14 Rhodiola Rosea Benefits + Dosage, Side Effects

14 Rhodiola Rosea Benefits + Dosage, Side Effects
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Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen with a long history of traditional use against stress, fatigue, and more. Does the science back it up? Learn more here.

What Is Rhodiola rosea?

Rhodiola rosea is a flowering plant that grows in very cold climates and at high altitudes. Its root has been used in traditional medicine in the Caucasus Mountains, Scandinavia, China, and Russia, where practitioners believe that it can improve focus and endurance in both body and mind [1, 2].

Other species closely related to R. rosea are also used in traditional medicine. These include Rhodiola imbricata, Rhodiola algida, and Rhodiola crenulata. Together, these herbs are best known as adaptogens: substances that help combat stress. However, Rhodiola roots and extracts are also being investigated for other potential cognitive and physical benefits [3, 4, 5].

Rhodiola has many other names: in China, it is called hóng jǐng tiān. Elsewhere, it may be called rosenroot, rose root, Arctic root, golden root, or king’s crown. In French, it is l’orpin rose [6, 7, 8, 9, 10].

Proponents:

  • May reduce stress and fatigue
  • May boost the immune system
  • May improve mood
  • May increase fat burning
  • May improve sexual function

Skeptics:

  • Possible dangerous drug interactions
  • Clinical research lacking for many purported benefits

Salidroside

Salidroside, also known as rhodioloside, is considered to be the most important bioactive molecule in Rhodiola rosea. It is likely responsible for Rhodiola’s effects on the brain [11, 12].

Rosavin

Rosavin has many of the same properties and mechanisms as salidroside, but seems to require a higher dose to produce the same effect [13].

Tyrosol

Tyrosol is present in standardized Rhodiola rosea extracts, but it often goes unlabeled on commercial supplements. Tyrosol is an antioxidant and may also contribute to Rhodiola’s beneficial properties [14].

Rhodiola is an important herb in traditional medicine in parts of Europe and Asia. According to practitioners, it helps people with stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, brain fog, burnout, and heart problems. It’s also used to boost the immune system and increase lifespan [15, 2].

That’s an awfully long list – does the research back it up? You might not be surprised to hear that it’s complicated [15, 2].

In cell studies, rhodiola activates AMPK, boosts Nrf2, and blocks the JAK2STAT3 pathway. Let’s take a deep dive into these important mechanisms.

AMPK Activation

Many of Rhodiola’s reported effects could be attributed to a protein called AMPK. AMPK is important for energy balance and for preventing oxidative stress. It prevents insulin resistance, keeps blood sugar down, and stops fat buildup in the liver. When free radicals build up, AMPK increases the production of antioxidant proteins [16, 17, 18].

Nuclear factor-κB (NF-kB) controls many genes that cause inflammation, and it is very active in inflammatory diseases like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and atherosclerosis. AMPK reduces inflammation by decreasing the activity of NF-κB [19, 20].

AMPK may also increase the activity of PI3K, an important protein for insulin signaling [17, 21].

Rhodiola extracts and pure salidroside both activated AMPK in cell studies [22, 23, 24].

Nrf2 Activation

Nrf2 is a protein that activates numerous important antioxidant proteins and protects against oxidative stress. In cells, rhodiola’s bioactive components increased the activity of Nrf2 and its antioxidant effects [25, 26].

JAK2-STAT3 Inhibition

In combination, the JAK2 and STAT3 genes form a pathway that increases inflammation. Salidroside from Rhodiola blocked this pathway and thereby reduced inflammation in cell studies [27, 28].

Potential Benefits (Possibly Effective)

Rhodiola has produced positive results in at least one study on each of the potential benefits in this section, but larger and more robust studies are required to confirm its effectiveness. The FDA has not approved rhodiola or its extracts for any medical purpose or health claim. Talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.

1) Stress Relief

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen: a compound purported to combat stress by helping the body (and especially the brain and the immune system) return to and maintain a normal, balanced state [29].

Stress & Burnout

Perhaps because this is rhodiola’s best-known purpose, several human trials have already been conducted.

In 101 volunteers with “life-stress symptoms,” 200 mg of rhodiola extract began to produce significant improvements in their stress levels and daily functioning just three days after starting the trial. After four weeks, all participants had significantly improved. Unfortunately, this study did not have a control group, and a placebo effect was likely [30].

In another study of 80 patients with mild anxiety, 400 mg of rhodiola extract per day for two weeks produced significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and negative emotions. This study did include a control group, but the controls were not given a placebo. The authors concluded that rhodiola was likely responsible for the improvements, but they cautioned that no causal link could yet be drawn with certainty [31].

Finally, in a study of 118 people with burnout, 400 mg of rhodiola extract per day started to produce improvements to stress and mood after one week. Patients continued to improve until the study ended after twelve weeks. Again, however, there was no control group [32].

In other words, rhodiola has produced promising early results in clinical studies, but a lack of control conditions means that these studies are of relatively low quality.

Fatigue

In a handful of human studies, rhodiola extracts reduced feelings of fatigue in university students and young physicians [33, 34].

Reductions in fatigue were significant compared to the placebo groups, but the studies were small and brief.

HPA Axis

Salidroside, like many adaptogens, acts on the HPA axis: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland. This system of glands controls many of the body’s stress responses, such as the release of cortisol [29, 35].

