As an adaptogen, Rhodiola Rosea makes you more resilient to stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
People from Russia have been using it for hundreds of years. It helped them boost their productivity, mood, memory, and mental resilience.
In terms of its strength, Rhodiola might have the strongest anti-fatigue effect out of all the adaptogens.
There have been over 180 studies done on this herb.
And so far, the bulk of the research suggests that Rhodiola Rosea helps:
- Repair and Protect Brain Cells – Rhodiola Rosea stimulates neurogenesis: the repair and birth of new neurons. Rhodiola also improves neuron’s energy metabolism by improving ATP production. ATP is the energy currency of your cells. In addition, active components in Rhodiola protect your neurons from oxidative stress and cell death.
- Improve Energy – Rhodiola is very anti-fatigue. Research shows it promotes energy production, enhances mental performance under stress, and reduces fatigue – be it mental or physical. Rhodiola is also an ideal nootropic for studying. It improves sustained focus and attention to details.
- Enhance Your Mood – Rhodiola enhances your brain chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. It makes you more alert, elevates mood, and is effective at relieving chronic anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
In some of the studies which we’ll show you below, Rhodiola even gave prescription anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs a run for their money, in terms of the effectiveness.
In addition, Rhodiola is also a potent anti-inflammatory herb.
People often use it to treat headaches, chronic inflammation, infections, and even cancer. (1, 2)
This article explores the clinical benefits of Rhodiola for your brain.
What is Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola Rosea is an Arctic herb that grows in cold climates across Asia and Europe.
The first recording of Rhodiola dates back to 77 C.E. when Dioscorides wrote about its medicinal properties in De Materia Medica.
Rhodiola contains a total of 140 compounds. But only a few of those are critical for its nootropic benefits:
- Rosavins (rosin, rosavin, rosarin)
These chemicals need to work in harmony together for Rhodiola to be effective. Just like the nature intended.
If you wonder what kind of herb Rhodiola is, it’s called an adaptogen.
Adaptogens help your body and mind deal with stress. Therefore, Rhodiola helps promote physiological function.
The benefits of this herb are immediate, but also long-term (5):
- A single Rhodiola dose will improve your body’s reaction to short-term stressors, such as flight or fight response. Specifically, Rhodiola will help you think clearly and make better decisions under these situations.
- Long-term supplementation of Rhodiola promotes the function of your hypothalamus, pituitary glands, and adrenals, also called the HPA axis. HPA axis is responsible for managing long-term stress.
Essentially, Rhodiola counters the brain-numbing effect of stress.
And it maintains your cognitive function when it matters the most.
Russians have used Rhodiola to improve productivity in workers, mental sharpness in scientists and astronauts, and performance in elite athletes.
Overall, research suggests that Rhodiola works best under high-stress situations.
These include sleep deprivation, athletic contests, exams, and deadlines.
And alongside boosting performance, Rhodiola also optimizes your brain pathways:
- Brain cell regeneration
- Brain energy
- Neuron protection
How it Works
There are two main ways in which Rhodiola boosts your mental performance.
Improves Memory, Focus, and Cognition During Stress
Stress can drain your brain of energy and resources. This can lead to brain fog and lack of focus.
Rhodiola counters the negative effects of stress by energizing your nervous system and boosting mental clarity.
What’s more, Rhodiola can even prevent neuron death. It also stimulates the growth and repair of injured neurons.
A study from China discovered astonishing effects of Rhodiola on neurons in the hippocampus of rats.
50 rats in the study suffered from depression caused by chronic stress.
As a result of their depression, the number of neurons in their hippocampus was significantly diminished.
These animals were split into 5 groups. Only one group took Rhodiola Rosea.
At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the number of brain cells in the hippocampus of depressed rats who took Rhodiola increased and fully recovered.
These also included 5-HT serotonergic neurons which play a key role in regulating mood.
After all, serotonin is your brain’s happy molecule. And optimal levels of this neurotransmitter will keep your mood elevated.
Ultimately, the study concluded that:
Rhodiola Rosea boosts the proliferation of neurons in the hippocampus. And may reverse the damage of injured brain cells. (3)
Both anecdotal and clinical evidence show that Rhodiola regulates neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. All of which regulate mood.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested the effects of Rhodiola on depressed patients between 18-70 years old.
The researchers split these people into three groups:
- The first group took 340mg of Rhodiola SHR-5 extract every day.
- The second group took 680mg of Rhodiola SHR-5 extract every day.
- The third group took a placebo for the duration of the trial.
The researchers then recorded results of Rhodiola on depression on the first day, and after 42 days of taking the herb.
The result: both groups that took Rhodiola saw a major reduction in their depression.
