Chances are you’ve heard about Rhodiola or read some piece on it’s rather fantastic health claims: boosts mental performance, alters perception, enhances mood, and potentially even helps fight Parkinson’s symptoms.
Like most medicinal herbs, there is some evidence to support the hype…
However, it’s important to take into account the fact that the current evidence applies to a narrow amount of situations and may not apply to general use of Rhodiola as a supplement.
What is Rhodiola Rosea?
Rhodiola is a plant. It normally grows in colder climates, so it is known as a traditional remedy in areas like Scandinavia, Siberia, and the like.
Of the different regions Rhodiola comes from, Siberia is hailed as the best source. Currently, proponents believe that Rhodiola acts as an adaptogen, meaning that it is a natural compound able to “prevent the physical and chemical effects of stress.”
As such, the abilities supporters ascribe to Rhodiola include reducing stress, improving mood, increasing libido, and even boosting athletic performance.
Though the method of action for many adaptogens is unknown, there is emerging evidence showing that they work to a degree.
Whether or not Rhodiola falls in this category is something we’ll cover in more detail as we explore further. The general idea most researchers believe is that if Rhodiola does confer some health benefits, it does so mainly by protecting cells from damage.
Rhodiola is legal, and while you might be able to do something with the raw plant, a more effective method of use is one of the many varieties of capsules that are readily available over the internet in concentrated powders and adaptogen blend “stacks”.
As previously mentioned, evidence regarding Rhodiola is conflicting. You’ll find contradictory reports about nearly every one of the health claims associated with this herb, but the fact that there is at least some evidence supporting it is better than none, all things considered.
Other Names for Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola goes by many alternate names, including:Arctic Root, Extrait de Rhodiola, Golden Root, Hongjingtian, King’s Crown, Lignum Rhodium, Orpin Rose, Racine d’Or, Racine Dorée, Racine de Rhadiola, Rhodiola rosea, Rhodiole, Rhodiole Rougeâtre, Rodia Riza, Rose Root, Rose Root Extract, Rosenroot, Roseroot, Rosewort, Sedum rhodiola, Sedum rosea, Siberian Golden Root, Siberian Rhodiola Rosea, and Snowdown Rose.
I was pretty excited to give this one a go. Normally I find herbal remedies to be hit-or-miss, but I had heard about the potential for acute stimulatory effects and anti-fatigue abilities.
Couple that with the aggressive packaging the stuff came in (MOST POTENT FORMULATION!) and I was itching to try it out.
They made a big deal about this variety of Rhodiola coming from Siberia as opposed to China, which as I understand affects the quality of the plant. Who knew the “cheap Chinese” stereotype applied to medicinal herbs as well?
Anyways, I started with as close to the middle of the standard range as I could. Based on what I read, this was about 400 milligrams. The first use was a dud. I felt absolutely nothing, and, to be honest, was more than a little disappointed.
I was not dissuaded from trying again, however, and upped the dosage to the high end (700 milligrams) the next day. This time was different, and I began feeling a noticeable, but not unheard of boost in my energy.
I didn’t really notice anything as far as cognition was concerned, but was content with the way it was keeping fatigue at bay, as my workout session was significantly more intense than normal.
After doing some more reading, I saw conflicting information on whether or not higher doses would produce a greater effect. Reasoning that I’d have to see for myself, I took the amount up to 1 gram the next day.
The stimulatory response was much more pronounced, and I felt like I had a full tank of gas for several hours. Unfortunately, the crash was also heightened, and by the end of the day, I felt as if I had a ton of bricks dropped on me.
Clearly, nailing down the right dosage with this stuff is a tricky task. Still, I might consider myself lucky, as I didn’t experience any of the more critical side effects I’ve seen other users report.
The internet will provide you with dozens of Rhodiola success stories. There are plenty of folks who have used it with no ill effects and had a significant increase in their energy levels coupled with a pronounced decrease in stress and anxiety.
That being said, there are also more than a few stories about people who have used Rhodiola and experienced some notable downsides. For example, this Reddit user who credits the herb for the stress reduction it provided, but added:
“I stopped taking rhodiola rosea shortly after this post. It was good while it lasted, but I began to have issues with depersonalization and brain fog. I had a hard time focusing and when I looked at my body it felt like I was looking at somebody else’s.”
