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Rhodiola rosea

by James Odell, OMD, ND, LAc

Rhodiola rosea, also known as “golden root” or “roseroot” belongs to the plant family Crassulaceae.1 Rhodiola grows primarily in dry sandy ground at high altitudes in the arctic areas of Europe and Asia, especially the Himalayas. The plant reaches a height of 12 to 30 inches (70cm) and produces beautiful yellow blossoms. It is a perennial with a thick rhizome that is fragrant when cut.


History


For centuries, Rhodiola has been used in the traditional medicine of Tibet, Russia, Scandinavia, and numerous other countries. Between 1748 and 1961 various medicinal applications of Rhodiola rosea appeared in the scientific literature of Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Iceland.


In 1961, G.V. Krylov, a Russian botanist and taxonomist in the Department of Botany at the Novosibirsk Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led an expedition to the cedar taiga in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia where he located and identified the “golden root” as Rhodiola rosea.


Since 1969, Rhodiola rosea has been included in official Russian medicine. The Pharmacological and Pharmacopoeia Committee of the Soviet Ministry of Health recommended the medicinal use and industrial production of liquid Rhodiola rosea extract. In 1975, the Soviet Ministry of Health approved and registered preparation No. 75/933/14 as a medicine and tonic, allowing large-scale production under the name Rhodiola extract liquid, an alcohol-based extract (40 percent ethyl alcohol).


Uses


Current uses include:

  • Manage stress;

  • Manage fatigue (feeling very tired or having less energy than usual);

  • Improve endurance (your ability to do physical activity for a long time);

  • Treat depression.

Traditional Asian medicine used Rhodiola to increase physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, and resistance to high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections, and nervous system disorders.2, 3, 4, 5,6


The use of Rhodiola rosea as a tonic in Siberian and Russian medicine stimulated extensive research leading to the identification of Rhodiola rosea as an adaptogen, a substance that nonspecifically increases the resistance of an organism and does not disturb normal biological parameters. The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola are attributed primarily to its ability to influence the levels and activity of neurotransmitters and the amino acids that mimic the effect of opiates, such as beta-endorphins, in the brain. Because it is an adaptogen and not an opiate, Rhodiola has the potential to normalize neurotransmitters in the central nervous system without causing drowsiness or fatigue. It helps maintain normal levels of brain chemicals but does not further affect them when they are already normal.7


German researchers have described the benefits of Rhodiola rosea for pain, headache, scurvy, and hemorrhoids, as a stimulant, and as an anti-inflammatory. In mountain villages of the Republic of Georgia, a bouquet of roots is still given to couples prior to marriage to enhance fertility and ensure the birth of healthy children. In Middle Asia, Rhodiola tea was the most effective treatment for cold and flu during severe Asian winters. Mongolian doctors also have prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer.


Chemical Constituents


The pharmacological and medicinal properties of Rhodiola are a species-dependent phenomenon. Of all the Rhodiola species, Rhodiola rosea has been the predominant subject of phytochemical, animal, and human studies.8 Since 1961, more than 200 pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies have been published. Although Rhodiola rosea has been extensively studied as an adaptogen with various health-promoting effects, its properties remain largely unknown in the West. In part, this may be because the bulk of research has been published in Slavic and Scandinavian languages.9

Rhodiola root contains more than 140 active ingredients, with the two most potent being rosavin and salidroside. The investigation of the phytochemistry of Rhodiola rosea root has revealed the presence of six distinct groups of chemical compounds:10


• Phenylpropanoids: rosavin, rosin, rosarin (specific to Rhodiola rosea);

• Phenylethanol derivatives: salidroside (rhodioloside), tyrosol;

• Flavonoids: rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, acetylrodalgin, tricin;

• Monoterpenes: rosiridol, rosaridin;

• Triterpenes: daucosterol, beta-sitosterol;

• Phenolic acids: chlorogenic and hydroxycinnamic, gallic acids.


Physiological Mechanisms


In vitro studies suggest that salidroside, a key constituent, confers neuroprotective effects via nitric oxide (NO) pathway inhibition11, induces antioxidant enzymes thioredoxin, heme oxygenase-1, and peroxiredoxin-I thereby reducing oxidative stress; downregulates proapoptotic Bax protein; and upregulates antiapoptotic Bcl-XL proteins.12


Nitric oxide is involved in many physiologic processes and can also contribute to pathophysiologic processes. Inhibiting nitric oxide or its production can thus also be of therapeutic benefit.

