Summary

Rhodiola rosea is a traditional herbal remedy that may help combat the stresses of modern life.

A high-altitude herb native to the Arctic areas of Europe and Asia, rhodiola rosea has a long history of effectiveness as a fatigue-fighting tonic for both mind and body. It was commonly used in Chinese, Scandinavian and Russian traditional medicine as a physical restorative, and in many parts of the world it remains a popular remedy for fatigue and “burn out.”

New research confirms rhodiola’s physical and mental benefits as a powerful adaptogen, a natural substance that helps prevent the negative effects of stress.‍[1] Studies suggest that it may restore energy, improve mood, and enhance cognition.‍[2] It’s also believed to be an effective brain protectant that could prevent damage from toxins,‍[3]and some studies suggest it may even promote longevity.‍[4]

Benefits and Effects

Reducing Fatigue

Rhodiola is primarily known as an outstanding fatigue fighter, typically reducing or eliminating the negative physical and mental effects of minor physical exhaustion.

It’s most effective in combating the kind of fatigue produced by prolonged or repetitive low-intensity exertion or extended periods of stress; it has been shown to increase the length of effective exercise time, but the data is mixed on whether it substantially improves athletic performance.

While rhodiola may be only minimally effective as a performance enhancer for athletes, it may be useful for students, shift workers, and others who simply need to keep going with everyday life after fatigue sets in.

Rhodiola has been shown to relieve or reduce many physical symptoms of fatigue, including muscle aches and soreness, feelings of tiredness and sleepiness, and headache.‍[5]

It has also been proven to address many of the cognitive symptoms of fatigue, including moodiness and irritability, impaired judgment and decision-making ability, and diminished capacity for mental work.‍[6]

There is some evidence that rhodiola was used by the Soviet military to improve the performance of soldiers and athletes, and to help Cosmonauts cope with the stresses of space travel.‍[7]

Coping with Stress

New studies show that rhodiola is an excellent adaptogen that helps the body achieve systemic balance and return to normal function after exposure to stress.‍[8]

This could be of great benefit to users who frequently deal with intense situations, hectic schedules, and high expectations, but it is equally important for those who cope with the “burnout” effect of long-term repetitive work or prolonged periods of stress.

Clinical trials involving subjects with life stress symptoms showed clinically relevant improvements in all stress symptoms across the board, including low energy, headache, muscular aches and discomfort, depression, moodiness, sleep disorders, and more.‍[9]

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study involving students under the stress of exams, rhodiola was shown to substantially enhance general well-being and physical fitness, reduce mental fatigue, and improve scores on a battery of neuro-motoric tests.‍[10] In addition, the students taking rhodiola scored and an average of 8.4% higher on their exams than the students taking a placebo.

Animal studies confirm that rhodiola rosea supplementation effectively lowered levels of cortisol,‍[11] a stress-related hormone that is associated with impaired immune function, hypertension, hyperglycemia, and a number of other physical disorders.

Cognitive Enhancement

While there is little research specifically investigating rhodiola rosea’s nootropic capabilities, both animal and human studies indicate that rhodiola’s proven ability to reduce fatigue positively influences cognitive abilities, including memory, motivation, and capacity for mental work.

A comprehensive review of research data on a total of 140 compounds isolated from the rhodiola rosea plant indicates that rhodiola’s anti-fatigue effect increases mental performance, particularly enhancing the ability to concentrate in healthy subjects, and reduces burnout in patients with fatigue syndrome.‍[12]

These conclusions are borne out by a number of clinical trials, one of which involved a group of healthy physicians on night duty over a period of six weeks. The double-blind placebo-controlled study showed that the participants taking rhodiola outscored those taking placebo on a wide range of complex perceptive functions, including associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation, concentration, and perceptive speed, and overall level of mental fatigue.‍[13]

A study of military cadets performing night duties showed that 5 days of supplementation with rhodiola rosea significantly decreased fatigue and increased capacity for mental work.‍[14]

Treatment of Depression

Rhodiola may have potential as a safe and effective treatment for mild depression.

Clinical trials indicate that twice-daily doses of rhodiola resulted in a significant lessening of depression, insomnia, emotional instability, and other symptoms in patients diagnosed with mild to moderate depression.‍[15]

Neuroprotection and Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Several enzymes in rhodiola have potent antioxidant properties.‍[16]

Not only do these enzymes protect neurons against oxidative damage and extend cell life, but they also represent a potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by major oxidative stress and neuronal damage.

Animal studies indicate that rhodiola can halt oxidative damage to the cellular mitochondria and thus has potential as an adjunct treatment for Parkinson’s disease.‍[17]

Other Potential Health Benefits

Though research is ongoing and results remain inconclusive, rhodiola is believed to have potential as a treatment for a wide range of disorders, including high blood pressure,‍[18] cancer,‍[19] and longevity.‍[20]

How It Works

Rhodiola’s mechanisms of action are still being studied, but it appears to act primarily by modulating a variety of signaling pathways and molecular networks in the brain.

