decline in a set of mental performance measures during the first two weeks. However, when this regimen was repeated after a two-week period of not taking the extract, rhodiola did not provide protection from mental performance decline.9 In another double-blind study, 100 mg per day of the same extract was given to medical students during a stressful exam period. Those taking the extract reported a better sense of general well-being, and performed better on tests of mental and psychomotor performance.10 A third double-blind study of military cadets performing a 24-hour duty showed that 370 to 555 mg of rhodiola extract per day significantly reduced mental fatigue, as measured by several performance tasks.11 Another double-blind trial confirmed the effectiveness of rhodiola for the treatment of stress-related fatigue.12
170 mg of a standardized extract twice per day
Taking rhodiola has been shown to significantly improve anxiety symptoms.
In a preliminary study, supplementation with rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) significantly improved measures of anxiety in people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. The amount used was 170 mg of a standardized extract taken twice a day for ten weeks.13
Athletic Performance and General Endurance
200 mg of an herbal extract, standardized to contain 3% rosavin plus 1% salidroside, taken one hour before endurance exercise
In a double-blind trial, healthy volunteers who received an extract of the herb Rhodiola rosea one hour before an endurance-exercise test saw significantly increased endurance, as measured by the time it took to become exhausted.
In a double-blind trial, healthy volunteers received 200 mg of an extract of Rhodiola rosea (standardized to contain 3% rosavin plus 1% salidroside) or a placebo one hour prior to an endurance-exercise test. Compared with placebo, rhodiola significantly increased endurance, as measured by the time it took to become exhausted.14 However, after daily use of rhodiola for four weeks, the herb no longer enhanced short-term endurance. Consequently, if rhodiola is being considered as an exercise aid, it should be used only occasionally.
Rhodiola has long been used in traditional medicine, primarily in Russia and Scandinavia.1 The Vikings used rhodiola to enhance physical strength and endurance, and it was commonly used by many Northern peoples to treat fatigue, poor physical endurance, nervous system disorders, and infections, and to enhance fertility. Rhodiola was included in the first Swedish Pharmacopeia, and Dioscorides, the Greek physician, reported on its use in his treatise De Materia Medica. In middle Asia, rhodiola was considered a premier treatment for colds and flu during the severe winters that occur there.
Rhodiola contains a number of potentially active compounds, including phenylpropanoids (rosavin, rosin, rosarin),; phenylethanol derivatives (salidroside [also known as rhodioloside], tyrosol); flavonoids (rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, acetylrodalgin, tricin); monoterpenes (rosiridol, rosaridin); triterpenes (daucosterol, beta-sitosterol); and phenolic acids (chlorogenic, hydroxycinnamic, and gallic acids). The presence of rosavin distinguishes the species R. rosea from other rhodiolas, and many products are standardized to rosavin content to ensure that they contain the proper species.
There are numerous animal and test tube studies showing that rhodiola has both a stimulating and a sedating effect on the central nervous system (depending on intake amount); enhances physical endurance; improves thyroid, thymus, and adrenal function; protects the nervous system, heart, and liver; and has antioxidant and anticancer properties.15
Rhodiola has a more stimulating effect at lower amounts, and a more sedating effect at higher amounts. In medical treatment, the usual amounts taken are 200 to 600 mg per day of a standardized extract to at least 3% rosavins and 0.8 to 1% salidroside.16 The nonstandardized amount would be 1 gram three times daily of the root, the amount for the alcoholic extract (40% alcohol) is 5 to 40 drops two to three times per day (with a weight to volume ratio of 1:1 to 1:5 ). Rhodiola is usually taken before meals.
The safety of rhodiola has not been firmly established. However, rhodiola has a history of centuries of folk use and has been the subject of many clinical studies. No side effects or interactions have been reported. Animal studies indicate that rhodiola has a low level of toxicity, and that there is a huge margin of safety at the typical recommended intake amounts.17 There is no information available about the safety of rhodiola in pregnancy or lactation.
1. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbalgram 2002;56:40–52.
2. Brekhman II, Dardymov IV. New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. Annu Rev Pharmacol 1969;9:419–30 [review].
3. Panossian A, Wikman G, Wagner H. Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phytomedicine 1999;6:287–300 [review].
4. Rege NN, Thatte UM, Dahanukar SA. Adaptogenic properties of six rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine. Phytother Res 1999;13:275–91 [review].
5. Wagner H, Nrr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomed 1994;1:6376 [review].
6. Zhu BW, Sun YM, Yun X, et al. Reduction of noise-stress-induced physiological damage by radices of Astragali and Rhodiolae: glycogen, lactic acid and cholesterol contents in liver of the rat. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 2003;67:1930–6.
7. Lishmanov IB, Trifonova ZV, Tsibin AN, et al. Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med 1987;103:422–4 [in Russian].
8. Maslova LV, Kondratev BIu, Maslov LN, Lishmanov IuB. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in stress. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1994;57:61–3 [in Russian].
9. Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue - a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine 2000;7:365–71.
10. Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine 2000;7:85–9.
11. Shevtsov VA, Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, et al. A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine 2003;10:95–105.
12. Olsson EMG, von Scheele B, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med 2009;75:105–12.
13. Bystritsky A, Kerwin L, Feusner JD. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med 2008; 14:175–80.
14. De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2004;14:298–307.
15. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbalgram 2002;56:40–52.
16. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbalgram 2002;56:40–52.
17. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbalgram 2002;56:40–52.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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