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Is Rhodiola Sacra Safe?

By Linda Tarr Kent

Rhodiola sacra is touted as an herb that will boost your energy, improve your health, protect your heart, combat depression and improve your immune system. However, this herb is not well studied so its potential benefits and side effects are not solidly established. Always consult a health care provider before trying a new supplement.

Evidence

Rhodiola is typically found in the arctic mountains of Siberia. There are more than 200 related species of Rhodiola plants in the Crassulacea family. Rhodiola in general has a centuries-long tradition of use. However, only two of its many species have been studied at a significant level in humans, and Rhodiola sacra is not one of these, according to “The Health Professional’s Guide to Dietary Supplements,” by Shawn M. Talbott and Kerry Hughes. Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata are the more studied forms of this herb.

Initial Scientific Results

Rhodiola plants have antioxidant action, notes a 2009 study published in “Theriogenology.” Rhodiola species generally are used the same way that ginseng is -- as adaptogens, or herbs that may improve energy levels, enhance athletic performance and relieve anxiety and stress. The species studied are generally considered safe, at least for short-term use, Talbott and Hughes say, and there are not any known contraindications with other herbs or drugs. However, more research is needed to see if long-term complications exist or evidence of drug interactions arises.

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Possible Precautions

Non-peer-reviewed publications that summarize Russian literature on Rhodiola rosea suggest possible contraindications. The publications indicate that you should not use this herb if you have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or suffer from nervous excitability, notes a professional product guide for health care providers from Pharmanex Energy Formula.

Allergic Reactions

Any time you use an herbal remedy an allergic reaction is possible. Get medical help for any type of allergic reaction, advises MedlinePlus. Common mild symptoms include hives, rashes, itching, nasal congestion, watery eyes. Common moderate to severe symptoms include abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, wheezing, diarrhea, chest tightness, difficulty swallowing or breathing, flushing and weakness. You may also have a swollen face, tongue or eyes. A sudden, severe and potentially fatal reaction is called anaphylaxis. This requires immediate medical attention.

Considerations

If you are pregnant, never try a new herb -- especially one that is not well studied, advise the experts at Better Nutrition magazine. This herb is frequently combined with other better studied adaptagen herbs such as ginseng and the reishi mushroom that do have known drug interactions, such as raising your risk for bleeding and bruising when taken along with blood-thinning medicines. Also, if you are seeking adaptogen action from Rhodiola its rosea species has active compounds called rosavins thought to be responsible for many of the herb’s benefits. Other varieties such as the sacra species do not have rosavins.

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