This might not be typical of everyone who takes Rhodiola long-term, but it is within the realm of possibility. Make sure you take it slow until you learn how Rhodiola will affect you.
Benefits and effects
The supposed benefits associated with Rhodiola are vast. However, there are three core benefits that have been studied in some detail.
The first is the effect Rhodiola is purported to have on subjective well-being. That effect, of course, is a significant positive boost. Something that evidence supports.
Somewhat. The increase in mood seems to be real but has been produced only in individuals people who were already fatigued or stressed. As a counter to depression, it seems to work quite well. One study noted that:
“42 days supplementation of 340-680mg Rhodiola SHR-5 extract was able to significantly reduce the symptoms of depression in persons with diagnosed depression, with only partial dose dependence noted.”
Impressive. We should point out, though, that it has not been established as of yet that Rhodiola can boost baseline mood beyond what it would normally be for someone who was otherwise in good shape.
One of Rhodiola’s primary traditional uses was the acute reduction of fatigue symptoms. It seems that this belief was well founded:
“200mg of Rhodiola extract (300-1000mg root equivalent) twice daily for 4 weeks in persons with life and work-related stress was greatly able to reduce dysfunction and fatigue associated with stress in a time-dependent manner. Significant improvements were noted in social and work function secondary to reduced fatigue and improved mood.”
Additionally, researchers have found that supplementing with Rhodiola can improve endurance during exercise. This is one of the benefits that I experienced, and believe that Rhodiola has promise as a short-term athletic enhancer.
Boosting Mental Function
Rhodiola is also touted as a cognitive enhancer. Most studies note that this might be a byproduct of the effects it has on fatigue:
“20 days of Rhodiola supplementation during examination periods for students (100mg SHR-5) was able to improve neuromotoric fitness (accuracy of maze drawing test), fatigue, and well-being relative to placebo. Exam scores were 8.4% higher in the Rhodiola group relative to placebo.”
I wasn’t able to perceive any effects on cognition, but it seems that they are a possibility, regardless of whether or not you are aware the Rhodiola is working as such.
Existing research supports a number of effects that make Rhodiola Rosea beneficial for weight loss.
The Georgian State Hospital conducted a study with 130 overweight patients. Both groups were on a low-calorie diet and given either Rhodiola or a placebo. They found that daily dosages of Rhodiola Rosea extract resulted in an average weight loss of 19 pounds. In comparison, patients taking the placebo lost only eight pounds on average.
Rhodiola Rosea’s effect on weight loss is due in large part to energy levels and physical performance. The supplement has been shown to reduce fatigue and improve alertness significantly. These benefits help improve athletic performance.
Rhodiola Rosea isn’t just for athletes. Its properties can significantly improve the quality of any workout. The herb increases the body’s production of ATP, which is our primary source of energy. Physical exertion only heightens the effects.
Under physical strain, Rhodiola raises muscle glycogen levels, which help fight fatigue. This effect helps you exercise longer and with more intensity without feeling worn down as quickly as you normally might.
After a workout, especially if you’re just beginning an exercise regimen, it’s natural to be concerned about soreness. However, Rhodiola Rosea also helps with discomfort and cramps in your muscles. It does this by preventing too much lactic acid buildup, a common source of muscle pain.
Even when you’re sitting at a desk, Rhodiola Rosea can work to increase the rate of your metabolism at rest.
The abundance of antioxidants in Rhodiola Rosea is one reason it’s beneficial for healthy skin. The primary antioxidants found in Rhodiola are called proanthocyanidins. They protect the skin and are comparable to vitamin C and E.
You might have heard a lot about Rhodiola Rosea as an anti-aging supplement. These claims are mainly because of its effects on skin cells. A compound called salidroside in Rhodiola prevents premature aging in cells exposed to stress.
Aging skin cells later begin to lose their capacity to multiply, reducing the healthiness and appearance of the skin. Rhodiola can also help aging cells retain this function and keep them healthier for longer. This effect is why many anti-aging skin care products have begun to include Rhodiola.
Anti-aging and longevity
The results of one study found that a compound with Rhodiola improved conditions for people with sensitive skin. After applying a formula, participants with sensitive skin showed reduced water loss and improvements in dryness and skin comfort.
Seemingly unrelated effects like Rhodiola Rosea’s fatigue-reducing properties can also indirectly improve skin health.
How It Works
The specifics on adaptogens are not completely understood, though, in regards to Rhodiola specifically, researchers have made some progress.
