Rhodiola Rosea – Review

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Introduction

Rhodiola rosea (also known as Golden Root, Roseroot and Arctic root) is a perennial that grows in the wild in the mountains of Siberia, Central Europe and North America. The plant is found only in a severe alpine climate and grows very slow. Its underground parts (rhizomes with roots) are used as medicinal raw material. Due to its slow growing pattern it can take up to a decade before the raw roots are suitable for medicinal use. The plant has been categorized as an adaptogen by Russian researchers in the early 50s due to its reported ability to increase resistance and support the adaptation of the body and its inner workings to a variety of chemical, biological, and physical stressors.

Rhodiola rosea in its natural habitat

Roseroot has traditionally been used widely in Russia and Asia. Traditional folk medicine used R. rosea to increase physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, resistance to altitude sickness and to treat fatigue, depression, anaemia, impotence, gastro-intestinal ailments, infections and disorders of the nervous system. In some mountain villages in Siberia, a bouquet of the roots is still given to couples prior to marriage to enhance fertility and assure the birth of healthy children. In Central Asia, R. rosea tea was the most effective treatment for colds and flu during severe winters. Mongolian doctors prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer. For centuries only family members knew where to gather the wild ‘golden roots’ and the methods of extraction. Siberians secretly transported the herb down ancient trails to the Caucasian mountains where it was traded for Georgian wines, fruits, garlic and honey. Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the ‘Golden root’ for medicinal preparations.

It is still very popular in traditional medical systems in Eastern Europe and Asia, with a lasting reputation for stimulating the nervous system, fighting depression, enhancing work performance, improving sleep, eliminating fatigue, improve learning abilities and preventing stress-induced cardiac damage. The active components found in the roots have also shown anti-fatigue, anti-inflammatory, liver-protecting and anti-tumor activity.

Clinical studies, undertaken since the early 50s, have proved the plants’ reputation. Rhodiola extract was shown to be beneficial in conditions such as nervous exhaustion, chronic fatigue, various types of neuroses, anorexia, irritability, chronic headaches, insomnia, and attention deficit. It is currently regarded as one of the most active adaptogens and it is specially recommended for sportsmen, hard-working people, convalescents and elderly people.

Based on the documented pharmacological effects and its safe use, the commercial interest for Rhodiola-based products has quickly increased worldwide. The slow development of the plant and the growing demand from the herbal ‘industry’ has resulted in a rapid diminution of its natural sites. To protect the wild-growing plant and to meet the demands of the phyto-pharmaceutical industry entrepreneurs in Poland, Sweden, Finland and parts of the former Soviet-Union have started cultivating it. However, it proved not to be easy to obtain raw material of a uniform high quality from cultivated plants.

The yield and quality of the raw material is strongly affected by climatic and soil conditions. Plants grown in e.g. central Poland were characterized by a higher weight of the roots but these roots contained a lower content of rosavin and salidroside (the main active components) when compared with those grown in southern Poland (a mountain area). Post-production of the raw material (stabilisation and extraction methods) also distinctly affected the quality of the obtained extracts.

Research showed that plants grown at high altitude had the highest level of active pharmacological components (rosavin and salidroside). E.g. the amount of salidroside varied between 125 – 1860 mg per 100 grams (lowlands vs. highlands). The highest content of active pharmacological components was found in 5-year old plants, grown at high altitude. The post-processing of the raw roots is an important factor: research showed that drying should be done either at room temperature ( 20ºC ) or at 80ºC to minimize the loss of the salidroside and rosavin content.

Several extracts are produced and sold in the form of capsules and tablets. Dried raw roots from a wild plant, however, are vastly superior to the processed and standardized derivatives that can be found in drugstores.

Studies and research

The effects of Rhodiola have been studied in particular in Russia, where since the early 50s several projects were started, all with the goal to find and utilize natural ‘super-foods’ that would give the Russian people (in particular the military and the Olympic athletes) an unbeatable advantage compared to their peers. Rhodiola extracts were given to the Russian cosmonauts to increase their resistance to stress, e.g. Sometimes unorthodox and unethical methods were used, to get results quickly.

The effect of Rhodiola on mental work capacity

This was studied using a proofreading test in healthy students. The students took a 5 minute proofreading test before and then 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 24 hours after taking either a Rhodiola preparation (either 10 drops of Rhodiola extract or 2.5 mg of salidroside) or a placebo.

One hour after the administration of the Rhodiola extract the number of mistakes (per 1,000 characters corrected) dropped by 56% compared to the control group. These effects persisted for four hours, after which the number of errors increased but to a lesser degree than in the control group. The number of characters read was 5 -7 % higher than in the control group.