Adaptogens like salidroside also affect the expression of Hsp7, a heat-shock protein that helps cells adapt to repeated exposure to the same source of stress. However, the actual effect of salidroside on Hsp70 is unclear [36, 29, 37]:

Some studies suggest that adaptogens like Rhodiola generally increase Hsp70 expression, which increases tolerance to emotional and physical stress in healthy people.

Other studies conclude that salidroside decreases Hsp70 expression in stomach cancer cells, which contributes to its cancer-fighting effects. The bottom line is that healthy and cancerous cells do not behave in the same way. Salidroside’s effects on Hsp70 seem to be always beneficial, but whether it turns this pathway on or off may depend on the cells it targets and their health.

Mood Mechanisms

Rhodiola extracts, especially salidroside, may decrease the symptoms of depression and generally improve mood [38, 39].

In cell studies, rhodiola extract directly activated four important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. Low dopamine, in particular, is strongly associated with depression and often overlooked; this plant’s effect on dopamine may explain its mood-lifting effects [15, 40].

In one study, salidroside from Rhodiola significantly decreased inflammatory cytokines and returned neurotransmitter levels to normal in rat brains. These two effects are probably linked; inflammation often contributes to depression [38, 41].

Its antidepressant potential may also come from an ability to inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO) in cells. MAO breaks down neurotransmitters while blocking them can raise neurotransmitter levels [42].

Monoamine oxidase is also the target of some antidepressant drugs like selegiline, phenelzine, and isocarboxazid. This class of drugs may interact dangerously with rhodiola; see the section on drug interactions below [43, 44].

3) Sexual Function

Rhodiola is sometimes marketed as a libido booster or a remedy for erectile dysfunction. In combination with zinc, folic acid, and biotin, it may be useful for premature ejaculation [45].

However, many claims about improved sexual function originate from a single study. This study, which was conducted on 120 adults over 50, did not include a placebo or control group and was not focused solely on sexual function, but on a variety of physical and cognitive symptoms [46, 47].

In fact, Rhodiola’s potential effect on sexual function is probably linked to its antidepressant properties. One study found that it reduced all symptoms in people with burnout, including sexual dysfunction [32].

Sexual function and stress are, of course, closely related. By increasing stress resilience and antioxidants, this adaptogen may contribute to a healthy libido. In other cases, though, sexual and erectile dysfunction are not linked to stress. In those cases, Rhodiola probably won’t have an effect [32].

All in all, Rhodiola may improve sexual function, especially in people suffering from mental health issues and erectile dysfunction, but much more research is required.

Animal & Cell Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of rhodiola for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

4) Cognition

Nootropics are an eclectic group of substances believed to enhance brain function. The widely-used nootropic is caffeine; a variety of plants may also have nootropic effects, such as ginseng, ginkgo, turmeric, and sage (Salvia) [48, 49, 50, 51].

Some users believe that rhodiola is a nootropic. In animal models, it stimulated activity in the brain and activated the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. However, this has not been observed in human trials [13, 15].

Rhodiola could potentially increase wakefulness and reduce both physical and mental fatigue, but this has not been studied in humans [52, 53, 54].

Rhodiola extract could potentially improve the body’s natural immune response to threats from bacteria and viruses.

Closing the “Open Window”

Right after highstress exercise, athletes have a dip in their immune function: a period during which they are more likely to, for example, catch a cold. This period is sometimes called the open window [55].

Rhodiola may help close the open window by boosting immune function at just the right time. In one study, marathon runners took 600mg/day of Rhodiola for a month before and a week after their race [56].

Researchers then took blood samples from the runners and introduced viruses into them. In the runners who had been taking Rhodiola, the virus grew and spread more slowly than in those who had not; this result suggests that people taking Rhodiola supplements may have an extra layer of protection during the open window [56].

Cytokines and Inflammation

Rhodiola activates three important immune response genes – RIG-I, MDA5, and ISG – in a type of white blood cells called monocytes. In one study of the dengue virus, this epigenetic effect increased cytokines in infected cells; these cytokines then improved the cells’ ability to eliminate the virus [57].

Cytokines are often labeled as the “bad guys” because they are high in chronic inflammation. During acute infection, however, your immune system needs the right balance of cytokines to mount a successful attack. However, this pathway may already be over-activated in your body if you suffer from chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases (Th1 dominance).

T helper cells are a type of white blood cell that activates other immune cells by releasing cytokines. They can be further divided into Th1 and Th2 cells. Th1 cells are important for fighting bacterial infection, while Th2 cells induce allergic reactions and responses against physically larger threats like parasites [58, 59].

In one mouse study, Rhodiola extract increased the production of Th1 cytokines and did not appear to affect Th2 cytokines. It also prevented T cells from dying and improved the overall survival rate of the mice during infection [58, 59].

Overall, Rhodiola enhances the Th1 response, without affecting the Th2 response much. It may even balance the immune system and actively decrease inflammatory cytokines in some cases. See the section on anti-inflammatory properties below for more details [60].

6) Antioxidant Activity

Free radicals are potentially harmful molecules that are produced during energy metabolism in a healthy cell. Free radicals are completely natural, but they need to exist in balance with antioxidants to prevent excessive oxidative stress, which can damage fats, proteins, and DNA. Unfortunately, a lot of free radicals can be created through exposure to radiation or to harmful substances like cigarette smoke, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals [61].

