Rhodiola is an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
Its roots are considered adaptogens, meaning they help your body adapt to stress when consumed.
Rhodiola is also known as arctic root or golden root, and its scientific name is Rhodiola rosea.
Its root contains more than 140 active ingredients, the two most potent of which are rosavin and salidroside.
People in Russia and Scandinavian countries have used rhodiola to treat anxiety, fatigue and depression for centuries.
Today, it’s widely used as a dietary supplement for its many health benefits.
Here are 7 science-based health benefits of Rhodiola rosea.
1. Can Decrease Stress
Rhodiola has long been known as an adaptogen, a natural substance that increases your body’s resistance to stress in non-specific ways.
One study investigated the effects of rhodiola extract in 101 people with life- and work-related stress. Participants were given 400 mg per day for four weeks (3).
It found significant improvements in symptoms of stress, such as fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety, after just three days. These improvements continued throughout the study.
Rhodiola has also been shown to improve symptoms of burnout, which can occur with chronic stress.
What’s more, in a study in 118 people with stress-related burnout, it improved many associated measures, including stress and depression (4)
Adaptogens like rhodiola rosea increase your body’s resistance to stress, allowing you to better cope during stressful times.
2. Can Fight Fatigue
Stress, anxiety and inadequate sleep are just a few factors that can contribute to fatigue, which can cause feelings of physical and mental tiredness.
Due to its adaptogenic properties, rhodiola is thought to help alleviate fatigue.
One four-week study in 60 people with stress-related fatigue looked at its effects on quality of life and symptoms of fatigue, depression and attention. Participants received either 576 mg of rhodiola or a placebo pill daily.
It found that rhodiola had a positive effect on fatigue levels and attention, compared to the placebo (5).
In a similar study, 100 people with chronic fatigue symptoms received 400 mg of rhodiola every day for eight weeks. They experienced significant improvements in stress symptoms, fatigue, quality of life, mood and concentration (6).
These improvements were observed after only one week of treatment and continued to improve through the final week of the study
The adaptogenic nature of rhodiola makes it a popular supplement for fighting fatigue and other symptoms associated with stress
3. Could Help Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a common but serious illness that negatively affects how you feel and act (7)
It’s thought to occur when chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters become unbalanced. Health professionals commonly prescribe antidepressants to help correct these chemical imbalances (8).
Rhodiola rosea has also been suggested to have antidepressant properties by balancing the neurotransmitters in your brain (9, 10, 11).
In one six-week study on the effectiveness of rhodiola on symptoms of depression, 89 people with mild or moderate depression were randomly assigned to receive either 340 mg or 680 mg of rhodiola or a placebo pill daily (12).
Both rhodiola groups experienced significant improvements in overall depression, insomnia and emotional stability, whereas the placebo group showed no improvements.
Interestingly, only the group receiving the larger dose showed improvements in self-esteem.
Another study compared the effects of rhodiola to the commonly prescribed antidepressant sertraline, which is sold under the name Zoloft. It randomly assigned 57 people diagnosed with depression to receive rhodiola, sertraline or a placebo pill for 12 weeks (13).
While rhodiola and sertraline both reduced symptoms of depression, sertraline had a greater effect. However, rhodiola produced fewer side effects and was better tolerated.
Rhodiola has been shown to improve many symptoms of depression. Similar to antidepressants, it may positively influence neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotion
4. Improves Brain Function
Some supplements may also help, including rhodiola.
One study tested its effects on mental fatigue in 56 physicians working night duty (17).
The physicians were randomly assigned to receive either 170 mg of rhodiola or a placebo pill per day for two weeks.
Rhodiola reduced mental fatigue and improved performance on work-related tasks by 20%, compared to the placebo.
Another study looked at the effects of rhodiola in military cadets performing night duties. The cadets consumed either 370 mg or 555 mg of rhodiola, or one of two placebos daily for five days (18).
Both doses were found to improve the cadets’ capacity for mental work, compared to the placebos.
