Rhodiola is an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
Its roots are considered adaptogens, meaning they help your body adapt to stress when consumed.
Rhodiola is also known as arctic root or golden root. Its scientific name is Rhodiola rosea.
Its root contains more than 140 active ingredients, the two most potent being rosavin and salidroside.
People in Russia and Scandinavian countries have used rhodiola for centuries to treat:
Today, it’s widely used as a dietary supplement for its many health benefits.
Here are seven science-based health benefits of Rhodiola rosea.
1. Rhodiola may help decrease stress
Rhodiola has long been known as an adaptogen, a natural substance that increases your body’s resistance to stress in non-specific ways.
Consuming adaptogens during stressful times is thought to help you handle stressful situations better.
Rhodiola has also been shown to improve symptoms of burnout, which can occur with chronic stress. One study involved 118 people with stress-related burnout who took 400 mg of rhodiola daily for 12 weeks. Study participants showed clear improvement in various symptoms such as stress and depression commonly associated with burnout.
The most improvement occurred during the first week and continued throughout the study. Researchers noted that this was the first trial investigating clinical outcomes of rhodiola treatment for burnout. They found the results encouraging and recommended further trials.
Summary: Adaptogens like Rhodiola rosea may increase your body’s resistance to stress, allowing you to cope better during stressful times.
2. Rhodiola may help with fatigue
Stress, anxiety, and inadequate sleep are just a few factors that can contribute to fatigue, which can cause feelings of physical and mental tiredness.
Due to its adaptogenic properties, rhodiola is thought to help alleviate fatigue.
In one study, 100 people with chronic fatigue symptoms received 400 mg of rhodiola daily for eight weeks. They experienced significant improvements in:
- stress symptoms
- quality of life
These improvements were observed after only one week of treatment and continued to improve through the final week of the study.
Summary: The adaptogenic nature of rhodiola makes it a popular supplement for fighting fatigue and other stress-related symptoms.
3. Rhodiola could help reduce symptoms of depression
Depression is a common but serious illness that negatively affects how you feel and act.
It’s thought to occur when chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters become unbalanced. Health professionals commonly prescribe antidepressants to help correct these chemical imbalances.
It has been suggested that Rhodiola rosea may have antidepressant properties that help balance the neurotransmitters in your brain.
One study compared the effects of rhodiola with the commonly prescribed antidepressant sertraline, which is sold under the name Zoloft. In the study, 57 people diagnosed with depression were randomly assigned to receive rhodiola, sertraline, or a placebo pill for 12 weeks.
While rhodiola and sertraline both reduced symptoms of depression, sertraline had a greater effect. However, rhodiola produced fewer side effects and was better tolerated.
Summary: Research has shown that rhodiola may help improve some symptoms of depression. Like antidepressants, it may positively influence mood and emotion neurotransmitters.
4. Rhodiola may improve brain function
Exercise, proper nutrition, and a good night’s sleep are sure ways to keep your brain running strong.
Some supplements may also help, including rhodiola.
Suggested read: The 7 best vitamins and supplements for stress
A review of 36 animal studies concluded that rodiola might improve learning and memory function.
An animal study found that just a single dose of rhodiola increased memory and had an antidepressant effect on mice. It suggested that rhodiola could become an excellent tool to increase cognition and counteract mood disorders in people.
Another research review concluded that the therapeutic properties of rhodiola may benefit many age-related diseases. Researchers called for more research to bridge the gap between experimental results and clinical applications.
Summary: Rhodiola has been shown to increase mental performance during mentally stressful and physically strenuous times. However, more research is needed to verify these findings.
5. Rhodiola may improve exercise performance
Rhodiola has been claimed to improve sports performance by reducing physical and mental fatigue and increasing antioxidant activity.
However, research results are mixed.
On the positive side, one animal study found that rhodiola could improve rat muscle power and strength performance. In the study, the rats were given Rhodiola rosea extract combined with another compound in rhodiola called Rhaponticum carthamoides (Rha) after resistance exercise.
Another study found that ingesting rhodiola shortened reaction and total response time in young, healthy, physically active men. It also increased antioxidant activity but did not affect overall endurance.
In other studies, rhodiola has been shown to improve exercise performance by decreasing perceived exertion or how hard participants felt their bodies were working.
On the skeptical side, research points to studies showing that rhodiola supplementation did not change oxygen uptake or muscle performance, nor did it enhance the immune system of marathon athletes.
Also, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that there is insufficient evidence from human studies to conclude that rhodiola is helpful for any health-related use. Part of this may be because researchers do not yet understand exactly how rhodiola affects human performance.