Salidroside from Rhodiola rosea helped restore the balance between free radicals and antioxidants in cell and animal studies. It protected animal brains against poor blood flow and stroke (ischemia). Salidroside activates the Nrf2 pathway, which turns on protective genes, increases antioxidant proteins, and protects cells [62, 12, 63].

Rhodiola may reduce and prevent oxidative stress by activating AMPK. As mentioned, AMPK activates antioxidant proteins; it may also boost the Nrf2 pathway, giving Rhodiola a two-pronged antioxidant mechanism [64, 65].

Aging

Rhodiola’s antioxidant activity may help fight aging, although the mechanisms are not well-studied in humans [66, 15].

For example, osteoporosis, a disease that causes bone density to decrease as a person ages, is partially caused by oxidative stress. In one study, salidroside from rhodiola prevented the loss of calcium in human bone cells and in a mouse model of osteoporosis [67].

Extracts and dried Rhodiola root can kill the bacteria directly exposed to them. In one study, it could fight every species of bacteria studied, including the common disease-causing Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli [68].

Salidroside may also fight acne on contact. Standard acne treatments can trigger antibiotic resistance in bacteria on the skin, making effective alternatives more important than ever. On contact, salidroside disrupted the acne biofilm: the thin, slimy layer of bacterial cells that stick to each other under your skin. Biofilms protect bacteria from damage and they are difficult to get rid of [69, 56].

Rhodiola and its extracts have yet to be studied in human acne trials.

8) Inflammation

JAK2 and STAT3 are two genes that, when combined, form a pathway that increases inflammation. Salidroside prevents the JAK2-STAT3 pathway from being activated; in this way, it decreases inflammation [27, 28].

Rhodiola may selectively decrease the inflammatory cytokines IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. Its extracts may reduce the expression of these cytokines throughout the body. In one study of mice injected with an E. coli toxin, a large dose of Rhodiola extract significantly lowered inflammation in the kidney and brain [70].

Salidroside, in particular, greatly reduced the expression of these cytokines in immune brain cells called the microglia (cell-based study). Inflammation of these supportive cells in the brain often underlies cognitive dysfunction and diseases like Alzheimer’s [70].

Results on its anti-inflammatory at first seem contradictory. In some studies, it increased the cytokine IFN-gamma; in others, it decreased it. It seems to be beneficial at low doses and becomes toxic at higher levels [58, 71].

This intriguing phenomenon is also known as hormesis. In the right doses, this plant could be hormetic: it may trigger an adaptive stress response that is overall beneficial to health [72, 73].

9) Brain Health

By activating AMPK, Rhodiola may protect nerves and neurons from damage in Alzheimer’s disease and brain injury [74, 17, 12].

Stroke

In a rat study, salidroside protected against the worst effects of brain damage in different types of stroke. Rats given salidroside before suffering brain damage had less inflammation, and the total volume of damaged tissue was significantly smaller. These results suggest that supplementation may increase brain protection in people at risk of stroke [12].

A person’s best chance to recover from a stroke is to seek treatment as soon as possible; the longer it takes to get to a hospital, the less likely a full recovery becomes. In a rat study, salidroside from Rhodiola reduced complications of stroke even when standard treatment was delayed [75].

This adaptogen’s antioxidant effects may explain its ability to protect the nervous system from damage. Free radicals can damage all cells in the brain, including neural stem cells in the growing brain; Rhodiola increases the expression of antioxidant proteins and reduces free radicals in the brain [76, 26].

Parkinson’s Disease

In Parkinson’s disease, neurons die off in a region of the basal ganglia. Increased stress in a part of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum may be the underlying trigger. In a cell study, salidroside protected the endoplasmic reticulum of basal ganglia neurons from stress [77, 78].

According to the authors, these results suggest that rhodiola should be studied in animal models of Parkinson’s.

10) Heart Health

In the heart and elsewhere in the body, AMPK maintains an oxidative balance: in response to oxidative stress, AMPK activates genes that produce antioxidant proteins and reduces blood pressure. Mutations in the AMPK gene can cause problems with heart rhythm and cause Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare heart condition [18, 79].

In animals and cells, rhodiola extract activated AMPK and thereby protected the heart from oxidative stress, lowered blood pressure, and maintained the correct rhythm of the heartbeat [22, 80, 81].

11) Lung Health

We need oxygen to flow constantly through our lungs, but the combination of toxins and oxygen in excess can produce a dangerous cocktail of free radicals and oxidative stress. The lungs are especially vulnerable to oxidative stress [82].

In the lungs, oxidative stress over a long period of time can lead to asthma, respiratory cancers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD [82].

Possibly by increasing the expression of antioxidant proteins and reducing inflammatory cytokines, salidroside from Rhodiola protected against oxidative damage to the lungs of rats [83].

12) Pain Management

In multiple studies, rhodiola and its extracts reduced pain and swelling in rats with diabetes, arthritis, and injury [84, 85, 86].

Both of its major active components, salidroside and rosavin, appear to reduce pain by decreasing inflammation. In this sense, they are similar to many commonly-used anti-inflammatory painkillers (like NSAIDs) [85, 87].

Rhodiola is currently under investigation for its potential to slow the growth of tumors [66].

