What is rhodiola?
The botanical name of rhodiola is Rhodiola rosea.
The root and underground stem (rhizome) of this plant are used in the traditional medicine practices of Eastern and Northern Europe and parts of Asia.
This plant is known by many other names, including arctic root, golden root, orpin rose, rose root, rosewort, and Siberian golden root.
Extracts of the root and rhizome of the plant are dried and dissolved in alcohol to prepare medicinal compounds.
A typical dose is 144 to 200 mg twice daily. (However, unlike with prescription drugs, there is often little evidence about the best dose of supplements or whether the dose advertised in over-the-counter preparations is accurate.)
What claims are made about rhodiola?
Advocates believe that rhodiola is an adaptogen Adaptogens "Adaptogen" is a term for certain foods and supplements that are said to help the body cope with "stress." Stress may be psychologic (in the mind), but also may be physical (in the body), and... read more . This herbal medicine term means that this substance is thought to help the body respond to stress and restore normal function.
Rhodiola is used in traditional medicine to do the following:
Improve learning and memory
Reduce high cholesterol levels
Reduce symptoms of depression
Slow down the aging process
Does rhodiola work?
Any single compound, including rhodiola, is highly unlikely to have such a broad range of health benefits. Thus, evidence is very unlikely to confirm such multiple benefits.
Studies in cells show that salidroside, a compound in rhodiola, might have beneficial effects on the brain and might kill brain cancer cells.
Studies in animals suggest that rhodiola could improve cognitive function, but these studies have important weaknesses.
The evidence from studies in people to show that rhodiola has the claimed health benefits is limited.
Most of these studies are small and of poor quality, and some of the evidence is contradictory.
Studies in people have not been conclusive, but have shown that rhodiola could possibly have the following benefits:
Improve endurance, including athletic, work, and cognitive performance
Reduce fatigue in stressful situations
Relieve anxiety and depression. It provides less benefit than a traditional antidepressant would, but with fewer side effects.
Reduce heart damage caused by epirubicin (a chemotherapy drug)
What are the possible side effects of rhodiola?
Taking rhodiola twice a day for 6 to 12 weeks seems to be safe for most people.
But rhodiola can cause dizziness, dry mouth, and/or the production of too much saliva.
Because it might stimulate the immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is designed to defend the body against foreign or dangerous invaders. Such invaders include Microorganisms (commonly called germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi) Parasites... read more , rhodiola could worsen autoimmune diseases Autoimmune Disorders An autoimmune disorder is a malfunction of the body's immune system that causes the body to attack its own tissues. What triggers autoimmune disorders is not known. Symptoms vary depending on... read more , such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The safety of rhodiola in pregnant and breastfeeding women or in children has not been studied.
What drug interactions occur with rhodiola?
The use of rhodiola in combination with prescription antidepressant drugs could cause a very rapid heart rate.
Rhodiola could lower blood sugar levels, so it might make blood sugar levels too low, especially in people who take insulin or other drugs to treat diabetes.
Rhodiola could reduce blood pressure, so it might make blood pressure too low in people who already have low blood pressure or in those taking drugs to lower their blood pressure.
Rhodiola may increase levels of certain drugs, such as the blood thinner warfarin and some anti-inflammatory drugs.
Rhodiola may counteract the effects of immunosuppressants used for certain autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
Based on its biochemical effects, rhodiola may interact with many other drugs, but whether these cause problems is not clear.
Rhodiola is not generally recommended because the claimed beneficial effects on health have not been confirmed in high-quality studies in people and do not outweigh the risk of side effects or drug interactions.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and people with autoimmune disorders should avoid rhodiola.
People who take certain drugs (including drugs to treat diabetes or depression, lower blood pressure, thin the blood, or suppress the immune system for certain autoimmune disease states) should talk to their doctor before taking rhodiola.