Before modern medicine, people relied on the herbs and plants around them when they were sick or tired. Plants like rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha, and foxglove have been used as curatives for millennia. Despite that, doctors were skeptical of their benefits for quite some time.
That attitude is changing as dismissive skepticism is replaced by genuine scientific inquiry. As the benefits of rhodiola rosea are investigated, we’re finding that our ancestors may actually have known what they were talking about.
Key Takeaways: Rhodiola Rosea
What Is Rhodiola Rosea?
While today it’s better known by the botanical name, rhodiola rosea, in the past it has been called arctic root, golden root, and rose root. It’s a flowering plant that is native to the northern hemisphere, particularly northern Europe. There, it’s been used in traditional medicine for millennia. Related plants are similarly used in Asia and elsewhere.
Rhodiola rosea is considered an adaptogen candidate . That means it’s thought that rhodiola rosea, like other adaptogens, is a plant that can help resist illness and damage while doing no harm to the body’s function. Ideally, it would do this by helping the body maintain a healthy balance.
However, we can’t say definitively that rhodiola rosea has any benefits at all. Some studies have proven promising, but many others show that it is of no real benefit.
How Does It Work?
More research needs to be done on every aspect of the effects and uses of rhodiola rosea. Since we need more scientific evidence to say what its effects actually are, it’s difficult to say how it creates those notional benefits.
The active ingredients of rhodiola rosea extract is usually thought to be either rosavin or salidroside. Rosavin is a compound that’s unique to rhodiola rosea, while salidroside is also found in other plants.
There are just a few ways the compounds found in rhodiola rosea may have their effects:
- Anti-inflammatory: The inflammation response of the immune system is reduced, preventing the damage inflammation can sometimes cause . It reduces c-reactive protein, a common inflammation marker.
- Antioxidant: Oxidation is necessary for cells to function, but it also causes oxidative stress, which damages cells. Rhodiola rosea may help prevent that damage .
How Long Does Rhodiola Stay In Your System?
We can’t really say precisely when any particular compound will have cleared out of your system, as everyone reacts a little differently.
Instead, medical professionals usually talk about a compound’s half-life. As the term implies, that measures how long it takes your body to break down and use half of a dose. It’s possible to estimate an average rate that covers most people.
Research suggests that the half-life for rhodiola rosea extract’s active ingredients, rosavin and salidroside, is about an hour.
History and Botany
Part of the Crassulaceae family, the rhodiola rosea plant has bright yellow flowers at the end of long stalks. One plant will usually have a dozen or more stalks growing from a central base. It is pretty hardy and can be found in the north of North America, Europe, and Asia. It can particularly be found on rocky mountain-sides or sea cliffs .
Traditional medicine has used it a few different ways. Primarily, it was used as a tonic to invigorate and energize patients. It also may have been used to lift spirits as early forms of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. The roots are the part of the plant used, leading to some of its names, like arctic root or golden root.
If you happen across one, it’s actually edible though somewhat bitter. The leaves are similar to spinach, while the stalks can be cooked similar to asparagus. American Indians used to ferment the root before eating it.
Rhodiola Rosea Health Benefits
No one can make truly definitive statements regarding rhodiola’s benefits. However, some common claims are that rhodiola rosea may:
- Boost brain function.
- Reduce the risk of age-related disease.
- Reduce symptoms of depression.
- Reduce fatigue.
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Increase focus.
- Improve exercise performance.
If all of that is true, rhodiola rosea would have an astonishing range of effects on both physical and mental performance. However, there’s insufficient evidence to be too confident about any of the effects of rhodiola rosea.
Most studies have either been performed on animals or been preliminary human studies with small numbers of participants. The results were not always consistent, so either rhodiola rosea had some benefits or had no real impact. With that said, there has been limited evidence for these benefits.
May Boost Brain Function
Rhodiola rosea is a common ingredient in nootropics for memory, focus, and clear thinking. Those are all aspects of cognitive function, your general ability to think clearly and remember important things. This is probably the use for which there is the most consistent evidence, though even so it is inconclusive .
When rhodiola rosea was found to be of benefit to brain function, it reduced mental fatigue and improved mood. It’s thought to be due to rhodiola’s glutamatergic effect, helping you feel better and remain motivated.