When a tumor grows, it stimulates the growth of blood vessels around itself so that it can receive nutrients and get rid of waste. This process is called angiogenesis. Rhodiola extracts inhibit angiogenesis in animals [88].

Alone, salidroside from rhodiola is being investigated in the context of bladder, breast, stomach, brain, lung, and fibrosarcoma cancers [66].

Other researchers are investigating whether salidroside could increase the potency of conventional chemotherapy drugs [89, 90, 91].

Safety & Potential Risks

Because of some disagreement in the scientific community about the various effects and mechanisms of rhodiola, the FDA has classified it as a poisonous plant. Furthermore, the ingredients and active compounds in commercial Rhodiola supplements may not be accurately labeled. We recommend caution when choosing to supplement [15, 92].

Taken alone, Rhodiola is generally safe and well-tolerated in therapeutic dosages, with only mild to moderate side effects. The most common side effects in people taking this herb for anxiety were dizziness and dry mouth [53].

No studies have been conducted to determine rhodiola’s effect on pregnant or breastfeeding women; nonetheless, this herb is given to pregnant women in traditional Georgian medicine. Until clinical studies look into these effects, we recommend strongly against supplementing with Rhodiola while pregnant or breastfeeding [93, 94, 95, 96].

At a dose of 660 mg/day, combined with vitamin C, it decreased mental fatigue, increased exam scores and language-learning ability in teenagers. Rhodiola’s effects on children have not been formally studied. Rhodiola tea is traditionally given to children in the Caucasus Mountains, but we recommend against giving rhodiola supplements to children [97, 1].

Salidroside and rosavin are highly active molecules with diverse effects in the body. As such, anyone taking prescription medication should be careful when supplementing with Rhodiola. Talk to your doctor before supplementing to avoid adverse effects and unexpected interactions

Antidepressants

  • MAOIs: Monoamine oxidase inhibitors should not be combined with any substance that increases dopamine or norepinephrine, except by a doctor’s instruction [98].
  • SSRIs: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like escitalopram and paroxetine may interact with Rhodiola and produce unwanted side effects like muscle pain, gum pain, and irregular heartbeat. Restlessness, trembling, sweating, and other symptoms of serotonin syndrome can also arise [99, 100].

If you are taking antidepressants, do not supplement with Rhodiola without consulting your doctor.

Diabetes Medication

  • Metformin: Rhodiola and metformin have some similar effects because they both activate AMPK and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. If you are taking metformin for any reason, talk to your doctor before supplementing [101, 102, 103].
  • Any CYP2C9 substrate: Rhodiola inhibits the enzyme that breaks down many oral diabetes medications. See the section below for more details.

Blood Pressure Medication

Rhodiola lowers blood pressure by activating AMPK. We recommend caution when supplementing if you are already taking medication to lower your blood pressure [80].

Many blood pressure medications are also metabolized by CYP2C9. See the section below for more details [104].

CYP2C9 Substrates

Many drugs are broken down by a group of enzymes called cytochrome P450s, or CYPs. In the liver, CYPs metabolize many medications: if CYPs are blocked, these medications will stay in the bloodstream for longer and in higher concentrations. Their effects may then be more intense [105, 7].

Contradictory studies have suggested two opposite effects of Rhodiola on the CYP enzyme CYP2C9. In two studies, it blocked the effects of CYP2C9; in one study, salidroside alone increased the activity of CYP2C9. More research is required to fully understand how this plant and its active compounds affect CYP2C9 [105, 7, 106].

CYP2C9 substrates include any compound metabolized by this enzyme. These medications may reach higher blood levels when combined with Rhodiola extracts:

  • NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) [107]
  • Anticoagulants like warfarin [104]
  • Blood pressure medication like losartan [104]

Some of these medications, especially warfarin and phenytoin, have a narrow therapeutic index. This means that very small variations in dose can have a wide variety of effects. In some cases, even a change in diet can alter the effect of these drugs. Rhodiola may interact with warfarin and phenytoin in unexpected ways. Consult your doctor before supplementing if you are taking these medications [108, 105, 109].

Other drugs increase or decrease the activity of CYP2C9 and may interact with Rhodiola, but these interactions have not yet been studied. We advise caution when combining this herb with any prescription medication.

PRKAA1

PRKAA1 is a gene that produces the most active piece of the AMPK protein. Among women living at high altitudes, variations in this gene affect the birth weight of their children and the width of the artery that feeds the baby in the womb. In particular, women with certain variations in the SNPs rs929785, rs1345778, and rs3805490 had wider uterine arteries and gave birth to heavier babies [110].

This effect may be caused by increased AMPK activity, which has a protective effect in low-oxygen environments. Because Rhodiola activates AMPK, people with variations in these SNPs may react more strongly to it; this interaction has not been confirmed. More research is required to confirm interactions between PRKAA1 and compounds that affect AMPK [110, 111].

COMT

COMT is an enzyme that inactivates and breaks down dopamine (and other monoamines) in the brain. It ensures that dopamine levels don’t stay too high, which is important for the correct function of the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia [112, 113].

Variations in the COMT gene may affect your personality profile, making you more of a “worrier” or “warrior”. The worrier has lower COMT function, more available dopamine, and stronger memory and attention; the warrior has higher COMT, less available dopamine, and better performance under stress [114, 115].

