Rhodiola

Common name: Rhodiola
Other names: Golden root, rose root, arctic root
Latin name: Rhodiola Rosea
Affinities: Nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, reproductive system
Actions: Adaptogen, whole body tonic, nervine tonic, nootropic, antidepressant, immune tonic
Specific indications: Fatigue, mental stress, depression, recovery from brain trauma, sexual debility, muscle spasms and stiffness, nervous debility
Diseases: Fatigue(1*), anxiety(1), flu and colds(3), depression(1), Parkinson’s disease(3), ADHD(3)
Parts used: Root
Energetics: Cooling, neutral

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Characteristics: Rhodiola is a hardy perennial herb that thrives in some of the harshest conditions on Earth from the Artic mountains of Scandinavia through to Siberia (Castleman, 2001). The plant grows in crevices of mountain rocks and on sea cliffs (Ming et al., 2005). It grows up to 30 inches and produces yellow bushy flowers and has thick gold pink roots, hence why it is called golden root and rose root (Castleman, 2001).

History: Rhodiola rosea has a rich history of medicinal use and may have been used as long ago as the Vikings as a medicine and for its strengthening action to support work (Panossian et al., 2010). In an old Icelandic text from 1783 the following statement was written ‘infusion of stone crop taken dries and astringes, heals pain in the mouth, heals kidneys from sand which forms stones, stops diarrhoea and cures headache…. The root may also be suitable for severe skin conditions…. The dried root has been used to cure swellings… enhance the intellect…. restore weak nerves’. For many centuries rhodiola was used by herbalists in Russia and Scandinavia as a whole body strengthener (Castleman, 2001). In Siberia, folk lore states drinking rhodiola would mean you will live for 100 years or more (Ming et al., 2005). The Greek physician Dioscorides who travelled extensively with Roman legions mentioned rhodiola in his classic text ‘De Materia Medica’ (written in 77 A.D.) (Castleman, 2001). In Tibetan medicine is has been revered for several centuries. Elsewhere in Asia, it has been used to treat the flu and colds. In the 19th century French physicians applied rhodiola as a ‘brain tonic’.

Current applications: Rhodiola is applied in depression, altitude sickness (alongside cordyceps, reishi, and holy basil), ADHD, and recovery from brain trauma (Winston, 2007). It may also be useful to balance blood sugar levels, in Parkinson’s disease, relieve muscle spasms and stiffness, and enhance reproductive function in both men and women. Rhodiola is beneficial for the heart and was found to prevent stress induced heart damage and arrhythmias, it improves the strength of the heart muscle. Rhodiola is included in protocols for fibromyalgia alongside other herbs.

David Winston comments that it is less likely to cause over stimulation than red ginseng, he also mentions it has a role to play in improving sleep quality. Maria Groves mentions, ‘(rhodiola) has neuroprotective and restorative effects’ (Groves, 2016). She also mentions it may be useful in inflictions of the nervous system, like Lyme disease or injuries. She classes it as a ‘stimulating adaptogen’, more stimulating than ashwagandha and reishi for example.

Science: Rhodiola has several properties defined through in and ex vivo models such as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour activity (Lee et al., 2013; Cai et al., 2012). A recent study found that salidroside, a compound extracted from rhodiola, has nerve regenerative properties using in and ex vivo experimental models (Liu et al., 2017). Furthermore, under certain conditions it has been observed supplementing insects with rhodiola in their diets increased their life-span around 20% (Gospodaryov et al., 2013), therefore providing some preliminary confirmation of the traditional belief that rhodiola increases life-span.

Human studies typically examine the SHR-5 standardised extract of rhodiola (Spasov et al., 2000; Darbinyan et al., 2000). There is strong support for rhodiola in large well controlled studies against fatigue which supports its traditional role as a strengthening agent (Shevtsov et al., 2003; Darbinyan et al., 2000; Spasov et al., 2000). There is also good evidence that it may help cases of depression (Darbinyan et al., 2007).