The conclusion was that a single dose of a Rhodiola preparation already improves mental work capacity. It appears that mainly the quality of mental work is being affected. These figures are similar to those obtained for other adaptogens like Ginseng and Eleutherococcus (aka Siberian Ginseng).

The effect of Rhodiola on stress

Research has shown that Rhodiola can reduce stress dramatically, thereby increasing mental performance. One such study investigated whether low-dose (170 mg/day) supplementation with Rhodiola counters the well-known fatigue and stress experienced by physicians on night duty. In this double-blind, crossover study, researchers measured Rhodiola’’s effect on five different measures of mental acuity: associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation, concentration, and speed of audiovisual perception. They found statistically significant improvements in the 56 young, healthy physicians after just two weeks of supplementation. No side effects were reported.

Another study explored Rhodiola’’s benefits during a university examination period. In this double-blind trial at Volgograd Medical Academy, 60 foreign students were divided into experimental and placebo groups. The group consuming 100 mg of a Rhodiola extract p/day for 20 days experienced significant improvements in physical work capacity, coordination, and general well-being, along with less mental fatigue and situational anxiety. The ability of these students to learn the Russian language increased by 61% compared to the placebo group, while their relative fatigue levels dropped by 30%. The supplemented students also scored higher on final exams.

Rhodiola is beneficial for other forms of stress as well. A study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry found that Rhodiola helped to protect rats from the usual effects of noise-induced stress. Several negative alterations occurred in the livers of the placebo rats when they were subjected to noise levels of greater than 95 decibels, whereas no such alterations were observed in rats that received Rhodiola.

One of the great things about Rhodiola is that it is both calming and stimulating. Usually an herb or drug works only in one direction. Valium, for example, calms your brain but also makes it dull. Rhodiola, in contrast, calms the emotional system and yet is activating and energizing the brain’’s cognitive functions. Rhodiola gets rid of the stress that often interferes with concentration and focus, but leaves your mind sharp and able to perform at its peak.

The effects of Rhodiola on the capacity for high intensity physical work.

It was found that by the end of the performed task, the group who were given Rhodiola were less fatigued and their physiological characteristics (heart rate, blood pressure, coordination, hand grip strength, etc) were better than in the control group. Also, the recovery was significantly faster in the group which received Rhodiola. For instance, within 10 minutes after the end of the task, the heart rate in the Rhodiola treated group dropped to 76 beats per minute, while in the control group it decreased to 86 beats per minute. Similar results were obtained with the extracts of Eleutherococcus, Leuzea and Panax Ginseng, all adaptogens as well.

Interesting is the study of the effects of Rhodiola on cardio-vascular performance in 42 professional cross-country skiers, aged 20-25. The study was performed during training for 30 kilometer cross-country skiing races and 20 kilometer biathlon races. The athletes received either 10 drops of Rhodiola extract, 2 ml of Eleutherococcus extract or a placebo, 30-60 minutes before a race. Rhodiola and Eleutherococcus were shown to improve both their work capacity and post-race recovery as proved by the patterns of heart rate and blood pressure normalization following the test exercise challenge. In addition, the athletes receiving the adaptogens finished the race faster and had better target-shooting results (statistically significant) than the control group. A post-race study of blood oxygen saturation in breath interruption tests revealed a better resistance to hypoxia and faster recovery in the skiers.

Several other studies gave the same outcome.

Summarizing, the conclusion was that many of the effects of Rhodiola on muscular activity were similar to those produced by training.

The effects of Rhodiola on the central nervous system.

Russian scientists performed a number of studies of the effects of Rhodiola on the central nervous system (CNS)

Rhodiola preparations produced noticeable effects on electrical activity, neurotransmitter levels and other parameters in different brain structures. The effects of Rhodiola preparations on the CNS appear to be complex, with different areas or types of neurons being affected differently. It is still undetermined which of the many effects of Rhodiola are responsible for its reported stimulant, antidepressant and stabilizing action on the CNS.

Adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola

Rhodiola appears to enhance the organism’s general resistance to a variety of adverse influences or conditions. It was shown to reduce toxic effects of various drugs and chemicals. Similar to other adaptogens, Rhodiola preparations tend to normalize various physiological and biochemical parameters regardless of the direction of their deviation; up or down.

Rhodiola’s actions appear to be dependent on a functional CNS and endocrine system; only in living and fully functional animals and humans the effects showed up, not in a laboratory test tube. One can conclude that the active components of Rhodiola are stimulating the body itself to perform better and compensate faster for deviations in metabolic patterns and shortcomings.