In another study, students experienced significantly reduced mental fatigue, improved sleep patterns and increased motivation to study after taking rhodiola supplements for 20 days. Their exam scores were also 8% higher than those in the placebo group (19).
Two review articles also found evidence that rhodiola can ease mental fatigue, but they cautioned that the limited quantity and quality of the research did not allow for solid conclusions to be made (20, 21)
Rhodiola has been shown to increase mental performance during mentally stressful and physically strenuous times. However, more research is needed to verify these findings.
5. Can Improve Exercise Performance
Rhodiola also shows promise for improving exercise performance (22).
In one study, participants were given 200 mg of rhodiola or a placebo two hours before performing a cycling test (23).
Those given rhodiola were able to exercise for an average of 24 seconds longer than those given a placebo. While 24 seconds may seem small, the difference between first and second place in a race can be milliseconds (24).
Another study looked at its effects on endurance exercise performance (25).
Participants cycled for a six-mile simulated time-trial race. One hour before the race, participants were given rhodiola at a dose of 1.4 mg per pound (3 mg per kg) of body weight or a placebo pill.
Those given rhodiola finished the race significantly faster than the placebo group.
In these studies and others, rhodiola has been shown to improve exercise performance by decreasing perceived exertion, or how hard participants felt their bodies were working (26).
Rhodiola has the potential to decrease perceived exertion, which may allow you to work out longer and harder
6. May Help Control Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your body develops a reduced ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels (28).
People with diabetes commonly use insulin injections or medications that increase insulin sensitivity to normalize their blood sugar levels.
In fact, it has been shown to lower blood sugar in diabetic rats by increasing the number of glucose transporters in the blood. These transporters lower blood sugar by transporting glucose into the cells (30, 31).
These studies were performed in mice, so their results can’t be generalized to humans. However, they’re a compelling reason to investigate the effects of rhodiola on blood sugar in people.
If you have diabetes and wish to take rhodiola supplements, make sure to speak with your dietitian or doctor first.
Rhodiola has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in rodents, suggesting it may be a valuable supplement for diabetes control in humans. However, more research in humans is needed
7. May Have Anticancer Properties
Salidroside, a potent component of rhodiola, has been investigated for its anticancer properties.
As a result, researchers have suggested that rhodiola may be useful in the treatment of many types of cancer.
However, until human studies become available, whether rhodiola can help treat cancer remains unknown
Test-tube experiments have shown that an active ingredient in rhodiola called salidroside inhibits the growth of cancer cells. However, its effects in humans are unknown
How to Take Rhodiola Rosea Supplements
Rhodiola extract is widely available in the form of capsules or tablets. It’s also available in the form of tea, but many people prefer the pill form because it enables accurate dosing
What to Look For
To avoid this, look for brands that carry the USP or NSF seal. These are third-party, non-profit organizations that ensure supplements contain what they claim, without impurities.
In addition, be sure to look at the labels of these supplements to ensure they contain a standardized amount of 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides. These are the naturally occurring proportions of these compounds in rhodiola root.
How Much and When to Take It
It’s best to take rhodiola on an empty stomach, but not before bedtime, as it has a slight stimulatory effect (38).
Safety of Rhodiola
In fact, the suggested dosage of rhodiola is less than 2% of the amount that has been shown to be dangerous in animal studies (41).
Thus, there is large margin of safety.
Look for third-party certifications to ensure your rhodiola supplement has not been adulterated with cheaper, less effective ingredients. A dose of 200–600 mg per day is considered effective and safe
The Bottom Line
Rhodiola has been used in traditional medicine in Russia and Scandinavian countries for centuries.
Studies have found rhodiola may help strengthen the body’s response to physical stressors like exercise and psychological stressors such as fatigue and depression.
Also, test-tube and animal studies have investigated its role in cancer treatment and diabetes control. However, research in humans is needed.
If you want to use rhodiola, look for supplements that have undergone third-party testing to avoid the potential for adulteration.
Overall, rhodiola has many health benefits and is considered safe with a low risk of side effects when it’s taken in the recommended dosages