Safety: Rhodiola is a safe herb that may be taken by the young or old and during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding. It may cause overstimulation in some people.

Dosage: 5-60 drops of tincture 3-4 times daily.

Scientific Summary

Research on models

Anti-inflammatory: One study that examined a crude extract of rhodiola found that it reduced inflammatory molecules such as TNF-alpha in in vivo models (Lee et al., 2013).

Anti-tumour activity: A study found a polysaccharide extracted from rhodiola called RRP-ws displayed a cytotoxic effect on Sarcoma 180 cells in and ex vivo models (Cai et al., 2012). It was found to modulate the immune system in vivo models.

Neuroregenerative activity: One study found Salidriside (SDS), a phenylpropanoid glycoside extracted from Rhodiola rosea had regenerative properties in vivo and ex vivo (Liu et al., 2017).

Life-span increasing activity: A study on Drosophila melanogaster found feeding the insects rhodiola increased their life-span 15-21% in insects with a particular kind of diet (Gospodaryov et al., 2013).

Research on humans

Fatigue: One study (n = 40, randomised double blind placebo controlled) found a rhodiola extract containg SHR-5 significantly decreased stress and fatigue parameters in a group of students during exam time (Spasov et al., 2000). 550mg of rhodiola extract was taken twice per day inside a capsule containing several minerals.

Fatigue(II): Another study (n = 56, double blind cross over) using a 170mg SHR-5 containing extract of rhodiola once daily to a group of young physicians for 2 weeks found a significant decrease in stress induced fatigue (Darbinyan et al., 2000).

Fatigue(III): A large study (n = 161, randomised double blind placebo controlled) of 19 to 21 year old cadets used 2 or 3 capsules containing 185mg of SHR-5 taken once per day and found a significant reduction in fatigue compared with the placebo (Shevtsov et al., 2003).

Depression: A study (n = 89, randomised double blind placebo controlled) examined 2 groups of patients taking rhodiola in cases of mild to moderate depression over 6 weeks (Darbinyan et al., 2007). The first group took 2 tablets daily that contained 170mg SHR extract, the second took 2 of these tablets twice daily. A significant decrease in depression was observed in both groups compared with the placebo.

References:

Cai, Zibin, et al. “Antitumor effects of a purified polysaccharide from Rhodiola rosea and its action mechanism.” Carbohydrate polymers 90.1 (2012): 296-300.

Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.

Darbinyan, V., et al. “Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.” Nordic journal of psychiatry 61.5 (2007): 343-348.

Darbinyan, V., et al. “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.” Phytomedicine 7.5 (2000): 365-371.

Gospodaryov, Dmytro V., et al. “Lifespan extension and delay of age-related functional decline caused by Rhodiola rosea depends on dietary macronutrient balance.” Longevity & healthspan 2.1 (2013): 5.

Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.

Lee, Yeonju, et al. “Anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of constituents isolated from Rhodiola rosea.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).

Liu, Hui, et al. “Salidroside promotes peripheral nerve regeneration based on tissue engineering strategy using Schwann cells and PLGA: in vitro and in vivo.” Scientific Reports 7 (2017).

Ming, Dong Sheng, et al. “Bioactive compounds from Rhodiola rosea (Crassulaceae).” Phytotherapy Research 19.9 (2005): 740-743.

Olsson, Erik MG, Bo von Schéele, and Alexander G. Panossian. “A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue.” Planta medica 75.02 (2009): 105-112.

Panossian, A., G. Wikman, and J. Sarris. “Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy.” Phytomedicine 17.7 (2010): 481-493.

Panossian, A., G. Wikman, and J. Sarris. “Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy.” Phytomedicine 17.7 (2010): 481-493.

Shevtsov, V. A., et al. “A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work.” Phytomedicine 10.2 (2003): 95-105.

Spasov, A. A., et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen.” Phytomedicine 7.2 (2000): 85-89.

Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.