Life Extension Magazine February 2006
By Dave Tuttle
By Dave Tuttle
Other Healthful Effects
Rhodiola has been shown to have beneficial properties related to brain function, depression, cellular mutation, and heart health.
In a rat study using a rhodiola tincture (alcohol-water extract), scientists discovered that a moderate 0.1-ml dose of the herb improved learning and retention after 24 hours.15 With repeated supplementation over a period of 10 days, significant improvements in long-term memory were observed.15 The active constituents in the herb have been found to affect the central nervous system by increasing ability to concentrate and improving cellular resistance to outside influences.16
Rhodiola may play a role in fighting depression. In a group of 128 adult patients with depression and neurasthenia (a condition of fatigue, weakness, and inability to recover by resting), treatment with 150 mg of rhodiola three times a day significantly reduced or eliminated symptoms in 64% of the subjects.17 Among a group of patients hospitalized for depression, the addition of rhodiola to a treatment regimen of tricyclic antidepressants reduced the length of hospital stays and improved the patients’ moods, thought processes, and motor activity.18 Even better, the herb not only reduced troublesome side effects of the antidepressants, but also proved to be effective in treating less severe forms of depression without other medications.
Studies have also demonstrated heart-healthy properties of rhodiola. An eight-day trial of rhodiola extract increased the resistance of experimental animals to drug-induced arrhythmias.19 The researchers believe that this anti-arrhythmic effect is associated with the herb’s induction of opioid peptide biosynthesis. Another study found that rhodiola prevented stress-induced cardiac damage and catecholamine release from the heart muscle.20
These benefits may be partly attributable to rhodiola’s ability to reduce blood levels of both C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker, and creatinine kinase, a marker of muscle damage. A study at the Center of Modern Medicine in Russia found a dramatic reduction in these blood markers in rhodiola-supplemented healthy volunteers after stressful exercise.21 If rhodiola is able to reduce CRP induced by other forms of stress—as seems likely—this suggests that the herb can reduce overall levels of inflammation in the body. Given inflammation’s important role in heart disease and many other degenerative conditions, this would be a very important discovery. Further research is needed, however, to confirm these benefits.
Several animal experiments suggest that rhodiola has anti-cancer properties. Rhodiola protected the bone marrow cells of mice against mutagenic, drug-induced chromosomal aberrations.22 The herb also inhibited unscheduled DNA synthesis, providing evidence that it can raise the efficiency of cellular DNA repair mechanisms.22 Another experiment on rats with malignant lymphoma found that Rhodiola rosea was as beneficial in inhibiting tumor growth as a partial hepatectomy (removal of the liver) and slightly more effective in preventing metastasis. Further research is needed to determine whether these results extend to humans.23
Recommended Dosage and Contraindications
Consumers are able to take advantage of rhodiola’s benefits with standardized extracts that provide precise dosages of the active components. This takes much of the guesswork out of selecting a product, as long as you follow a few guidelines.
When rhodiola was first being researched, it was believed that the active ingredient is salidroside, a phytochemical found in various plant species. However, further investigation revealed that plants containing only salidroside do not confer the same benefits as rhodiola. Researchers then isolated the plant constituents found only in rhodiola. These critical components include rosavin, rosarin, and rosin, collectively known as rosavins.
“We are not sure which chemicals actually do what, but we know that certain chemicals must be present for rhodiola to work,” adds Dr. Brown. “These include rosavin, rosarin, rosin, salidroside, and tyrosol. The last two are found in other plants, but the first three are found only in Rhodiola rosea. It may take a synergistic combination of these chemicals for the herb to work. To ensure that root extracts contain pure Rhodiola rosea, they should be standardized to contain at least 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside, the ratio found in the natural root.”
Herbal Rhodiola rosea supplements should contain a minimum of 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside, matching the concentrations used in clinical trials. This is the rhodiola formulation produced by reputable manufacturers; less ethical companies may try to profit from the herb’s popularity by substituting other members of the rhodiola family. Unfortunately, only Rhodiola rosea has the benefits described in this article.
The recommended dosage is 75-150 mg taken twice daily. While the herb has an exceptionally high level of safety, larger doses will not necessarily produce greater results. Active people who stress their bodies physically should aim for the high end of the suggested dosage range; sedentary people will likely require a smaller dose, though one’s level of stress will also be a factor. Because rhodiola can stimulate cognitive processes, it is best taken before breakfast and in the middle of the day. As with most herbs, rhodiola is best taken on an empty stomach.
The time required to begin feeling the effects of rhodiola depends on your genetics, mental and physical condition, environment, behavior, and lifestyle.24 Some people begin to feel its effects in just a few days, while others require as much as three weeks. Clinical studies show that most people experience its full benefits in 30-40 days. If you do not notice a change within 40 days, discontinue use, as rhodiola may not be effective for you.