Their mood, sleep quality, and day to day life significantly improved from taking Rhodiola Rosea for 6 weeks.
Furthermore, it didn’t matter whether they took 340mg or 680mg daily, as both dosages appeared equally effective.
This suggests that Rhodiola works just fine on lower dosages.
Finally, the research concluded that when taken long-term and in the correct doses, Rhodiola is potent at reducing mild to moderate depression. (4)
Rhodiola’s Effects on Your Brain
Brain Cell Protection
Research shows that Rhodiola promotes neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells.
In addition, it also boosts antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory processes in the brain. (6)
Rhodiola also combats oxidative stress caused by amyloid plaque in the brain. As a result, inflammation reduces too.
This ultimately protects your brain from cognitive impairment and mood disorders.
Last but not least, Rhodiola positively affects HPA axis – regulating endocrine function and strengthening your resilience to stress. (7)
Rhodiola Rosea helps replenish and maintain mood-regulating neurotransmitters:
These brain chemicals are critical for mood, focus, memory, and information processing speed.
There’s an enzyme in your brain called monoamine oxidase (MAO). In essence, the purpose of MAO is to break down your neurotransmitters.
However, Rhodiola prevents this. It is an MAO inhibitor, meaning it allows for more dopamine to float around in your brain.
This leads to elevated mood, focus, and motivation. (8)
Rhodiola also inhibits the enzyme which destroys acetylcholine. As a result, it helps you maintain a sharp and clear memory. (9)
As I’ve said in the beginning, Rhodiola helps boost ATP – the energy currency of your cells.
Because of this, Rhodiola is considered a natural stimulant.
But unlike coffee, it doesn’t cause a crash or jitters.
Instead, its effects last 6 hours and then slowly taper off. Without causing you to feel mood swings.
However, a boost in ATP isn’t the only way Rhodiola increases your mental energy.
It also works by boosting your brain’s electrical impulses. In turn, this helps you to stay alert and focused on tasks. (10)
Ultimately, Rhodiola combines its neuroprotective and energizing benefits to enhance mental sharpness and clarity in individuals of all ages.
Clinical Evidence of Rhodiola Rosea’s Benefits
Rhodiola Rosea Prevents Fatigue
Anti-fatigue is probably the most common adjective given to Rhodiola in the nootropic community.
And there’s a good reason for this; studies show that Rhodiola Rosea is one of the best adaptogens for erasing fatigue and boosting mental energy.
One such study gathered 161 young volunteers between the ages of 19-21.
The researchers wanted to measure these people’s stress and fatigue during mental work after taking a Rhodiola Rosea SHR-5 extract.
They also tested the efficacy of two different doses of the extract. The other dose was 50% higher.
Moving further, the results revealed that Rhodiola showed strong anti-fatigue effects in the volunteers.
And the best of all, the lower dose produced similar effects as the higher dose. (11)
Rhodiola Rosea Reduces Depression
Research published in Phytomedicine compared the effects of Rhodiola Rosea with the popular antidepressant Zoloft (Sertraline) for treating depression.
Zoloft, while often effective, can also come with a slew of side effects. Including:
- Bouts of fatigue
- Low libido
Now, this study gathered 57 people suffering from a major depressive disorder.
They split them into three groups: one taking Rhodiola, another Zoloft, and the third group received a placebo.
The trial used 3 different tests to record the depression score.
Ultimately, the researchers found that:
- Rhodiola Rosea was effective at alleviating depression, although not to the same extent as Zoloft. But Rhodiola also came with fewer side effects. Most people in this study tolerated Rhodiola better.
The researchers came to a simple conclusion: while Rhodiola was slightly less effective in reducing depression, it was also much safer and better tolerated.
In other words, Rhodiola had a better benefit/risk ratio for people diagnosed with mild-moderate depression. (12)
Rhodiola Rosea Boosts Mental Performance
This study looked into the long-term effects of Rhodiola supplementation on brain performance.
In the study, there were 56 young doctors.
They were stressed from their night shift jobs but otherwise healthy.
The researchers tested these people in several categories:
- Short-term memory
- Associative thinking
- Mental fatigue
The group subjects received Rhodiola Rosea extracts or a placebo pill for 2 weeks. This was followed by a 2-week of not taking Rhodiola. Finally, they finished with another 2 weeks of either Rhodiola extracts or a placebo pill.
The researchers tested these young doctors before and after their night shifts once every two weeks. For a total of three times.
In the end, the results showed major improvements in multiple cognitive tasks in the first 2 weeks of the trial.
Out of all benefits, the strongest one was general fatigue reduction during stress. (13)
What’s more, none of the subjects reported side effects.
Rhodiola Rosea suggested dose is 50-200mg per day.