Rhodiola inhibits COMT and raises the amount of available dopamine in the brain. Thus, people with low COMT function are better off avoiding this adaptogen, as well as all other herbal COMT inhibitors [116].

Supplement Forms & Dosing

There is no safe and effective dose of rhodiola or its extracts because no significantly powered study has been conducted to find one. Furthermore, the FDA has not approved rhodiola for any medical purpose or health claim, and in fact, classifies Rhodiola rosea and some related species as poisonous plants.

That being said, it has had a favorable safety profile and produced some promising results in clinical trials.

Rhodiola rosea supplements are available as caplets, tea, or liquid extracts. High-quality extracts, such as those used in medical research, contain at least 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside. Other species of Rhodiola, such as R. crenulata, may contain a much higher concentration of salidrosides [117, 118, 23].

A recent study on Rhodiola supplements found good results with 400 mg/day of dry Rhodiola extract (or 300 – 1,000 mg of the root) to effectively reduce the symptoms of chronic fatigue [53].

Some psychiatrists may recommend rhodiola as part of a strategy to improve ADHD and focus/learning difficulties. One doctor advises his patients to gradually build up to and not exceed 450 mg/day (three 150 mg capsules) and taking the extract half an hour before a meal [1].

Consult your own doctor before taking rhodiola supplements.

Rhodiola is often combined with other herbal supplements, including ashwagandha. Some practitioners recommend combining these two herbs to improve ADHD symptoms; however, there are no formal studies on this herbal blend [1].

Ashwagandha decreases stress by reducing the amount of cortisol and other stress hormones in the body. Ashwagandha also improves cognitive function and has antioxidant and immune-boosting effects [119, 120, 121, 122].

However, ashwagandha and Rhodiola have different active components. Ashwagandha’s therapeutic effects are probably caused by withaferin A and withanolide D; Rhodiola’s most active components are salidroside and rosavin. These compounds, in combination, may work better than any one of them alone. However, this has yet to be researched [123, 118].

Rhodiola may work well for people looking to handle stress better, feel more energized and avoid burnout and chronic fatigue. Traditionally, it is also used at high altitudes to increase blood flow, protect the heart, and enhance brain function.

This herb has many potent bioactive compounds and drug interactions are possible. Consult your doctor if you plan to start supplementing, especially if you are currently on prescription medications.

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Th2 is a very important marker to monitor, especially if you haven’t been leading the best lifestyle or you have chronic health issues.

I realize many people just want the bottom line and find out what to do, so I’ve started off with a list of things for those who are Th2 dominant.

  1. Sun/UVB light [1] – UVB decreases IFNy in Th1 dominance but increases it in Th2 dominance. So it’s balancing. It also decreases IgE responses. UVA in the sun also decreases Th2 dominance [2].
  2. Licorice -18/β-glycyrrhetinic acid+LicoA [15, 16]. Glycyrrhizin increases IFNy and decreases the Th2 response [17, 18].
  3. Gynostemma [19]. This is a Th1 immune stimulant and reduces allergies. Gynostemma is recommended also because it’s a powerful mitochondrial enhancer.
  4. Ginger or juice the root [20, 21]. Recommended because it has anecdotal support in addition to the research, but also because you can get it everywhere, it has a long history of use and for its multitude of other benefits. My mother who is Th2 dominant finds this very helpful for her allergies.
  5. Reishi [22]. Recommended because it’s a medicinal mushroom, which has unique health properties. It works in many ways. It’s a favorite substance of mine but I don’t take it anymore so that I don’t stimulate my immune system.
  6. Tinospora [23]. This has a clinical trial backing it, with some anecdotal support.

You should take all of these together, but start one at a time to rule out reactions. These are the most recommended substances that can help Th2 immune dominance, not only because of their ability to lower Th2 but also because these supplements have other beneficial aspects to them.

These recommendations are solely for people who are Th2 dominant. If you are Th1 and Th2 dominant, then read this post.

T-Helper 1 and T-Helper 2 cells are different types of immune cells (T cells) that originate from a single source (Th0).

People’s immune system often tilts to Th1 or Th2.

The Th1 side is more immune stimulatory, while the Th2 side is more immune deficient. However, both can produce “inflammation” in certain situations.

If you tilt more to one side (most likely), such as Th2 for example, you should take supplements that reduce that side (Th2) and increase the other side (Th1).

Th1 cells produce mainly the cytokines or messengers IL-12 and interferon gamma and Th2 cells produce mainly IL-4. (Both types of cells produce other cytokines.)

Most of the time, a substance that decreases Th1 will increase Th2 and vice versa (decrease Th1 will increase Th2), but this isn’t always the case.

The reason why an increase in one usually translates into a decrease of the other is because they arise from an original cell and there’s a limited number of these cells (at least in the short term).

Sometimes, however, both systems are decreased or increased by some factor.

Lectins can exacerbate Th2-related inflammation, so if you are having issues stick with low lectin foods.

Many of the methods to decrease Th2 will simultaneously increase the Th1 system. You might want to additionally look at the methods to increase Th1, as that will help for decreasing Th2.

Accordingly, you can take a peek at this post to see what you want to stay away from. Not all the things are bad for Th2 dominance, but they are more likely to be bad. I’ve experimented with all of the following supplements unless otherwise noted. Any supplements listed here can be found in my toolkit.