Most of the effects that Rhodiola has are acute and manifest within an hour of taking the supplement. These effects generally last for several hours, influencing the body and brain in various ways.
Researchers currently believe that the compounds in Rhodiola are responsible for several biological effects that in turn provide the desired benefits.
It might, for example, inhibit MAO enzymes MAOA and MAOB. It could potentially influence monoamine oxidase levels. It might also have some effect on COMT enzymes and choice Neuropeptides within the body.
The neuropeptide effect, in particular, is believed to be what causes the psychostimulatory effect, which can last for several hours after ingesting Rhodiola.
The exact nature of the antifatigue, neuroprotective, memory, and additional cognitive effects will require more research to ascertain.
Most studies with Rhodiola involved dosages between 200-700 milligrams. There is still dispute on whether or not doses that exceed the maximum threshold confer additional benefits.
A large number of experts believe that doses exceeding 680 milligrams are ineffective. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicates that doses nearing and exceeding one gram provide a greater boost of energy along with a more pronounced psychological effect.
Doses of Rhodiola are easy to ascertain when using capsulated forms of the supplement. They can be taken with or without food, and do not need adjustment based on weight or sex.
The powdered forms of Rhodiola require some additional investment of time, as accurate measurement requires the use of a precise digital scale.
Rhodiola is notable in the fact that it doesn’t have any negative side effects that you’d normally have to worry about, which is one of the reasons many people take this herb for anxiety — there’s no “bounce back” or withdrawal.
Keep in mind that although it’s a natural supplement, Rhodiola Rosea is a stimulant, so the herb could disrupt your sleep. Its stimulant properties may also produce anxiety or hypertension, so it is not advisable for those with these preexisting conditions. An increase in blood pressure, as well as blood thinning, is possible, so you should not take Rhodiola Rosea in the weeks leading up to any surgery. Be cautious of taking Rhodiola with any blood thinners.
There are few, if any interactions with other compounds and the plant is non-toxic when taken in acceptable doses.
Where things get somewhat weird is some of the anecdotal reports of Rhodiola negatively influencing mood and causing episodes where the user feels disassociated, confused, or otherwise “zombified.”
This isn’t a typical response to Rhodiola by any means, but it is a possible one, and there could be others, as the short-term side effects are not currently well documented.
As an herbal supplement, many users enjoy the effects of combining it with other stress relieving herbals. One of the most common is Ashwagandha.
A stack with Rhodiola and Ashwagandha is believed to provide a greater benefit for mood, along with reducing fatigue even further while raising one’s levels of energy and “vitality.” Ashwagandha may also have some effect on thyroid hormone levels, providing support to those with slight hormonal imbalances.
Other popular stacks with Rhodiola include Turmeric, which is supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties, and Tulsi-Holy Basil, which is also purported to relieve stress.
Taken together, the compounds in Rhodiola and Turmeric are said to give a better athletic boost during periods of physical exertion. Adding the Holy Basil is supposed further increase endurance levels and cut anxiety to an even greater degree.
Rhodiola isn’t the only game in town. We already covered some of the other herbs that fill a similar niche, but there are also several nootropic variants you might want to look at:
If you’re trying to fight off fatigue, Modafinil may provide the enhancement you desire. This is a wakefulness-promoting agent that simultaneously boosts cognitive performance and allows for intense focus on single tasks.
It can fight off fatigue symptoms and lets users push through long periods of repetitive work with little to no issue.
This Racetam variety is more of a cognitive enhancer, allowing you to reach a higher level of mental clarity and focus, while also improving memory. These effects are coupled with a stimulant-type boost that helps rejuvenate physical and mental energies for the user.
One of the champions of the nootropics arena, Noopept, while backed by limited scientific study, is widely hailed as a powerful cognitive booster that adds in just enough of a psychostimulatory effect to keep users going in spite of physically or mentally draining work.
Rhodiola is one of the most potent herbal supplements I’ve tried. It had a clear acute effect, unlike many other herbs which take weeks to see any benefit.
I didn’t experience any of the cognitive enhancement when I tried it, but the reduction in fatigue was very noticeable, and, in my opinion, the superior benefit.
Finding which dosage will work best for you might take several attempts, and I’d caution against going too high (the crash is real), but with careful use, Rhodiola might make a powerful addition to any nootropic enthusiast’s toolkit.