Rhodiola Rosea: a remarkable adaptogen for anxiety and depression

rhodiola_rosea[1]Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a medicinal plant with adaptogenic, antioxidant, endocrine, reproductive, and central nervous system effects. Rhodiola root preparations have been extensively studied and used in Scandinavia and Russia as an herbal medicine.

In the twentieth century, Soviet physicians classified rhodiola as an adaptogen. This invented term refers to a hypothetical treatment described as follows: an adaptogen helps the body adapt to stresses of various kinds, whether heat, cold, exertion, trauma, sleep deprivation, toxic exposure, radiation, infection, or psychological stress. Furthermore, an adaptogen supposedly causes no side effects, treats a wide variety of illnesses, and helps return an organism toward balance no matter what may have gone wrong.

How does it work?

The properties of Rhodiola rosea to influence the cardiopulmonary system, central nervous system, and improve the ability to adapt to stressors have been attributed primarily to its influence on the levels and activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in different structures in the brain. It may be that the plant inhibits the breakdown of these chemicals and facilitates the neurotransmitter transport within the brain.

In addition to these effects on the central nervous system, Rhodiola has been reported to increase the chemicals that provide energy to the muscle of the heart and to prevent the depletion of adrenal catecholamines induced by acute stress.

Furthermore, Rhodiola has been observed to prevent the stress-induced increase of cortisol, which may account for its anti-stress effect, but might also be associated with increased attention, anti-fatigue effect as well as the antidepressant effect.


Rhodiola rosea root supports the functioning of the adrenal glands and encourages a healthy response to physical, emotional and mental stress by normalizing cortisol levels and other stress-related hormones. If used regularly, it functions to support the body’s natural resistance and adaptation to stressful influences.* Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated a positive effect of Rhodiola root extract and a healthy mood.

A 2002 review in HerbalGram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, reported that numerous studies of rhodiola in both humans and animals have indicated that it helps prevent fatigue, stress, and the damaging effects of oxygen deprivation. Evidence also suggests that it acts as an antioxidant, enhances immune system function, and can increase sexual energy. Rhodiola’s efficacy was confirmed in a 2011 review of 11 placebo-controlled human studies. The reviewers considered studies that all had study designs rated as moderate to good quality, and the analysis of their combined data concluded that rhodiola might have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions. The reviewers noted that very few adverse events are reported, suggesting a good safety profile.

Rhodiola Rosea


Side Effects

Rhodiola rosea has a very low level of toxicity in animal studies. The toxic dose is calculated in humans to be about 235 gm or 235,000 mg for a 70 kg man. The typical daily dose for chronic administration is 360-600 mg per day when standardized for 1% rosavin, 180-300 mg when standardized for 2% rosavin, or 100-170 mg when standardized for 2.6% rosavin. There are also products available that list the rosavins in milligrams; examples include 6 mg of rosavins per 120 mg of rhodiola root or 12 mg of rosavins per 240 mg of rhodiola root. These formulations are an even more robust 5% rosavin content yet still, all of these provide a large margin of safety. Yet again other products might be standardized to the salidroside content although those seem to be less prevalent in the U.S. market.

Overall, there are very few side effects with Rhodiola. Some anxious individuals may be over activated and become agitated. Rhodiola rosea may also interfere with sleep in some individuals and should be taken early in the day. It should be avoided in individuals with bipolar disorder who have a history of manic episodes when given antidepressants or stimulants and should be used with caution in general, in those with bipolar disorder. If use is desired just prior to an academic exam or an athletic competition, the suggested dose is three times the dose for daily consumption for one dose. Safety issues are not available for pregnancy and lactation and should therefore be avoided.

Rhodiola for Depression

This clinical trial shows that the special rhodiola rhizome extract SHR-5 “possesses a clear and significant anti-depressive activity in patients suffering from mild to moderate depression.” In addition, the extract appears to be safe for short-term use, with no adverse effects reported. The authors expect that future clinical trials including a 12-week follow-up period and a larger multi-center study design will show how the efficacy of SHR-5 compares with conventional pharmaceutical antidepressants. In addition, more research is needed to confirm the mechanism of action for this observed antidepressant activity. Dr. Richard P. Brown, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, states “In addition to mood elevation, evidence indicates that R. rosea has numerous other benefits, including enhancement of cognitive function, sexual function, and both mental and physical performance under stress.

Does Rhodiola Rosea Work for Anxiety?

The impacts of Rhodiola Rosea also have been tested on stress and anxiety from both bodily and mental sources. A report by the American Botanical Council says that “Most users find that it improves their mood, energy levels, and mental clearness.” They also report on a report that mentioned Rhodiola Rosea could increase stress threshold while at the same time protecting the brain and also heart from the actual physical impacts of stress.

It is thought that rhodiola may aid anxiety secondary to its adaptogenic abilities, with the increase in serotonin seen with rhodiola not likely a concern for anxiogenic effects as the receptor that mediates anxiety from serotonin (5-HT3) appears to be downregulated by Rhodiola. 10-20mg/kg of Rhodiola (3% rosavins and 1% salidroside) one hour prior to a light/dark exploration test has been found to have some minor anxiolytic effects with no apparent dose-dependency. In humans, there appears to be improvements in generalized anxiety disorder with rhodiola supplementation at 340mg over 10 weeks; this study was open-label.

Best Rhodiola Rosea Brands

In conclusion there is one brand that seem to have the best product according to the users experiences: Swedish Herbal Institute (SHI).

Swedish Herbal Institute commercializes the product “Arctic Root”. It is the one used in most scientific studies and right now iHerb sell it. Update: SHI has discontinued this product and now sells a blend of 3 adaptogens (including Rhodiola SHR-5) called Adapt-Life. It ships from UK, because they still can’t find distributors in US.

Other pretty good brands of Rhodiola, which you can find on Amazon:

Both products are pretty potent and made by very reputable brands. New Chapter’s “Rhodiola Force” and Cyto-Matrix Rhodiola extract is also very good.

Personally I use Now Foods brand, it’s cheap and works well.  It smells like fresh flowers when I open a capsule and does not taste that bad. It provides amazing energy and the ability to make you perform at a greater intensity. Made me feel like a machine.