Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Chronic stress and feeling overwhelmed on a regular basis is a reality for many people – and it’s no surprise, given the long list of daily obligations we all face and the hectic pace of life.
When left unaddressed or ignored for too long, the symptoms of burnout begin to show: brain fog, an inability to concentrate, daytime exhaustion, and complete mental and physical exhaustion.
While nutrition, exercise and relaxing activities are helpful, they are habits that must be cultivated over a period of time and often take a longer time to see results. In the interim, herbal medicine provides the perfect bridge. Specifically, the herbal kingdom has provided us with adaptogens, a classification of herbs that are able to help the body adapt to, and better cope with stress. The benefits are not only limited to stress, but anxiety, depression and overall better mental health. (1) (2)
This is the first article in a series on adaptogens to help improve your mental health. In this article, we cover rhodiola.
What is Rhodiola?
Rhodiola rosea, also known as ‘arctic root’ or ‘golden root’ is an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, and has been used for centuries in Russia, Scandinavia and China to promote mental health and overall well-being.
In recent years, it has gained traction in North America due to its ability to reduce stress, fight mental and physical fatigue, improve resilience and enhance cognition. (3)
Rhodiola contains three main compounds called rosin, rosarin, and salidroside. The most potent and active compound is a phytochemical called salidroside, which has been shown to protect nerves, aid nerve repair, and reduce the stress response. (4) (5)
Rhodiola Rosea Benefits
While rhodiola’s benefits extend as far as heart health and weight loss, the purpose for using rhodiola is typically related to the positive impact on mental health.
Stress cannot be avoided, but it is our response to stress that determines whether or not we will experience symptoms or to what extent.
Rhodiola plays an important role in increasing our resilience to stress, so that it has less of an impact on us. For example, one study was conducted with 101 patients experience work and life stress, and were given 400 mg of rhodiola rosea for a four-week period.
After just three days, participants experienced significant improvements in stress related symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety. (6)
Ever sleep for a full eight hours, only to wake up feeling exhausted? Many people with chronic stress feel tired upon waking, no matter how much sleep they get.
A key benefit of rhodiola is reducing fatigue and exhaustion, to make you feel more energized in the morning and throughout the day. For example, one four-week study gave 60 participants with stress-related fatigue either 576 mg of rhodiola or a placebo. Compared to the placebo, rhodiola had a positive effect on only fatigue levels, but also attention. (7) Similar results were replicated in another study that provided 100 participants with prolonged or chronic fatigue symptoms with 400 mg of rhodiola for eight weeks. The participants showed significant improvement in fatigue, mood and concentration and quality of life as well. (8)
Depression comes in many shapes and sizes, and cannot be attributed to one cause or given a one-size fits all solution. However, it is generally well accepted that certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, can have a positive impact on reducing the symptoms of depression.
Fortunately, rhodiola has been shown to balance neurotransmitters associated with depression – specifically tryptophan and serotonin – and thereby act as an antidepressant. It is also well recognized by clinical research for its antidepressant properties. (9) (10)
In one randomized study, 89 people experiencing mild or moderate depression were given either 340 mg or 680 mg of rhodiola, or a placebo pill over the course of six weeks. Both the rhodiola groups had significant improvements in depression, insomnia and emotional stability, as compared to the placebo group which showed no improvement. The group receiving 680 mg of rhodiola also showed an increase in self-esteem. (11)
It is important to note that till date till date rhodiola has shown to be beneficial for just mild to moderate depression, and it is not as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants such as Zoloft for major depression. However, it is much better tolerated with far fewer risks, and for that reason should be considered. (12) Lastly, it appears that the benefits of rhodiola seem to extend beyond just depression as well – one study showed benefits for generalized anxiety disorder when taken at a dosage of 340 mg daily over 10 weeks. (13)
If you’ve ever sat down to complete a task, but found yourself consumed with brain fog or a weak attention span, rhodiola can help. For example, one study provided 56 physicians on night duty with 170 mg of rhodiola, or a placebo pill, over the course of two weeks. The physicians who were taking rhodiola rosea showed a 20% improvement in work performance and significant reduction in mental fatigue. (14)
Another study involving students showed similar results, but also led to improved sleep patterns, and increased motivation to study after taking rhodiola for 20 days. Their exam scores were also 8% higher than the placebo group. (15)
Rhodiola Rosea Buying Tips
When looking to purchase a rhodiola supplement, make sure the label reads 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside, as this is the naturally occurring proportion of both compounds found in the herb.
Rhodiola Rosea Dosage
How much to take: rhodiola has shown to be effective in preventing fatigue in dosages as low as 50mg.
For more high periods of stress, or acute stress, rhodiola can be taken in the 288-680mg range. Taking dosages above 680mg has been shown to be ineffective. (16)
How to take it: like most herbs, you can find rhodiola in capsule form, as a dried powder or in liquid form as a tincture or extract.
Capsules tend to be the most convenient, with the added benefit that they can be taken with other powerful herbs and nutrients in an ‘anti-stress’ or ‘anti-fatigue’ formula.
You can find rhodiola rosea in the Veeva Stress Formula at a dosage of 100mg per capsule (for a total of 200mg per day) with 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides. When to take it: herbs are best taken on an empty stomach, in order to receive the maximum benefit and absorption. Similarly, take rhodiola upon waking or in between meals. Since it can be slightly stimulatory for some people, try to avoid taking it too close to bedtime.
Rhodiola Rosea Side Effects
Rhodiola is generally safe and well tolerated. (17)
However, some people might be sensitive to its stimulant properties and experience: (18)
Mild jitters or shakes
Given the lack of research done with special populations, the use in children and adolescents as well as during pregnancy and lactation cannot be recommended.
Get Started With Rhodiola
Veeva Stress Formula contains rhodiola rosea with 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides, at a dosage of 200 mg per day in combination with the powerful adaptogen herb, ashwagandha, and nine other stress-fighting nutrients .