Inhibiting mTOR is a significant pathway to decrease Th2 Cells.

This is a good picture that shows you the conditions needed for these four T Cells.

  • Forskolin [54] – May increase Th2 [55]. Do your own experiments. Forskolin is the only supplement that potently raises cAMP, which reduces allergies. Forskolin also creates tolerance to antigens (anergy) [56],
  • Ginseng (Asian) [74] – Mostly stimulating, but also regulating. TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, and IFN-γ are produced by macrophages treated with ginseng. Spleen cells increased IL-2, IFN-γ, IL-1α, and GMC-SF. However, it decreased TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, IFN-γ, IL-12, and IL-18 S aureus challenge.
  • Caffeic acid (In coffee, apples, artichoke, berries, and pears, wine) [97, 98] Can be found in Green Coffee Extract.

Although some of these may benefit you, in general, you want to be wary of the Th2 Increasers.

  • Circadian Disruption
  • Mercury [109] – although other strains increase IFN-γ and mercury causes you to produce antibodies against your own tissues [110].
  • IGF-1. Doesn’t decrease Th1. Increases TNF and IL-8. Get this by ingesting protein, especially whey or leucine-rich foods.
  • Estrogen [115]. Inhibits IL-12, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma, and increases IL-10, IL-4, and TGF-beta. Plant-based foods have phytoestrogens, especially soy.
  • Progesterone [116] – I get this by taking pregnenolone, which converts to progesterone. You could also get the linked cream for a more targeted approach.

Nrf2 [122] – the body’s stress response. Exercise, sun, lipoic acid, broccoli sprouts… PGE2 [116], DPP-4 inhibitors [123], Nitric oxide scavenging [124], IL-4, IL-2, STAT-6, GATA-3, mir-21 [125], mir126 [125, 13].

  • Alcohol consumption – I have a friend who says his allergies get worse when he drinks a lot of alcohol

LabTestAnalyzer helps you make sense of your lab results. It informs you which labs are not in the optimal range and gives you guidance about how to get them to optimal. It also allows you to track your labs over time. No need to do thousands of hours of research on what to make of your lab tests.

If you’re interested in natural and more targeted ways of lowering your inflammation, we at SelfHacked recommend checking out this inflammation wellness report. It gives genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help reduce inflammation levels. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

This post contains links from our sister companies, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer. The proceeds from your purchase of these products are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thank you for your support.


Knowing what an important aspect of your immune system does helps guide you to eat or stay away from certain foods and supplements, and also helps you learn how to exercise. Read on to learn more about Th1 and Th2 dominance and why it’s important to your health.

I’ve experimented with all of the supplements listed below (unless otherwise stated), so I have first-hand experience how these affect a person with Th1 dominance, such as myself.

A More Nuanced Approach in Combating Inflammation

My approach is to combat health issues in every way possible. I use various lifestyle modifications, foods, supplements, devices – you name it.

This new categorization system represents a very significant advancement in healing autoimmune and inflammatory conditions through diet, supplements, and lifestyle.

The truth is, I had been figuring out slowly which supplements boosted my reaction to foods, but this was a slow process, though I made a lot of headway. With this categorization, I can put things into context and help others as well with their issues that are different than mine. This is a sea change.

Are You Th1 or Th2 Dominant?

Th1 and Th2 dominance is an example of one very significant difference in people, and it affects much of the supplement, lifestyle, and diet recommendations for an individual.

Th cells are short for T helper cells. T helper cells are kind of like a symphony conductor. The conductor sends signals to the band and the musicians play the music. T helper cells send signals or more technically release cytokines that guide other immune cells that do the attacking.

It’s important to know if you’re Th1 or Th2 dominant because that will allow you to figure out which course of action to take.

Trying to figure it out based on symptoms or reactions to supplements isn’t always accurate.

Th1 cells are part of what’s called cell-mediated immunity, which is an immune response that does not involve antibodies but does involve the release of various cytokines in response to foreign proteins.

People with Th1 dominance have what’s called a delayed-type hypersensitivity.

It’s caused by the overstimulation of immune cells, commonly lymphocytes (Natural killer cells, T cells) and macrophages, resulting in chronic inflammation.

Interferon-gamma (IFNy) is the main cytokine in Th1 dominance. It inhibits the production of most IgG’s and IgE and increases the secretion of IgM [1, 2].

Food processing may matter here since cooking may alter proteins/antigens. For example, there are less IgM antibodies to raw peanuts than cooked peanuts [3].

There are also more IgM antibodies to fried chicken, canned tuna and fried salmon [3].

This may be a reason why I get a lot of inflammation from canned tuna, much more so than fresh tuna.

I’m Th1 dominant, which I cured with the lectin avoidance diet.

