Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen with a long history of traditional use against stress, fatigue, and more. How does it work, and what are the potential side effects? Read on to find out. 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 ].
For more about the potential benefits of rhodiola, check out this post .
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 ].
Rhodiola rosea is a high-altitude plant whose root has been used to combat stress in traditional medicine for many generations. Active Components
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 ].
The active components of rhodiola include salidroside, rosavin, and tyrosol, with salidroside believed to be the most important. Mechanisms of Action
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 JAK2 – STAT3 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 ].
In cell studies, rhodiola activates a protein called AMPK, which acts as a kind of metabolic “switch,” increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing blood sugar, and preventing fat buildup in the liver. 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 ]. 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 , 29 ].
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 [ 30 ].
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 [ 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ].
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 [ 35 , 1 ].
Rhodiola is classified as a poisonous plant by the FDA despite being generally well-tolerated in clinical studies. Commercial supplements may be inaccurately labeled, and the safety profile of rhodiola is incomplete in pregnant and breastfeeding women. Drug Interactions 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 [ 36 ]. SSRIs : Selective […]