Other properties of Rhodiola

Rhodiola may play a role in fighting depression. In a group of 128 adult patients with depression and neurasthenia (a condition of fatigue, weakness, and inability to recover by resting), treatment with 150 mg of Rhodiola three times a day significantly reduced or eliminated symptoms in 64% of the subjects. Among a group of patients hospitalized for depression, the addition of Rhodiola to a treatment regimen of tricyclic antidepressants reduced the length of hospital stays and improved the patients’’ moods, thought processes, and motor activity. Even better, the herb not only reduced troublesome side effects of the antidepressants, but also proved to be effective in treating less severe forms of depression without other medications.

Of particular interest is the anti-tumor and anti-metastatic action of Rhodiola. In a series of studies it was demonstrated that in mice with various types of implanted tumors, Rhodiola preparations inhibited tumor growth by 40-75%. Furthermore, Rhodiola significantly reduced the incidence of metastases – for some tumors 2 – 5-fold. One should also note that Rhodiola was shown to reduce the severity of the side effects of chemotherapy; again proof of the normalizing and balancing effect so common to adaptogens.

Beneficial effects of Rhodiola in the treatment of impotence were also reported. Rhodiola extract was administered to 35 patients with erectile dysfunction and/or premature ejaculation at the dose 10-15 drops/day for three month. In 26 patients, there was an improvement of sexual function, normalization of the composition of prostatic secretions and increase in the urinary 17 -ketosteroids.

Conclusion

On the basis of clinical studies, the following indications for Rhodiola preparations were proposed :

  • exhaustion in healthy individuals; chronic fatigue; recovery from infectious and other diseases and/or injuries.
  • improvement of mental work capacity; attention deficit; concentration difficulties; mental fatigue.
  • improvement of physical work capacity and endurance; acceleration of recovery from intensive physical strain.
  • mild neuropsychiatric conditions: neuroses (nervous exhaustion, depressive neurosis, obsessive-compulsive neurosis), some psychoses; male impotence.
  • as an adjunct to psychiatric treatments, to reduce the incidence or severity of drug side effects and, possibly, to enhance the effectiveness of psychoactive drugs (especially in schizophrenia patients).
  • in elderly people, to enhance general activity and vitality.

The time required before Rhodiola takes effect depends on your genetics, mental and physical condition, environment, behavior, and lifestyle. Some people begin to feel its effects in just a few days, while others require as much as three weeks. Clinical studies show that most people experience its full benefits in 30-40 days. If you do not notice a change within 40 days, discontinue use, as Rhodiola may not be effective for you.

Side effects :
In high doses susceptible people can experience irritability and overanxious behavior. Lowering the dosage will most of the time stop the unwanted effects.

Other Rhodiola species

Rhodiola Quadrifida in its natural habitat

Rhodiola Quadrifida (also known as Sedum coccinea / Rhodiola coccinea and ‘Red Brush’ because of the appearance of the roots) is a very rare family member of R.rosea. It appears to have even more powerful medicinal and adaptogenic properties than R.rosea. It has been used in China for over 1000 years (known as Si Lie Hong Jing Tian; Japanese: Shiretsukoukeiten ) but because of its rareness (the plant is only found at very high altitudes in the Altai and Tien Shan mountains) very little research has been performed so far.

Its main actions were found to be be:

• Adaptogenic, immuno-balancing and normalizing

• Styptic (traditionally used to stop excessive menstrual and menopausal bleedings)

• Against endometriosis and irregular menstrual cycles

• Tonic (having an invigorating effect)

• Myoma

Like R.rosea, the main active ingredient is salidroside. The plant’s roots were found to have similar actions as R.rosea but there were indications (based on limited research with laboratory mice) that its anti-cancer activity was significantly higher. Anti-allergic actions were also found.

Side effects: R.quadrifida should not be used by people with a blood pressure of more than 180/100

We are offering both Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola Quadrifida for sale in the form of dried roots, to be used to make tea or an alcohol solution. The supply is very limited, though. We are also selling a mix of Rhodiola Rosea combined with raw Chaga, to be prepared as tea. A potent mix with immune supporting and re-vitalizing qualities.Click here for the webshop.


This monograph is mainly based on the following literature:
-‘Золотой корень’ (the Golden Root) – Saratikov, A.S., Krasnov, E.A. – Tomsk State University Press, Tomsk; 1974

-Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea L.): Effect of Internal and External Factors on Accumulation of Biologically Active Compounds – Z. Weglarz et.al – Department of Vegetable and Medicinal Plants, Warsaw University of Life Sciences

-DEMAND AND AVAILABILITY OF RHODIOLA ROSEA L. RAW MATERIAL – B. GALAMBOSI – Agrifood Research Finland, Ecological Production Karilantie 2A, FIN-50600 Mikkeli, Finland


One thought on “Rhodiola Rosea – Review

  1. Pingback: Rhodiola rosea extract may improve anxiety, stress and mood | backgrounds and monographs

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