It affects this modulation to a large extent via a number of phytochemical components that act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors,‍[21] or agents that slow or prevent the enzymatic breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.

This action effectively increases levels of these important neurotransmitters, which are associated with mood stabilization, pleasure response, motivation, and drive/energy. This, in turn, improves neuronal communication and positively impacts mood, reduces fatigue perception, and enhances cognitive abilities.‍[22]

Rhodiola is also believed to expedite the intra-brain movement of monoamines and other neurochemical messenger substances, improving processing and reaction time.

Rhodiola is also known to interact with the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) system, suppressing the production and release of cortisol, a potentially damaging hormone closely associated with stress.

This action in the HPA system is also thought to increase the production and release of beta-endorphins and opiate peptides, which have an anti-depressant action and are associated with stress reduction.‍[23]

Dosage

Rhodiola has been tested and found safe and effective in doses as small as 50 mg daily to as large as 680 mg daily.

There is no single universally accepted dosage recommendation for rhodiola, and effective amounts vary according to several factors, including age, weight, and general health.

Some users find the actions of rhodiola to be very dose-dependent, varying considerably depending on the size of the dose and the time at which it’s taken.‍[24]

Higher doses have not been shown to be toxic but may be ineffective, and many users find that taking rhodiola in a cycle rather than continuously is the best way to prevent tolerance from forming.

It can be taken with or without food but may be most effective when taken on an empty stomach. Rhodiola should be taken early in the day to avoid interruptions in normal sleep patterns.

Rhodiola may interact with other compounds, so if you’re taking medications or other supplements use rhodiola carefully and monitor the effects.

Consult your doctor before taking rhodiola if you’ve been prescribed drugs to lower blood sugar or treat diabetes; medicine for the treatment of high or low blood pressure; CNS depressants or stimulants; anti-depressants, including MAOIs and SSRIs; sedatives; heart regulating drugs; and antibiotics.‍[25]

There is insufficient data on how rhodiola affects infants and children, so it is advised for use by adults only.

Pregnant or nursing women should not take rhodiola.

Stacking

To fully experience rhodiola’s cognitive enhancing effects, it does best when stacked with other supplements.

Rhodiola Rosea Stack for Universal Cognitive Enhancement

For a preformulated nootropic that contains a blend of 11 cognitive enhancing supplements, including rhodiola, designed to optimize a wide array of cognitive functions, we recommend Mind Lab Pro.

Mind Lab Pro’s strategy aims at all aspects of memory, mental performance, mood and stress resistance, and brain repair, and maintenance. Their combination of nootropics is designed to affect brain energy, neurotransmitters, brain blood flow, brain waves, neuroprotection, and regeneration.

Read our Mind Lab Pro review for a detailed overview.

Side Effects

Rhodiola appears to be generally safe, non-addictive, and well-tolerated by adults taking moderate (50 mg – 680 mg daily) doses for a limited period of time, up to 10 weeks.

The most common side effects include mild to moderate dizziness, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, nausea, restlessness, and increased libido.‍[26]

Side effects tend to be dosage-dependent and are more pronounced when larger doses are taken, so it’s important to take the minimum effective dosage to eliminate or minimize side effects.

Where to Buy

We recommend Double Wood Supplements Rhodiola Rosea Capsules that can be found on Amazon.

Another option is to order directly from a reputable specialty supplement vendor such as PureNootropics.net where you’ll be able to find rhodiola rosea as well as a wide selection of other nootropics.

Alternatively, if you’d like to take a supplement that contains a blend of 11 cognitive enhancing nootropics, including rhodiola, we recommend Mind Lab Pro. Read our Mind Lab Pro review for a detailed overview.

Closing Thoughts

Rhodiola is a Eurasian herbal treatment used in traditional medicine as a restorative tonic.

Modern research confirms that it’s a potent adaptogen that may boost energy, mood, and cognition, help the body cope with stress, and even protect the brain from oxidative damage.

There are lots of pros associated with rhodiola rosea. It has a long history of practical use; it has been extensively researched and found to be safe and well-tolerated, with very few side effects; it’s affordable and readily available, and clinical trials suggest that it’s an effective energy restorative with some decided nootropic benefits.

There are some cons, as well. Rhodiola can interact negatively with some prescription medications, and it could potentially interfere with normal sleep patterns. It’s not entirely clear whether effects are acute or need some time to develop, and it’s uncertain whether tolerance is a problem when rhodiola is taken for long periods.

Rhodiola’s nootropic properties appear to be closely tied to its ability to increase energy and banish fatigue, so it may not be the answer if you’re looking for a supplement whose only effects are cognition-related. But if you’re looking for a supplement that can help keep you at your best through periods of physical or mental stress, rhodiola may be worth considering.

References   [ + ]

Planning to start a new supplementation regimen? See our medical disclaimer.

This page was last updated on November 14, 2018.