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Rhodiola Review

By Sarah Terry

Herbalists have used rhodiola for centuries to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Rhodiola has also been widely used for boosting strength and helping the body to recover from stress. Although rhodiola is widely considered very safe, you should talk with your health care provider before taking the extract to discuss any possible side effects or health risks.


Rhodiola has been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy, primarily in Russia and Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Traditionally, people used rhodiola to treat fatigue, infections and nervous system disorders, as well as to boost fertility, says the University of Michigan Health System. Rhodiola was also used by the Vikings to increase strength and endurance. Physicians in the Soviet Union during the 1900s began using rhodiola as an herbal “adaptogen,” meaning that it could help the body cope with physical and psychological stresses, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


You can use rhodiola to fight fatigue, boost mental, physical and sexual function, treat or prevent altitude sickness, and protect your liver. Rhodiola’s adaptogenic effects may help to combat stress and enhance your athletic performance and endurance, notes the University of Michigan Health System. Rhodiola may also have anticancer effects and help to treat depression and cardiovascular diseases, adds the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.


Rhodiola contains flavonoids and organic acids with antioxidant actions that are likely the source of the herb’s health benefits. Rhodiola also contains phenylethanol derivatives, monoterpenes, triterpenes and phenolic acids. The species Rhodiola rosea contains phenylpropanoids, particularly rosavin, which the other species lack. Rhodiola’s properties act to stimulate the central nervous system by affecting dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine levels, as well as helping neurotransmitter transportation in the brain. These actions help your body to combat the effects of stress by releasing certain chemicals in your nervous system and adrenal glands.

Scientific Evidence

A 2000 double-blind pilot study of students during a stressful exam period found that Rhodiola rosea extract had stimulating and adaptogenic effects that helped to reduce stress-related fatigue, says the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Another human study published in 2004 found that taking rhodiola helped to improve physical endurance and performance during exercise. Test tube studies published in 2002 revealed that rhodiola has anticancer and antioxidant properties, as well as beneficial effects on the nervous system, thyroid and adrenal glands, heart and liver, notes the University of Michigan Health System. Also, a 2000 double-blind study of 56 physicians working on night duty found that taking 170 mg of rhodiola extract daily over the course of two weeks helped to improve or maintain mental function, compared to the placebo group, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


For stimulating effects, you can take 170 to 185 mg of rhodiola extract daily, standardized to contain 4 ½ mg of salidroside, or “rhodioloside,” says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. For sedative-like effects, you can take a higher amount of rhodiola extract of up to 600 mg daily, notes the University of Michigan Health System. You can also take five to 40 drops of the alcohol extract tincture two to three times daily, typically taken before meals.


Although rhodiola is quite safe after centuries of historical use, you could experience some rare and mild side effects. Some negative reactions to taking rhodiola extract include insomnia and irritabilityr. Although no serious side effects have been reported in clinical trials, no safety studies have been conducted either.

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