The lower dosage of 50mg is effective at reducing fatigue.
However, for short-term effects such as anti-anxiety and stress reduction, the higher dosage of 200mg seems to work better.
Studies show that raising Rhodiola dose above 680mg daily doesn’t lead to any benefits. In fact, higher dosages can actually reduce the benefits of Rhodiola.
Also, always choose a Rhodiola extract that contains 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside. A 3:1 ratio. This is how these compounds occur naturally in Rhodiola root.
Also very important: look for ingredients in Rhodiola and where it is sourced from.
Ideally, you want pure Rhodiola Rosea extract with an organic certificate. This way you know it’s free of pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins.
The label should also say that it’s sourced from Siberia or somewhere close to that region. This is where you’ll find the highest-quality Rhodiola.
Is Rhodiola Rosea Safe?
Rhodiola is a natural herb that many people tolerate very well. In most cases, it’s completely safe and non-toxic.
But, if you take too much Rhodiola (way above than recommended 680mg), you can experience:
- Dry mouth
- Inability to sleep
- Weight loss
- Stomach cramps
In addition, Rhodiola is a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor. Or MAOI.
This means it blocks the enzymes which destroy neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. That’s how Rhodiola elevates your mood.
However, if you take anti-depressant drugs that affect serotonin or dopamine levels in addition to Rhodiola, you could end up with the “serotonin syndrome.”
This is a condition where your serotonin levels are too high, which can cause a whole range of health issues. The most serious one being death.
Rhodiola Rosea FAQ
Can Rhodiola cause anxiety? Rhodiola isn’t shown to cause anxiety. It, in fact, alleviates it by regulating your neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
Can Rhodiola get you high? Rhodiola won’t get you high like recreational drugs, but it is a natural stimulant. The effect is subtler than coffee’s, and it doesn’t cause you to ‘crash’ once it stops working.
How long does it take for Rhodiola Rosea to work? It takes around 30 minutes for Rhodiola to kick in, according to research. Needless to say, your genetics, metabolism, and food intake prior to ingesting Rhodiola all play a role in how fast it will work for you.
Should Rhodiola be cycled? Studies show that Rhodiola is safe to take long-term and doesn’t cause negative side effects. However, some users report building a tolerance to Rhodiola. If that’s the case with you, then cycling it might be an effective strategy to make it work again.
What does Rhodiola Rosea do for you? Above all, Rhodiola enhances your resilience to stress and fatigue. It also boosts your mood, neurotransmitters, and cognitive function. But Rhodiola isn’t just a nootropic for beating stress; it also helps with studying, anxiety, depression, and memory retention.
Will Rhodiola keep me awake? Rhodiola can keep you awake since it’s a natural stimulant. It increases your brain’s electrical activity, along with boosting ATP, your cell’s energy currency. Avoid taking Rhodiola late in the day if staying awake is a concern for you.
Rhodiola Rosea might be the most effective nootropic for combating stress and fatigue.
It helps the brain in a number of ways, including:
- Boosts resilience to stress: Rhodiola is shown to protect your neurons, along with improving neurogenesis; the repair and birth of new brain cells. Studies show that people who are stressed are able to maintain their cognitive performance when taking Rhodiola.
- Keeps your mood elevated: Rhodiola is highly serotonergic. It boosts serotonin, the ‘happy molecule’ in the brain, along with optimizing dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals aren’t only critical for good mood. They are also important for your memory and overall cognition.
- Helps you retain information: Rhodiola improves ATP production, which leads to more energy for your brain cells. Faster neuron communication, better thinking, and clearer thoughts. Brain fog no more.
Rhodiola is safe to take for most people.
The only group of individuals that should avoid taking Rhodiola are those taking MAO inhibitors.
Rhodiola is a natural MAO inhibitor, which means it indirectly boosts serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. By combining it with a pharmaceutical MAO inhibitor, it can cause serotonin syndrome.
Further Reading: How Nootropics Work
Rhodiola rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview. (source)
Plant adaptogens III.* Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. (source)
Effects of Rhodiola rosea on level of 5-hydroxytryptamine, cell proliferation, and differentiation, and the number of neuron in the cerebral hippocampus of rats with depression induced by chronic mild stress. (source)
Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. (source)
Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. (source)
Salidroside attenuates beta amyloid-induced cognitive deficits via modulating oxidative stress and inflammatory mediators in rat hippocampus. (source)
Protection of human cultured cells against oxidative stress by Rhodiola rosea without activation of antioxidant defenses. (source)
Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. (source)
Acetylcholine Esterase Inhibitors in Rhodiola rosea. (source)
Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. (source)
A randomized trial of two different doses of an SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. (source)
Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. (source)
Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double-blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. (source)