Most important, be patient. The negative effects of chronic stress develop over many years, slowly but steadily eroding the body’s balance and often causing fluctuations in mood and energy levels. Recovering one’s balance takes time, so avoid trying to rush the process by megadosing once the first effects are felt. It is better to let the herb take its natural course and slowly restore your body to a more balanced state.
A Multifaceted Herbal Adaptogen
With its ability to increase mental energy and physical endurance, rhodiola has tremendous potential to counteract many negative effects of the aging process. Studies show that rhodiola can favorably support the body’s stress reaction, both mentally and physically. In research trials, rhodiola has been shown to boost brain function and have anti-cancer effects. Rhodiola thus provides a safe, effective way to combat many of the conditions faced by older adults, making it a valuable addition to any anti-aging supplement program.
1. Saratikov AS, Krasnov EA. Rhodiola rosea is a valuable medicinal plant (Golden root). Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State University Press; 1987.
2. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbalgram. 2002;56:40-52.
3. Bowers RW, Fox EL. Sports Physiology. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers; 1992.
4. McCully KK, Forciea MA, Hack LM, et al. Muscle metabolism in older subjects using 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991 May;69(5):576-80.
5. Moller P, Bergstrom J, Furst P, Hellstrom K. Effect of aging on energy-rich phosphagens in human skeletal muscles. Clin Sci (Lond). 1980 Jun;58(6):553-5.
6. McCully K, Posner J. Measuring exercise-induced adaptations and injury with magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Int J Sports Med. 1992 Oct;13 Suppl 1S147-9.
7. Adamchuk LV, Salnik BU. Effect of Rhodiola rosea extract and piridrol on metabolism of rats under high muscular load. Proceedings Institute of Cytology of Russian Academy of Science. 1971;89-92.
8. Abidov M, Crendal F, Grachev S, Seifulla R, Ziegenfuss T. Effect of extracts from Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata (Crassulaceae) roots on ATP content in mitochondria of skeletal muscles. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2003 Dec;136(6):585-7.
9. De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307.
10. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL. The Rhodiola Revolution: Transform Your Health with the Herbal Breakthrough of the 21st Century. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books; 2004.
11. Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. 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 Oct;7(5):365-71.
12. Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, Mironova IA, Neumoin VV. 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. Phytomedicine. 2000 Apr;7(2):85-9.
13. Shevtsov VA, Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, et al. A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine. 2003 Mar;10(2-3):95-105.
14. Zhu BW, Sun YM, Yun X, et al. Reduction of noise-stress-induced physiological damage by radices of Astragali and Rhodiolae: glycogen, lactic acid and cholesterol contents in the liver of the rat. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003 Sep;67(9):1930-6.
15. Petkov VD, Yonkov D, Mosharoff A, 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.
16. Kucinskaite A, Briedis V, Savickas A. Experimental analysis of therapeutic properties of Rhodiola rosea L. and its possible application in medicine. Medicina (Kaunas.). 2004;40(7):614-9.
17. Krasik ED, Morozova ES, Petrova KP, Ragulina GA, Shemetova LA, Shuvaev VP. Therapy of asthenic conditions: clinical perspectives of application of Rhodiola rosea extract (golden root). In: Proceedings of Modern Problems in Psychopharmacology. Kemerovo, Russia: Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; 1970.
18. Brichenko VS, Kupriyanova IE, Skorokhova TF. The use of herbal adaptogens with tricyclic antidepressants in patients with psychogenic depression. In: Modern Problems of Pharmacology and Search for New Medicines. Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State University Press; 1986.
19. Lishmanov I, Maslova LV, Maslov LN, Dan’shina EN. The anti-arrhythmia effect of Rhodiola rosea and its possible mechanism. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 1993 Aug;116(8):175-6.
20. Maslova LV, Kondrat’ev BI, Maslov LN, Lishmanov I. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in stress. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 1994 Nov;57(6):61-3.
21. Abidov M, Grachev S, Seifulla RD, Ziegenfuss TN. Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2004 Jul;138(1):63-4.
22. Salikhova RA, Aleksandrova IV, Mazurik VK, et al. Effect of Rhodiola rosea on the yield of mutation alterations and DNA repair in bone marrow cells. Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter. 1997 Oct;(4):22-4.
23. Udintsev SN, Shakhov VP. The role of humoral factors of regenerating liver in the development of experimental tumors and the effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on this process. Neoplasma. 1991;38(3):323-31.
24. Germano C, Ramazanov Z, Del Mar M, Suarez B. Arctic Root (Rhodiola Rosea): The Powerful New Ginseng Alternative. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing; 1999.