May Reduce the Risk of Age-Related Diseases
A lot of the studies focused on rhodiola’s ability to increase mental performance focused on people who faced some cognitive deficiencies. Those can be caused by many conditions, but some of the most common are Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Though there haven’t been any long-term studies, there has been some evidence that rhodiola rosea has neuroprotective properties, keeping your brain healthier for longer .
Additionally, its ability to reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system means it might have a role to play in preventing cancer . Oxidative stress, which rhodiola rosea may help prevent, is also thought to be one of the mechanisms that cause aging in general.
May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Some of the most important health benefits of taking rhodiola rosea may be to mental health. Rhodiola has helped reduce the effects of mild to moderate depression, both on its own and in combination with other herbal extracts .
Additionally, rhodiola has been associated with a reduction in side effects when using tricyclic antidepressants, a common medication for the condition. It’s antioxidant effects may also play a role.
May Reduce Fatigue
Some studies have found a reduction in both mental and physical fatigue . However, the effects generally seem to be focused on the mental side of things. While participants might have been able to exercise for longer, for example, it wasn’t due to an increase in energy or efficiency.
Instead, it was likely due to a reduction in mental fatigue. If you’re feeling better and thinking more clearly, you could go on even if physically tired.
Rhodiola might improve chronic fatigue symptoms as well. One cause is adrenal fatigue, when the body is kept in a heightened state due to stress. However, rhodiola can reduce some markers for stress and thereby reduce stress-induced fatigue.
May Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Stress-related fatigue is one consequence of stress and anxiety. Others include physical symptoms like stomach problems and headaches. It can also cause social and psychological problems. Rhodiola rosea seemed to help with all of these aspects by improving mood and reducing stress .
May Increase Focus
A lack of focus is another sort of fatigue. Your brain doesn’t have muscles to get tired. Instead, you run out of focus and motivation. This is where the glutamatergic effects come into play, replenishing some of the neurotransmitters and other compounds that help your focus and stay mentally motivated.
May Improve Exercise Performance
Rhodiola rosea extract has been evaluated for improving physical performance many times, and the results seem to be mixed. As mentioned above, it doesn’t seem to improve blood oxygenation or muscle efficiency. Overall athletic performance might be improved, but specifics like endurance exercise performance weren’t affected.
However, when mental and physical aspects are taken into account, things might be a bit clearer. Reducing stress and improving mood leads to more motivation, which can help you perform better without actually making you stronger or faster .
Either way, more study needs to be performed.
Rhodiola Rosea Side Effects
Since the effects of rhodiola extract aren’t fully understood, it’s impossible to give a full list of potential side effects. However, there are a few side effects that have been observed in more than one study.
Precautions and Warnings
Adverse effects associated with rhodiola include:
- Dry mouth.
- Excess salivation.
- Stomach or chest pain.
All of these effects were mild and resolved without a problem.
The lack of study also means it hasn’t been thoroughly tested for drug interactions. There isn’t a reliable way to judge what medications might be a problem. Checking in with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement is always a good idea.
How To Take Rhodiola Rosea
If you’re interested in taking rhodiola rosea, you should look for a commercial rhodiola supplement. It can be found both on its own and in a mixture with other ingredients.
Herbal supplements can vary quite widely in quality and in price. Moreover, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality. In order to get effective and safe ingredients, it’s a good idea to do some research so you know what you’re looking for.
What To Look for in Rhodiola Supplements
Unfortunately, supplements are not always well regulated. As a result, sub-par ingredients can sometimes make their way into products. Dangerous contaminants have also been found in some supplements as well.
In order to reassure their customers, reputable brands have started to police themselves. They will submit their product to an outside lab, then make the results available publicly. Whenever possible, it’s best to buy from a brand that offers third-party lab certifications.
If you’d like to buy supplements of any kind, one thing to look for is a USP or NSF seal. Both are non-profit organizations that help monitor the production and sale of supplements.
Rhodiola Rosea Dosage
There isn’t any professional medical advice or dosage guidelines, due once again to the lack of research. Many studies used a dosage between 150 mg and 300 mg, twice daily. However, products that go as high as 1500 mg per day are available.
