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Rhodiola Rosea Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea is an herb belonging to the Crassulaceae family, found in mountain areas around the world. The plant thrives in cold regions, like the Arctic, mountain regions in Central Asia and Europe, and in areas throughout Eastern North America. It is popularly known by many names, such as golden root, rose root, roseroot, arctic root, king’s crown, or orpin rose. The Rhodiola plant has a thick root with several shoots and yellow flowers and grows from 5 to 35 cm in height.

The herb has been used for thousands of years as a remedy, with evidence that goes back to the Viking period and the Roman Empire, and was also documented in traditional Chinese remedies. In 77 BC its benefits were documented by the Greek physician Dioscorides in his De Materia Medica. Rhodiola Rosea preparations were used as a general tonic and were said to fight fatigue, prevent infections, fight off colds, and enhance sexual function.

In modern times, the herb has been classified as an adaptogen, a term developed by Soviet physicians in the 20th century to describe a substance that is claimed to help the body adapt to stresses of various kinds, like heat, cold, trauma, sleep deprivation, infection, or psychological stress, without causing any side effects.

Rhodiola Functions & Benefits

As said above, Rhodiola Rosea extract is currently classified as an adaptogen in alternative medicine. The claims built around this remedy are numerous and relatively bold, ranging from fighting colds to fighting cancer. This lead to some Rhodiola products being forcibly removed from the market for making false claims to treat cancer, depression, and several other severe conditions. Although it is true that scientific studies have disproved some of the claims regarding the herb, there are also numerous benefits of the remedy that have been reinforced through extensive medical trials.

Rhodiola Rosea studies have shown that it may be effective in improving mood and alleviating depression, improving physical and mental performance, and in reducing fatigue. A 2007 study published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry found that Rhodiola extract relieves symptoms of depression in human patients with mild to moderate depression. Another study carried out in 2008 at UCLA found significant improvement in 10 people with anxiety that were administered Rhodiola Rosea extract over the course of 10 weeks.

Another potential benefit of the herb is related to stress-induced fatigue. A study published in 2000 showed that Rhodiola Rosea supplementation administered over a period of 2 weeks to 56 physicians on night-duty lead to improved mental function. Another study showed improved physical performance in male military cadets undergoing sleep deprivation and stress.

Rhodiola is also claimed to improve cardiac issues caused or aggravated by stress by lowering the number of stress hormones that may cause elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol that may subsequently lead to heart problems.

Regarding the use of Rhodiola in cancer treatment, studies conducted so far. Studies on rats performed in the Russian Federation showed that the administration of Rhodiola extract inhibited tumor growths by 39% and showed a lower rate of metastasis up to 50%. So far, no other extensive studies on the subject were conducted to support its effects on human subjects. However, Rhodiola was suggested to be effective in aiding chemotherapy by supporting the liver thus reducing the toxicity of the drugs and reducing their side effects.

The herb contains a large number of active substances like rosavin, rosarian, and rosin, with rhodioloside and tyrosol functioning as the two most active. It is not entirely known how Rhodiola acts, but one suggested mechanism is due to its ability to influence the activity and levels of opioid peptides, such as beta-endorphins and monoamines. It is also believed Rhodiola Rosea facilitates the transport of neurotransmitters within the brain.


The recommended dosage for Rhodiola Rosea extract depends on the salidroside (rhodioloside) content. An average dosage of 170 to 185 mg daily supplies 4.5 mg of salidroside; in case the remedy is used as a one-time treatment, the optimal dosage is around two or three times that quantity, but may vary from product to product. The amount of Rhodiola contained in dietary supplements varies from 100 to 600 mg, but the purity of the extract is not always specified, so it advised you choose a producer with caution.

Although it is regarded as an adaptogen in alternative medicine, a substance that by definition causes little or no side-effects, there have been some reports of side-effects. The most common include stomach upset, headaches, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, or dizziness.

The herb may also interact with some prescription medication, so it is best avoided when on monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), benzodiazepines, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Also, the effects of Rhodiola during pregnancy and nursing women and on young children have not been evaluated and, therefore, it is best to avoid administration in such cases. It is recommended you consult a medical professional before beginning treatment with Rhodiola, to avoid the occurrence of any of the above- mentioned side effects and ensure that you are administering the correct dosages.


Rhodiola Rosea is naturally found in cold mountain areas all over the Northern hemisphere but is currently considered an endangered medicinal species with limited distribution. Its importance in the pharmaceutical industry has led researchers to develop methods for in vitro growth, but for the moment the vast majority of the plants are harvested from their natural environment.

Rhodiola Rosea is consumed for in several forms. For example, in Greenland, it is consumed as food, either raw, as a salad made from the young stems, or cooked in stews. It is also made into a paste or tincture and used for the dressing of wounds. The dried herb is also used to make teas and infusions and consumed as such, for medicinal purposes. Nowadays, Rhodiola extract is mostly available in the form of capsules, either by itself or used in more complex formulations, manufactured by numerous companies around the world.