Summary

A high-altitude herb native to the Arctic areas of Europe and Asia, rhodiola has a long history of effectiveness as a tonic for both mind and body. It was commonly used in Chinese, Scandinavian and Russian traditional medicine as a physical restorative, and it remains a popular remedy for fatigue and “burn out” as well as a brain-boosting nootropic that is believed to improve memory and increase productivity.

New research confirms rhodiola’s physical and mental benefits as a powerful adaptogen, or compound that helps prevent the negative effects of stress. It restores energy, improves mood, and enhances cognition. It’s also believed to be an effective brain protectant that could prevent damage from toxins, and some studies suggest it may even promote longevity.

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 opinions vary on whether it substantially improves athletic performance or stamina or speeds recovery from intensive exertion.

While rhodiola may be only minimally effective as a performance enhancer for athletes, it can be exceptionally 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. 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.

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. This is an invaluable benefit for 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.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study involving students taking 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. In addition, the students taking rhodiola scored and an average of 8.4% higher on their exams than the students taking a placebo.

Cognitive Enhancement

Research, studies, and clinical trials have repeatedly indicated that rhodiola markedly increases cognitive abilities, including memory, motivation, and capacity for mental work. While this effect is certainly associated to some extent with the reduction of fatigue, many consider rhodiola to be a powerful fatigue-independent nootropic, and its potential cognitive benefits are still being studied.

One of the most intriguing trials 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.

Treatment of Depression

Rhodiola has potential as a safe and effective treatment for mild depression. Research is ongoing, but 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.

Neuroprotectivity and Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disease

Several enzymes in rhodiola have potent antioxidant properties. 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.

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, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, cancer, and longevity.

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. This slows the enzymatic breakdown of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that are associated with mood stabilization, pleasure response, and motivation. Rhodiola is also believed to increase the availability of epinephrine and norepinephrine, both of which are neurotransmitters associated with drive and energy.

Increased levels of these and other neurotransmitters improves neuronal communication and positively impacts mood, reduces fatigue perception, and enhances cognitive abilities. 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.

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.

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 a tolerance from forming.

The average effective dose of rhodiola is generally accepted as the range from 340mg to 680 mg daily. 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. It works best when taken on an empty stomach, so a 100 mg dose in the morning before breakfast is a good starting point. Maintain this dosage for at least a week to be sure that your body is tolerating it well before adding doses.

The amount of rhodiola you need will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, weight, general health, and other medications you’re taking. Why you’re taking rhodiola and what you expect from it also play a part in determining dosage; while a single 100 mg dose can effectively improve memory and focus for many users, relieving depression and anxiety can take up to 400 mg daily.

As always, it’s wisest to start with the lowest effective dosage and gradually increase as needed.

Rhodiola may interact with other compounds, so if you’re taking certain 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.

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 ashwagandha’s cognitive enhancing effects, it does best when stacked with other supplements.

Have a look at our All-Natural Nootropic Stack for some inspiration of a stack that contains rhodiola.

Where to Buy

We recommend NOW Foods Rhodiola Rosea Capsules that can be found on Amazon.

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

Side Effects

Rhodiola is 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. These 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.

Dosage timing is also important. It’s best to take rhodiola on an empty stomach for maximum effectiveness and early in the day to avoid interruptions in normal sleep patterns.

Closing Thoughts

Rhodiola is a traditional herbal treatment that has been used as a tonic for centuries, and it is growing in popularity with the nootropics community as science uncovers more of its capabilities.

It’s a safe, well-tolerated, and effective fatigue fighter that can keep you going through busy days or long study sessions with no drop in cognitive abilities.

Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a powerful adaptogen and reliable neuroprotectant that can help your body fight the adverse effects of the stress that’s simply part of modern life.

If you’re looking for a supplement that can help keep you at your mental and physical best, rhodiola is a natural nootropic worth considering.

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