Generally, it’s wise to start with a lower dose and increase it since your body will adapt and build up a tolerance. When in doubt, contact a health care professional.
Safety of Rhodiola Rosea
There don’t appear to be any serious safety concerns when it comes to rhodiola root extract. Usually, the flipside of something with all the health benefits of rhodiola would be a list of nasty side effects. As we’ve seen, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
However, strictly speaking, there isn’t any way of gauging the danger of using rhodiola without more evidence. Additionally, while rhodiola supplementation generally may be safe, you may want to steer clear of some brands or products.
The regulations surrounding what supplements can claim about their products are fairly specific. Simply put, there can’t be any claims that a supplement can prevent, cure, or treat medical conditions. If a product could do any of that, it would really be a full-on drug and would need to be regulated that way, requiring research results for safety and usage.
Despite that, the Federal Drug Administration has had to issue several warning letters to brands claiming their products can do all that and more. If they flout those rules, they may be cutting corners elsewhere as well. It’s best to stick with brands that offer less grandiose but more reliable supplement facts.
Best Rhodiola Rosea Supplements
Rhodiola products are usually classed as dietary supplements, though they promise much more than correcting a vitamin deficiency. These days a supplement might claim to pump up your muscles, your IQ, or both.
When it comes to rhodiola, the use with the most evidence is in nootropics for motivation, mental clarity, and memory. There is a whole range of options, but here are two that might be worth checking out.
Mind Lab Pro
Mind Lab Pro offers dietary supplements for the everyday sort of cognitive impairment that comes with working too hard. It claims to improve memory and focus, offering a number of ingredients linked to those benefits.
- Ingredients like citicoline have solid scientific backing.
- Neuroprotective properties maintain brain health long term.
- Eco-friendly production and shipping.
- Some ingredients are less supported by science.
- Expensive supplement.
Find out more by checking out our in-depth Mind Lab Pro review.
While this is a rhodiola product, that’s actually one of over a dozen different active ingredients. Many of them are considered nootropics for memory and focus. Other ingredients like coffee bean and theobromine offer an energy bump.
- 100-day guarantee.
- Several different options.
- Vegan and GMO-free.
- Dose is seven capsules at a time.
- Some ingredients may not be as effective.
Here are some simple answers to common, straightforward questions.
What Does Rhodiola Rosea Do For You?
It’s not entirely clear what its effects are. It has been studied a lot, but the results are mixed, with some studies showing benefits and others not.
The most scientifically grounded benefits are centered around mood and motivation. It may reduce depression and anxiety, as well as providing some mental energy and focus when you’re fatigued.
It’s also been tested for other uses, such as improving athletic performance. However, the evidence there is also mixed. While it did sometimes lead to an improvement, it’s possible that was due to the mental and mood benefits.
Is Rhodiola Rosea Safe To Take?
There’s no way to say for sure whether it is safe or dangerous for any given person to take rhodiola. However, the risk for adverse effects from the dietary supplement seems to be fairly low. Harmful side effects seem to be limited as well, including things like headache and upset stomach.
Is Rhodiola Better Than Ashwagandha?
This is a bit like comparing two unlabeled, sealed boxes. We can’t say with a great deal of confidence what either of these herbal remedies do, so it’s tough to say which is better.
Rhodiola seems to help lift mood and increase energy. Ashwagandha might be effective for reducing stress levels . The two problems are related, but might have different causes or mechanisms. It’s difficult to predict which is more effective for a given person.
Does Rhodiola Raise Estrogen Levels?
Some preliminary studies have found a link between rhodiola and estrogen levels. However, that link isn’t clear. In fact, it’s not clear whether rhodiola rosea would raise or lower estrogen if it did have an effect .
A different but related plant, rhodiola crenulata, has also been studied and may have a stronger effect on estrogen. However, current evidence is inconclusive .
While our ancestors may have been using rhodiola medicinally for millennia, they unfortunately did not keep very good experimental records. In order to meet modern standards of evidence and ensure safety, more research has to be done.
That doesn’t mean it’s all nonsense, however. The evidence we do have seems to indicate it’s a safe way to treat mental fatigue, depression, and anxiety. In the meantime, there is a whole range of rhodiola supplements available if you’d like to run your own experiments.
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