Th1 dominance is evidenced by:

  • Delayed food sensitivities: This is evidenced by getting inflammation from food, yet the effects aren’t necessarily immediate [4].
  • Fatigue: After meals and acute exercise or fatigue, in general, is usually more severe in Th1 dominance because Th1 cells increase the cytokine interferon-gamma, which increases other cytokines like IL-1b and TNF-alpha, both of which cause fatigue via suppression of orexin neurons. TNF-alpha can also be elevated in Th2 dominance because it can be released by IL-1 and mast cells, but it’s likely more elevated in Th1 dominance [5, 6, 5].
  • IBS: People with IBS are more likely to be Th1 dominant (elevated IL-12). Interferon reduces serotonin in the gut and also increases oxidative stress (by activating IDO). However, people with Th2 can also have IBS [7, 8].
  • Low T3 Syndrome: When levels of T3 and/or T4 are at unusual levels, but the thyroid gland does not appear to be dysfunctional. I had this and I’ve seen this in many Th1 dominant clients of mine, who are also relatively thin (likely because of hyperleptinemia). It comes from elevations in IL-6, Interferon gamma, TNF-alpha, and IL-1b [12. 13. 14. 15].
  • More likely to be thin: This is a very noticeable observation of mine. The vast majority of Th1 dominant people are relatively thin. It can be explained by 2 mechanisms:
    • 1) TNF-alpha and IL-1beta inhibit orexin, which decreases appetite. TNF-alpha is also a direct fat buster, which leads to insulin resistance in fat cells. Anti-TNF-alpha therapy results in weight gain – an average of 5.5 kg or 11 pounds in only 12 weeks [16, 17].
    • 2) Interferon-gamma, like TNF-alpha, also creates insulin resistance in fat cells and differentiation of fat cells, which means that it prevents you from getting fat. There are many aspects to hunger and weight gain, so it’s obviously not a perfect correlation [18, 19].
  • IBD: Characterized by a different cellular subset: Th17 cells and IL-18. This pattern is connected with Th1 dominance [20, 21].
  • Inflammation after Lyme infection – Lyme disease can elevate the Th1 system initially (but eventually becomes th2 dominant) [36],
  • Inflammation after the following: Strep, mono (EBV), HPV, herpes, pneumonia, H. pylori or Cytomegalovirus. These are common infections that also invoke the Th1 system; in some people with a genetic predisposition like myself, the immune system remains active after these infections. In some environments, this may have been a survival advantage since you’d be more likely to survive into adulthood and bear offspring [37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42].
  • Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy has increased CCL2 and IFNy, and lower levels of IL-10 [43, 44].
  • Low pregnenolone levels – my observations. Every client who was Th1 dominant had low pregnenolone levels. (People with Th2 dominance also likely have low pregnenolone levels).

If you are Th1 dominant, you should click on the link to learn how to rebalance your immune system.

Most people with a balanced immune system just need to eat less, sleep more, be less stressed, exercise, and eat a balanced diet with fish and animal foods and lots of fruits and veggies to be healthy. Sun exposure or supplementing with vitamin D is a good idea, too.

In my consulting practice, I get a lot of people who mention their health issues started after an infection. This is because many common infections increase the Th1 system.

The best way to know if you’re Th1 dominant is to discern if you have trouble with inflammation and food intolerances, yet you don’t display the classical Th2 dominant symptoms. I like to check this by seeing if people are Th2 dominant.

If people don’t display any signs of Th2 dominance and they have an inflammatory condition, Th1 dominance is to be suspected.

Th1 dominance comes from a combination of genetics and environment. The environment is heavily influenced by infections.

Bacterial and most viral infections increase your Th1 system and if you have the wrong genetic cards, it will increase it too much.

People with a Th1 system out of control tend to release more cortisol than the average person because cortisol decreases Th1-related inflammation, so the body activates your HPA system every time you get a Th1 spike to keep things in balance.

Interferon gamma is the major cytokine involved with Th1 dominant people. Chronic, low-grade interferon gamma (Th-1 type inflammation) accelerates aging and could contribute to the onset of major age-related psychiatric conditions (such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and cognitive impairment) and medical diseases (such as cardiovascular diseases, neurodegeneration, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, and diabetes). Some research shows that it may also be involved in the development of aggressive tumors [45].

There are some benefits of having an elevated Th1 immune system.

For one, people with Th1 dominance tend to get sick much less than others because their immune system is on guard. But if these people are chronically stressed, they will get sick sometimes because cortisol decreases Th1-related inflammation and makes these people more susceptible to infections.

Another benefit is a decreased likelihood of cancer [46].

Th1 cells and cytokines like interferon gamma and TNF scour your body for tumor cells and destroy them. There is a trade-off with cancer and autoimmunity. This is a generalization, as some cancers like multiple myelomas are Th1 dominant [47].

Cancer is relatively rare in my family, but autoimmunity is common. This is because the more active your immune system is the more likely it will destroy cancer cells before they start multiplying out of control. But it’s also the case that it’s more likely to mistake your own tissue as a foreign invader and attack it.

The key is to balance your immune system. Know what kind of dominance you have – if any – and supplement and diet accordingly. Most people have one dominance or another.

Some people have been gifted to have a system that’s in balance and these people don’t have inflammation issues or have cancer, but age usually is the time bomb that messes everything up. As people get older their immune system starts to malfunction and autoimmunity and cancer start to occur.

Regarding the initial occurrence of my own issues, I used to get lots of strep and other infections as a kid. This probably made my Th1 system spiral out of control.

As an adult, I rarely got sick because of this elevation, but as I bring it down I notice I’m getting sick more often.

I had a close call a couple of months ago but dodged the bullet with a bunch of supplements. This time around, I haven’t been as fortunate and got some infection yesterday (not serious).

Keep in mind that you don’t actually have to have an active infection to have elevated Th1 inflammation.

