What Is Rhodiola Rosea?
Rhodiola Rosea, also known as golden root, or arctic root, grows in high-altitude mountain regions of Europe and Asia. It has become one of the most adaptogenic herbs in modern practices. Traditionally, it was used to increase physical endurance, longevity, and productivity and combat depression, fatigue, and nervous system disorders. (1)
Current science is focusing on Rhodiola Rosea’s therapeutic capacity as an adaptogen. (2) Adaptogens are non-toxic natural herbal products that produce a nonspecific response and normalize physiological influence.
Rhodiola Rosea root has six distinctive groups of chemical compounds: (3)
- Phenylpropanoids: rosavin, rosin, rosarin.
- Phenylethanolo derivatives: salidroside, tyrosol.
- Flavonoids: rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, acetylrodalgin, tricin.
- Monoterpenes: rosiridol, rosaridin.
- Triterpenes: daucosterol, beta-sitosterol.
- Phenolic acids: chlorogenic and hydroxycinnamic, gallic acids.
Mechanism Of Action
Rhodiola Rosea helps the body to adapt to stress by affecting the levels and activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine transmitters in the brain, influencing the nervous system.
Rhodiola can increase the chemicals that provide energy to the heart's muscle and prevent the depletion of adrenal hormones induced by acute stress. (4)
Furthermore, Rhodiola prevents the stress-induced increase of cortisol (5), which accounts for its anti-stress effect, and might also be associated with increased attention, anti-fatigue, and antidepressant effect.
Rhodiola Rosea And The Nervous System
Studies found that small and medium doses had a stimulating effect, while larger doses had more sedative effects.
Other studies showed that, unlike tranquilizers, medium-range enhanced the development of conditioned avoidance reflexes in rats and facilitated learning based on emotionally positive reinforcement. (8) (9)
Overall, in small and medium doses, Rhodiola Rosea stimulated the central nervous system by enhancing the effects of norepinephrine (NE), dopamine, and serotonin. It also improved the effects of these neurotransmitters on the brain by increasing the permeability of dopamine and serotonin.
Rhodiola Rosea may help protect the nervous system from oxidative damage by free radicals as an antioxidant. (10) Stress interferes with memory functions and causes memory systems deterioration over time. In addition to enhancing cognitive functions, learning, and memory by stimulating norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, Rhodiola may positively affect memory and cognition by improving resistance to physical and emotional stress.
In a study of 60 men and women ages 20-55, who were experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, groups were randomized to receive either four tablets of Rhodiola extract or a placebo for 28 days. It is concluded that repeated administration of Rhodiola extract exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate and decrease cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients. (11)
Another clinical trial studies the efficacy of a Rhodiola extract in patients suffering from mild and moderate depression. It concluded that Rhodiola extract had improvements in overall depression, insomnia, and emotional instability with no effect in the placebo group. In addition, higher doses of the extract even improved self-esteem. (12)
In an open study of healthy students, physicians, and scientists, ten drops of Rhodiola tincture equivalent to 100-150 mg of extract were given 1-2 times per day for 2-3 weeks before final exams. The amount and quality of the work improved in all cases. (13)
Endocrine And Reproductive Effects
Neuroendocrine animal studies showed that Rhodiola, like other adaptogens, enhanced thyroid function without causing hyperthyroidism.
In addition, the thymus gland functioned better and was protected from the shrinkage that occurs with aging. The adrenal glands worked with better reserve.
Animal studies looking at the effect of Rhodiola on thyroid function, adrenal function, and ovarian egg maturation have raised interest in Rhodiola for endocrine problems in humans.
Forty women suffering from amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycles) were given 100 mg of Rhodiola twice daily for two weeks or an injection for ten days. Remarkably, regular menses were restored in 25 women; 11 became pregnant. (14)
For men, 26 out of 35 with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation responded to Rhodiola Rosea when given 150-200 mg a day for three months, with significantly improved sexual function. (15)
Rhodiola Rosea And Cardioprotective Effects
Cardioprotective effects of Rhodiola include prevention of stress-induced cardiac damage (16), decreased myocardial catecholamines and cyclic adenosine monophosphate levels, and reduced adrenal catecholamine release. (17)
Several studies have shown that Rhodiola increased physical work capacity and significantly shortened the recovery time between bouts of intense exercise.
In one study, work capacity was increased by 9%, and the pulse slowed to normal much more quickly.
Improved recovery time, strength, endurance, and cardiovascular measures were significantly better in those who took Rhodiola. (18)
Another study investigated the effect of four-week Rhodiola Rosea intake on muscle strength, speed of limb movement, reaction time, physical capacity, and attention with promising results. (19)
Safety And Side Effects
Rhodiola Rosea has a very low level of toxicity and has produced promising results in clinical trials.
A few side effects could manifest in individuals with bipolar disorder who have a history of manic episodes and thus should be avoided by them. In addition, pregnant women should also avoid it.
Rhodiola Rosea is most surprising in its ability to affect the nervous system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and immune system.
In this time of increased emotional stress and work demands, a flexible and diverse herb with an excellent safety profile is more than appealing.
Most individuals see an improvement in their mood, energy level, mental capacity, memory, and endurance within two to six weeks.
(5)The adaptogens rhodiola and schizandra modify the response to immobilization stress in rabbits by suppressing the increase of phosphorylated stress-activated protein kinase, nitric oxide and cortisol - PubMed (nih.gov)
(7)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 - PubMed (nih.gov)
(11)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 - PubMed (nih.gov)
(13)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 - ScienceDirect