Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant native to cold climates such as the Arctic, Central Asian mountains, and scattered through mountainous regions of eastern North America and Europe. Rhodiola is traditionally used in Tibetan and Chinese folk medicine as a tonic to alleviate physical fatigue and protect against winter coldness. Modern science is generating a body of peer-reviewed, randomized controlled trials and evidence around rhodiola rosea for its anti-fatigue, stress resiliency, and neuroprotective properties.
Rhiodiola rosea has been characterized as an adaptogen, which means that it helps an individual resist stressors (in the form of physical, biological and chemical agents) and brings them back to homeostasis by normalizing physiology.
The main active components in rhodiola rosea that improve cognitive function are rosavins and salidrosides. It also contains antioxidant components including p-tyrosol, organic acids (gallic acid, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid), and flavonoids (catechins and proanthocyanidins).
Rhodiola rosea has various effects on cognition. The most notable effects are reduced fatigue, improved response to stress, increased attention and improved capacity for learning.
Multiple studies in healthy volunteers have shown that rhodiola rosea ingestion over a long term period (12 weeks or more) can lead to increased attention to mentally demanding tasks. Further, studies have shown that supplementing diet with rhodiola rosea can result in less fatigue during physically demanding tasks, as well as less fatigue due to sleep deprivation.
Finally, rhodiola rosea has been shown to improve individuals’ responses to stressful conditions, such as university final exam periods.
Is it safe? Are there side effects?
Rhodiola rosea is approved as a dietary supplement component under provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
Rhodiola rosea shows no addiction or withdrawal effects.
One study showed that ingestion of rhodiola resulted in mild levels of hypersalivation, without any other side effects.
In some cases, sensitivity, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, headache, and rarely palpitations, may occur. As noted by a 2013 review, “the stimulative effects [of rhodiola rosea] can exacerbate agitation and irritability in bipolar disorder, although it can ameliorate depressive episodes in patients taking mood stabilizers.” Another observed effect is increased libido.
In very high doses (above 600 mg/day), there may be an increased platelet aggregation, which may lead to bruising in some individuals. Thus, it is advisable to carefully monitor usage of medications that affect clotting, such as aspirin.
Effects on Cognition
One study in college students aged 19-21 found that ingestion of rhodiola led to increases in attention and decreases in self-reported fatigue caused by stress. In this study, participants ingested 50 mg of rhodiola daily in a period of 20 days before a final exam period. There were improvements in tests for neuro-motoric fitness (maze test, tapping test), mental capacity (correction test), general well-being (emotional state and motivation as measured by the SAM questionnaire).
A study in 24 individuals found that acute ingestion of rhodiola rosea one hour before physical activity resulted in improved ability to sustain attention, as measured by the Fepsy Vigilance test.
A study in physicians found that ingestion of rhodiola rosea resulted in decreased fatigue in physicians working night shifts.
In a study of the effect of rhodiola rosea on exercise, it was found that taking rhodiola rosea for a period of 4 weeks leads to significantly decreased post-exercise blood lactate values. This indicates that rhodiola rosea leads to decreased fatigue (and thereby, increased endurance) during exercise.
A study of 161 cadets in the military aged 19-21 years found that ingestion of rhodiola resulted in lower fatigue, as shown by the Total Antifatigue Index.
Certain other physiological measures were not affected by ingestion of a blend containing rhodiola rosea and cordyceps sinensis. A study of cyclists did not result in significant improvements in performance on a physical exercise stress test, as measured by physiological measures including muscle tissue oxygen saturation, ventilatory threshold, and time to exhaustion.
One study in college students aged 19-21 found that ingestion of rhodiola led to increases in attention and decreases in self-reported fatigue caused by stress. In this study, participants ingested 50 mg rhodiola daily in a period of 20 days before a final exam period in school. There were improvements in tests for neuro-motoric fitness (maze test, tapping test), mental capacity (correction test), and general well-being (emotional state and motivation as measured by the SAM questionnaire).
Ingestion of rhodiola rosea has been shown to have a positive effect on exercise. One study in 24 individuals found that ingestion of rhodiola rosea 1 hour before physical activity resulted in increased speed of limb movement (as measured by the plate tapping test), improved aural and visual reaction time, and improved ability to sustain attention (as measured by the Fepsy Vigilance test).
Effects on Medical Conditions
Rhodiola rosea has been implicated to have positive effects in various animal models of Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive impairment. These studies suggest that there may be a beneficial effect in human Alzheimer’s patients.
A study in cognitively impaired rats (induced by intracerebroventricular streptozotocin) found that pre-treating the rats with rhodiola rosea led to a decrease in cognitive symptoms as well as reduced markers for oxidative stress (glutathione reductase and glutathione).
Several animal studies have studied the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor activity in rhodiola rosea. This is promising because acetylcholinesterase inhibitor drugs have been used in Alzheimer’s patients.
One study in rats found that rhodiola rosea led to a decrease in neuronal cell death.
Rhodiola rosea has been suggested to improve symptoms of depression.
Rhodiola rosea has been suggested to improve symptoms of sexual dysfunction.
Rhodiola rosea has been suggested to improve symptoms of cancer, in particular weakness and depression.
A randomized control trial with 30 participants showed that ingestion of 576 mg SHR-5 extract from rhodiola rosea daily led to decreased levels of fatigue as measured by the Pines burnout scale, the Conners’ computerised continuous performance test II (CCCPT II) indices and the Hit RT SE.
A study in a group of physicians working night shifts found that ingestion of rhodiola rosea led to decreased fatigue.
Structure & Synthesis
Rhodiola rosea is a naturally occurring plant that is grown in cold regions of the world.
Rosavins and salidrosides
The active ingredients in rhodiola rosea are rosavins and salidrosides. Rosavin is a cinnamyl alcohol glycoside. Salidroside (Rhodioloside) is a glucoside of tyrosol. They are responsbile for the antidepressant and anxiolytic actions of this plant. From a nootropics perspective, these compounds are known as the “actives” found in the remainder of what are largely non-active plant matter.
Regarding the isolation of rosavins and salidrosides from the rhodiola rosea plant, most scientific studies isolate around 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside from the plant.
Rosavins have been synthesized in the lab via a glycosylation reaction.
Without a specific extracted concentration, it’s hard to know exactly how much actives one is consuming. At Nootrobox, we only source the highest rated rhodiola rosea and use UV spectroscopy to guarantee the amount of actives within RISE.
Mechanisms of Action
One meta-analysis investigating fatigue in academic settings suggest that usage of rhodiola is associated with improvements in cognitive fatigue,neuro-motoric fitness (maze drawing), reductions in processing errors, sustained attention, reaction time, and general well-being relative to placebo treatment.
Rhodiola has been implicated in inducing the activity of Neuropeptide Y and subsequent release of Hsp72 which may underlie the stress reducing effects of rhodiola supplementation. From a neurogenesis perspective, salidroside has been noted to improve neurogenesis rates in the diabetic rat hippocampus.
Rhodiola is an antioxidant. Rhodiola may lead to resiliency against the oxidative stress from β-amyloid protein – associated with Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, rhodiola has been shown to protect against cell death initiated by hydrogen-peroxide and glutamate.
In addition, some have hypothesized that rhodiola rosea may have components that mimic acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which are enzymes that inhibit breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter thought to play a role in memory and cognition. The effect of rhodiola rosea as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor has been tested and confirmed in chemical experiments.
It has been suggested that rhodiola rosea can act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that breaks down monoamines such as serotinin, melatonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors lead to an increase in these items in circulation, which may improve one’s mood and energy levels.