Rhodiola is one of the most promising plant medicines in the treatment of anxiety relief. While rhodiola has been intensively studied in Russia and Scandinavia for more than 40 years, it was not until the last decade that the plant started to gain popularity in Western Europe and here in the United States. Rhodiola is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body and brain cells “adapt to” stress, trauma, anxiety, exhaustion and fatigue.
The herb stimulates the nervous system, decreases depression, enhances work performance, eliminates fatigue, possesses antioxidant properties, and has cardiopulmonary protective characteristics.
The use of rhodiola as a medicinal plant can be traced back to 77 A.D. when Greek physician Dioscorides wrote about the herb in his medical text, “De Materia Medica”. From 77 A.D. to the mid-1900s, R. rosea was prized as a medicinal herb throughout almost all parts of Europe and Asia. Vikings consumed the herb to increase both endurance and stamina during their long journeys and Chinese Emperors would commission expeditions to remote parts of the Siberian Mountains to bring back the prized herb.
In Russia, the herb was used to survive the long, harsh Siberian winters, given to soldiers on the battlefield, to soviet athletes, and to Russian cosmonauts to help them adapt to stress.
Rhodiola is a perennial herbaceous plant that inhabits mountainous regions throughout Europe, Asia, and east coastal regions of North America. It produces yellow blossoms that smell like roses, thus the Latin name rosea. The rhizomes (the stems of the plant that grows underground) contain various compounds including organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, salidrosides, and rosavins.
Salidroside and rosavin include compounds like rosin, rosavin, and rosarin and might be responsible for the anxiolytic and antidepressant effects of rhodiola. Over 200 different species of Rhodiola have been identified and at least 20 are used in traditional medical systems in Asia.
The anti-stress properties of rhodiola are thought to be attributed to an inhibition in the synthesis of the stress hormone cortisol. Rhodiola might also stimulate the effects of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin on the central nervous system.
Further research is showing rhodiola may inhibit the enzymes that degrade these neurotransmitters and might facilitate transport of these compounds into and within the brain.
The herb appears to be best absorbed on an empty stomach, thirty minutes before meals. Appropriate doses are 100 to 400 milligrams per day standardized to contain 2 to 3 percent rosavins. It is important to pay close attention to the source of rhodiola as some (Tibetan Rhodiola or Chinese Rhodiola) lack rosavins.
Only rhodiola of Russian origin (West and North Siberia) has the highest pharmacological activity and contains all the key active components.
Rhodiola with less than 3% rosavins is likely a poor investment and will not yield the benefits you are hoping for. If the manufacturer is not disclosing the percentage it is likely an inferior product.
If you are considering purchasing this product, you will be glad to know that rhodiola appears to have an excellent safety profile.
Side effects are uncommon when daily use does not exceed 2000mg. Side effects in some cases can include allergic reaction, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and unpleasant sensations.
Rhodiola and several antidepressants have been reported to have favorable effects in terms of both antidepressant efficacy and reduction of side effects. Evidence for the safety and appropriateness of rhodiola supplementation during pregnancy and lactation is currently unavailable, thus it is not recommended for pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding.
Rhodiola has not been studied in bipolar depression, and should be used with caution in patients with bipolar spectrum disorders.