Rhodiola constituents may also have synergistic antioxidant activity 13 and potential antidepressant effects may be due to inhibition of monoamine oxidases A and B.14 In human breast cancer cells, salidroside-induced cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis via mechanisms yet unidentified, but independent of the estrogen receptor.15


Pharmacological and Clinical Studies


Rhodiola studies in cell cultures, animals, and humans have revealed antifatigue, anti-stress, anti-hypoxic (protection against damaging effects of oxygen deprivation), anticancer, antioxidant, immune enhancing, and sexually stimulating effects.16

In vitro studies suggest that salidroside may have neuroprotective and anticancer effects 17, 18, 19 Animal data suggest benefits with Rhodiola on cognitive function, but most studies were determined to have a high risk of bias.20

In humans, preliminary data demonstrate Rhodiola supplementation may improve physical endurance21 and mental performance22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and reduce fatigue27, 28, 29, and stress.30, 31 Other studies demonstrate it may improve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder32 and mild to moderate depression.33 Further studies showed that medium-range doses, unlike tranquilizers, enhanced the development of conditioned avoidance reflexes in rats and facilitated learning based on emotionally positive reinforcement.34, 35


Overall, in small and medium doses, Rhodiola rosea stimulated norepinephrine (NE), dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), and nicotinic cholinergic effects in the central nervous system (CNS). It also enhanced the effects of these neurotransmitters on the brain by increasing the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to precursors of DA and 5-HT.36, 37


Stress interferes with memory functions and, over time, causes deterioration in memory systems. In addition to enhancing cognitive functions, learning, and memory by stimulating NE, DA, 5-HT, and Ach neuronal systems, R. rosea may exert positive effects on memory and cognition by improving resistance to physical and emotional stress. Thus, the dual action of cognitive stimulation and emotional calming creates benefits for both immediate cognitive and memory performance and for the long-term preservation of brain functions.38


As an antioxidant, Rhodiola rosea may help protect the nervous system from oxidative damage by free radicals.39, 40


Dosage


Dosage is always individually determined as we are all biochemically unique. Rhodiola Rosa comes in capsules as well as tinctures. In capsules, the typical oral daily dose is 100 to 600 mg. The common dose of a tincture is 5–10 drops 2–3 times a day, 15–30 minutes before eating.


Toxicity, Side Effects and Contraindications


Rhodiola rosea has a very low level of toxicity. In rat toxicity studies, the LD50 (lethal dose at which 50 percent of animals die) was calculated to be 28.6 ml/kg, approximately 3,360 mg/kg.25 The equivalent dosage in a 70 kg man would be about 235 gm or 235,000 mg. Since the usual clinical doses are 200–600 mg/day, there is a huge margin of safety.41


Overall, Rhodiola rosea has very few side effects. Most users find that it improves their mood, energy level, and mental clarity. Some individuals, particularly those who tend to be anxious, may feel overly activated, jittery, or agitated. If this occurs, then a smaller dose with very gradual increases may be needed. R. rosea should be taken early in the day because it can interfere with sleep or cause vivid dreams (not nightmares) during the first few weeks.


Because Rhodiola rosea has an activating antidepressant effect, it should be used with caution in individuals with bipolar disorder who are vulnerable to becoming manic when given antidepressants or stimulants. The herb does not appear to interact with other medications, though it may have additive effects with other stimulants. It is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach 30 minutes before breakfast and lunch. As with any herbal preparation, individuals should inform their primary healthcare practitioner when taking Rhodiola rosea.


References

  1. Saratikov AS, Krasnov EA. Rhodiola rosea is a valuable medicinal plant (Golden Root). Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State University; 1987.

  2. Ishaque, Sana, Larissa Shamseer, Cecilia Bukutu, and Sunita Vohra. "Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review." BMC complementary and alternative medicine 12, no. 1 (2012): 1-9.

  3. Amsterdam, Jay D., and Alexander G. Panossian. "Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant." Phytomedicine 23, no. 7 (2016): 770-783.

  4. Chen, Yingqing, Minli Tang, Shuo Yuan, Shuang Fu, Yifei Li, You Li, Qi Wang, Yuying Cao, Liping Liu, and Qinggao Zhang. "Rhodiola rosea: A therapeutic candidate on cardiovascular diseases." Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2022 (2022).

  5. Bystritsky, Alexander, Lauren Kerwin, and Jamie D. Feusner. "A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax®) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14, no. 2 (2008): 175-180.