Suggested read: 8 proven health benefits of ginseng
Summary: Rhodiola has the potential to increase sports performance, but more research is needed to confirm the results.
6. Rhodiola may help manage diabetes
Diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body develops a reduced ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes commonly use insulin injections or medications that increase insulin sensitivity to manage their blood sugar levels better.
Interestingly, animal research suggests rhodiola may help improve diabetes management.
The salidroside compound in rhodiola has been shown to help protect against diabetes and diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) in rats.
These studies were performed in rats, so their results can’t be generalized to humans. However, they’re a compelling reason to investigate the effects of rhodiola on diabetes in people.
If you have diabetes and wish to take rhodiola supplements, speak with your dietitian or doctor first.
Summary: Rhodiola has been shown to help protect against diabetes in rodents, suggesting it may be a valuable supplement for diabetes management in humans. However, more research on humans is needed.
7. Rhodiola may have anticancer properties
Salidroside, a potent component of rhodiola, has been investigated for its anticancer properties.
Test-tube and animal studies have shown that it may inhibit the growth of lung, bladder, gastric, and colon cancer cells.
As a result, researchers have suggested that rhodiola may be helpful in the treatment of many types of cancer.
However, until human studies become available, whether rhodiola can help treat cancer remains unknown.
Summary: Test-tube and animal experiments have shown that an active ingredient in rhodiola called salidroside inhibits the growth of cancer cells. However, its effects in humans are yet undetermined.
How to take Rhodiola rosea supplements
Rhodiola is a relatively rare plant and is available primarily as Rhodiola rosea extract in capsules or tablets. It’s also available as a tea, but many people prefer the pill form because it enables accurate dosing.
What to look for
Unfortunately, rhodiola supplements are at risk of adulteration or having their quality and purity lowered.
To help avoid this, look for brands that carry the USP or NSF seal. These third-party, nonprofit organizations ensure supplements contain what they claim, without impurities.
In addition, look at the labels of these supplements to ensure they contain a standardized amount of 3 percent rosavins and 1 percent salidrosides. These are the naturally occurring proportions of these compounds in rhodiola root.
How much and when to take it
It’s best to take rhodiola on an empty stomach but not before bedtime, as it has a slightly stimulating effect. Most people take rhodiola extract in capsules or tablets containing between 100 to 200 mg with 3 percent rosavins and 0.8–1 percent salidroside. Tinctures are also available.
According to current research findings, rhodiola may be effective for improving symptoms of stress, fatigue, or depression when taken in doses ranging from 400–600 mg per day taken in single or divided doses.
Some studies have shown that lower doses between 200 and 300 mg per day may help boost athletic performance.
Safety of rhodiola
Current research findings suggests that rhodiola is safe and well tolerated. Recent clinical studies attribute a few severe side effects to rhodiola.
However, as of mid-2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued six letters of warning to makers of rhodiola supplements. Issues addressed in the warnings included:
- making unwarranted health claims
- not being approved as new drugs
The FDA regulates dietary supplements as foods, not drugs. It does not allow any supplement to claim to cure, treat, or prevent disease.
All supplements, including rhodiola, may have adverse side effects. This is especially true if the rhodiola is impure or combined with other herbs. Rhodiola may also interact with other medications you may take or aggravate another medical condition. Also, its effects haven’t been tested in children, pregnant people, or other vulnerable groups.
Quality problems can arise when buying herbal supplements. If you buy supplements, especially online, evaluate the source carefully. Also, check with a medical professional to be sure the supplement is safe for your particular health condition.
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Summary: Look for third-party certifications to ensure your rhodiola supplement has not been adulterated with cheaper, less effective ingredients. Some studies suggest that a 200–600 mg dose may be effective and safe for some uses. Like all dietary supplements, Rhodiola is not FDA-approved as a treatment for any condition.
Rhodiola has been used in traditional medicine in Russia and Scandinavian countries for centuries.
Studies have found rhodiola may help strengthen the body’s response to physical stressors like exercise and psychological stressors such as fatigue and depression.
Other studies, many in test tubes and animals, have suggested that rhodiola may help protect against certain health conditions, such as cancer, depression, and diabetes. However, there’s not enough high-quality human research to suggest that rhodiola can protect against these severe conditions or reduce their symptoms.
If you want to use rhodiola, look for supplements that have undergone third-party testing to avoid the potential for adulteration.
Overall, rhodiola has many health benefits and is considered safe with a low risk of side effects when taken in the recommended dosages.
If you’re considering rhodiola, talk with a healthcare professional to determine if it’s right for you.