Th2 cells mediate the activation and maintenance of the “humoral,” or antibody-mediated, immune response.

Actually, Th2 dominance is considered an anti-inflammatory profile because people with this profile have lower levels of systemic inflammation. The negative effects of Th2 dominance are probably more benign than people with Th1 dominance.

People with Th2 dominance produce a lot of antibodies and instant food allergies are more likely to occur.

People with Th2 dominance, in general, have a weaker immune system, but they are better at fighting infections that take hold outside of cells (extracellular infections).

The dominant cytokine in Th2 dominance is IL-4, which produces IgG1 and IgE but markedly inhibits IgM, IgG3, IgG2a, and IgG2b [1].

People with Th2 dominance should do a skin scratch test and check blood IgE levels to check for what they’re allergic to.

It’s interesting that one study found food processing has an effect on IgE levels. Raw eggs, raw peanuts, and raw pecans show a lower level of IgE antibodies than cooked eggs, indicating that Th2 dominant people would do better with raw eggs, raw peanuts, and raw pecans, at least in one respect [3].

Th2 cells are produced by IL-2 and IL-4 and they give off IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, and IL-13 (see picture above).

Th2 dominance is evidenced by:

  • IgE-related allergies, which are immediate and measured by skin scratch tests [48]
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Airway constriction
  • Asthma
  • Nasal drip
  • Mucus
  • Eczema (Dermatitis)
  • Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis)
  • Increased stomach acidity or GERD
  • Excess histamine or what some people call “histamine intolerance”
  • Hives (Urticaria)

If you are Th2 dominant, you should click on the link to learn how to rebalance your immune system.

Types 1, 2, and 3 hypersensitivities are caused by Th2 dominance.

The other effects stem from the main Th2 cytokine, IL-4, and IgE antibodies. They stimulate mast cells to release histamine, serotonin, and leukotriene to cause airway constriction and intestinal peristalsis.

Th2 dominance can be from a parasite or helminth infection, but could also just be genetic.

I had a client with a classic case of Th2-related inflammation that started when he got a parasite in a third-world country. He had no inflammation issues before.

Note that you don’t actually have to have a parasite to have an elevated Th2 related inflammation and it’s likely that most Th2 dominant people don’t have parasites.

It’s fully possible to have both Th1 and Th2 elevations, but usually, one or the other is dominant.

Acute bouts of Th2 immune responses can kill cancer, but chronic elevations increase your risk for some cancers like breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few [55].

The Th2 immune system is considered an anti-inflammatory profile. This means that the person experiences low levels of systemic inflammation.

The problem is when the immune system is shifted too much to the Th2 system, as people develop allergies to everything. It’s the allergens that then start causing the problems.

It may seem odd why Th2 dominant people have increased stomach acidity. The reason is because gastric fluid acidification can help expel helminths. So, this response is actually quite adaptive, and serves an important purpose in our evolutionary history.

People who are Th1 dominant have lower methylation of certain genes [56, 57, 58, 59, 60].

In simple terms, methylation silences a gene. In people with Th1 dominance, since they don’t methylate or silence a certain gene enough (interferon gamma), too much of it is produced and that has a ripple effect throughout the immune system. In MS, another Th1 dominant condition, homocysteine is elevated, indicating hypomethylation [61].

The result is that people with Th1 dominance produce too much interferon gamma, which may result in intolerance to food and a delayed hypersensitivity to these foods.

In Th2 dominance, the opposite is true, and there is too much methylation of the interferon-gamma gene, resulting in too little interferon gamma being produced and, therefore, more Th2 cells and their products.

In Th2 dominance, people are under/hypomethylating a different gene (IL-4) [62, 60].

In both kinds of dominance, some genes are over-methylated and some under-methylated. Even so, upping your methylation with TMG, SAM-e, and B-vitamins should deactivate the immune system to a degree. I have had a positive experience with these supplements.

Th1/Th2 Conditions Without Dominance

  • IBS and ADHD are associated with inflammation, but can have elevations of either Th1 or Th2 systems [64, 65]
  • Bipolar disorder is associated with elevated TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8 during manic and depressive phases, and IL-2, IL-4, and IL-6 are elevated during mania
  • Schizophrenia, as some studies show it’s Th1 dominant, while others show elevated TNF-alpha and IL-6 is the culprit [68, 69]
  • OCD cytokine profiles vary, but meta-analyses only showed a reduction in IL-1b in people with OCD as a common denominator; my experience has been that my OCD had disappeared after I eliminated my inflammation. This is likely a result of reduced glutamate excitotoxicity that was a result of inflammation [70]
  • Ulcerative colitis has no dominant system, but has increased IL-8 levels [71]
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome has increased IL-2, a Th1 cytokine [72]
  • Diabetic neuropathy has elevated IL-18 and TGF-beta – there’s no dominant profile here. Other inflammatory factors include PDGF AA/BB, RANTES, leptin, osteoprotegerin, G-CSF, sE-Selectin, sICAM, sVCAM, CRP and fibrinogen. Patients with painful neuropathy had higher sICAM-1 and CRP levels when compared to painless neuropathy [73, 74, 75]

If you’re interested in natural and more targeted ways of lowering your inflammation, we at SelfHacked recommend checking out this inflammation wellness report. It gives genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help reduce inflammation levels. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

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