  6. Li, Yonghong, Victor Pham, Michelle Bui, Liankun Song, Chunli Wu, Arman Walia, Edward Uchio, Feng Smith-Liu, and Xiaolin Zi. "Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention." Current pharmacology reports 3 (2017): 384-395.

  7. Khanum, Farhath, Amarinder Singh Bawa, and Brahm Singh. "Rhodiola rosea: a versatile adaptogen." Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety 4, no. 3 (2005): 55-62.

  8. Panossian, Alexander, G. Wikman, and Jerome Sarris. "Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy." Phytomedicine 17, no. 7 (2010): 481-493.

  9. Polumackanycz, Milena, Pawel Konieczynski, Ilkay Erdogan Orhan, Nurten Abaci, and Agnieszka Viapiana. "Chemical composition, antioxidant and anti-enzymatic activity of golden root (Rhodiola rosea L.) commercial samples." Antioxidants 11, no. 5 (2022): 919.

  10. Panossian, Alexander, G. Wikman, and Jerome Sarris. "Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy." Phytomedicine 17, no. 7 (2010): 481-493.

  11. van Diermen D, Marston A, Bravo J, et al. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. Mar 18 2009;122(2):397-401.

  12. Hu X, Zhang X, Qiu S, et al. Salidroside induces cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Jul 16 2010;398(1):62-67.

  13. Hung, Shao Kang, Rachel Perry, and Edzard Ernst. "The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials." Phytomedicine 18, no. 4 (2011): 235-244.

  14. Hu X, Zhang X, Qiu S, et al. Salidroside induces cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Jul 16 2010;398(1):62-67.

  15. De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, et al. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Jun 2004;14(3):298-307.

  16. Li, Yonghong, Victor Pham, Michelle Bui, Liankun Song, Chunli Wu, Arman Walia, Edward Uchio, Feng Smith-Liu, and Xiaolin Zi. "Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention." Current pharmacology reports 3 (2017): 384-395.

  17. Petkov VD, Yonkov D, Mosharoff A, Kambourova T, Alova L, Petkov VV, et al. Effects of alcohol aqueous extract from Rhodiola rosea L. roots on learning and memory. Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg 1986; 12(1):3-16.

  18. Baranov VB First Deputy Director, IMBP. Experimental trials of herbal adaptogen effect on the quality of operation activity, mental and professional work capacity. Contract 93-11-615 Stage 2 Phase I. Moscow: Russian Federation Ministry of Health Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP); 1994.

  19. Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H. 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. Phytomedicine 2000; 7(5):365-71.

  20. Ishaque S, Shamseer L, Bukutu C, Vohra S. Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 May 29;12:70.

  21. Bystritsky A, Kerwin L, Feusner JD. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med. Mar 2008;14(2):175-180.

  22. Darbinyan V, Aslanyan G, Amroyan E, et al. Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nord J Psychiatry. 2007;61(5):343-348.

  23. Petkov VD, Stancheva SL, Tocuschieva L, Petkov VV. Changes in brain biogenic monoamines induced by the nootropic drugs adafenoxate and meclofenoxate and by citicholine (experiments on rats). Gen Pharmacol 1990; 21(1):71-5.

  24. Bernatoniene, Jurga, Valdas Jakstas, and Dalia M. Kopustinskiene. "Phenolic compounds of Rhodiola rosea L. as the potential alternative therapy in the treatment of chronic diseases." International Journal of Molecular Sciences 24, no. 15 (2023): 12293.

  25. Saratikov A, Marina TF, Fisanova LL. Effect of golden root extract on processes of serotonin synthesis in CNS. Journal of Biological Sciences 1978; 6.

  26. Marina TF, Alekseeva LP. Effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on electroencephalograms in rabbit. in. Stimulants of the Central Nervous System. Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State University Press; 1968: 22-6.

  27. Anghelescu, Ion-George, David Edwards, Erich Seifritz, and Siegfried Kasper. "Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review." International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice 22, no. 4 (2018): 242-252.

  28. Furmanowa M, Skopinska-Rozewska E, Rogala E, Malgorzata H. Rhodiola rosea in vitro culture - phytochemical analysis and antioxidant action. Acta Societis Botanicorum Poloniae 1998; 76(1):69-73.

  29. Durany N, Munch G, Michel T, Riederer P. Investigations on oxidative stress and therapeutical implications in dementia. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 1999; 249 Suppl 3:68-73.

  30. Udintsev SN, Schakhov VP. Decrease of cyclophosphamide haematotoxicity by Rhodiola rosea root extract in mice with Ehrlich and Lewis transplantable tumors. Eur J Cancer 1991; 27(9):1182.

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