Rhodiola rosea is a traditional chinese medicine and Scandinavian herb touted to promote physical/cognitive vitality. It appears to be proven for reducing fatigue and exhaustion in prolonged stressful situations. Rhodiola is also neuroprotective and promotes longevity in preliminary evidence.

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Rhodiola rosea is a herb in the rhodiola genera (Crassulaceae family) which has traditional usage as an anti-fatigue agent and adaptogen compound, and rhodiola is likely the second most popular adaptogen (second only to panax ginseng).

In regards to fatigue, rhodiola appears to be able to significantly reduce the effects of prolonged and minor physical exhaustion that results in fatigue. This is more related to stress and the ‘burnout’ effect, or prolonged but low intensity physical exercise. There is some limited evidence that parameters of physical exercise can be improved with rhodiola, but this appears to be limited to untrained persons with numerous studies on trained athletes suggesting that rhodiola does not have an acute ergogenic effect. Despite this, rhodiola appears to be highly reliable in reducing fatigue symptoms and improving symptoms of stress (and secondary to that, well-being) in persons fatigued from non-exercise related stressors.

Rhodiola can improve cognitive functioning in persons who experience a reduction in fatigue, but there is insufficient evidence to support an outright increase in cognition (which should occur in non-fatigued persons) and not enough studies have assessed cognitive decline for conclusions to be made.

Other potential uses of rhodiola include preliminary evidence that it is highly neuroprotective against toxins (requires more evidence) and that ingestion of rhodiola or its active component can reduce stress-induced binge eating in female rats. In the brain, rhodiola appears to be highly serotonergic (increases serotonin) and reduces corticosteroids; the inhibition of monoamine oxidases (MAOs) commonly attributed to rhodiola may not be relevant following oral ingestion of rhodiola, however.

Rhodiola may also promote longevity, with preliminary (non-mammalian) evidence suggesting up to a 20% increase in lifespan secondary to mechanisms that are indepedent of caloric restriction. Although very promising, mammalian evidence is needed to confirm.

One study has found that some commercial Rhodiola products may be diluted or otherwise adulterated.

How to Take

Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details

Supplementation of rhodiola rosea tends to refer to either the SHR-5 extract in particular or an equivalent extract, any that confers both 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside.

Usage of rhodiola as a daily preventative against fatigue has been reported to be effective in doses as low as 50mg.

Acute usage of rhodiola for fatigue and anti-stress has been noted to be taken in the 288-680mg range.

As rhodiola has been shown to have a bell-curve response before, it is recommended to not exceed the aforementioned 680mg dosage as higher doses may be ineffective.

8.2. Blood Oxygenation

In studies assessing blood oxygenation, Rhodiola has twice failed to significantly influnce this parameter relative to placebo.[108][109]

8.3. Physical Fatigue and Performance

Currently, one meta-analysis has assessed the interaction of rhodiola supplementation on physical performance or physical fatigue.[61] Of the 7 trials included in this analysis, they have used 660mg of rhodiola root extract (Rhodaxon) for 30 days prior to exercise,[110] 100mg of rhodiola for 4 days,[64]250mg for 15-22 days preceding the test (1,000mg on the day of),[109] 447mg acutely,[108] 288mg of SHR-5 for 5 days,[111] 100mg SHR-5 for 20 days,[62] and 660mg of a product called Rhodaxon (rhodiola root extract, unspecified) for 20 days.[63] Most of the trials assessed in this meta-analysis were relatively minor in regards to physical capacity, and the observed benefits seem to be related to reducing the neural sensation of fatigue and allowing more physical work to be conducted (effective in cycling tests[62][63] but ineffective in hypoxia[108] and photon emission[111]).

In regards to physical fatigue not related to exercise, rhodiola appears to have a significant protective and rehabilitative effect. This has been tested in moderate to high stress situations such as in physicians (doing rounds) or students during exam periods

Rhodiola has been associated with an increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion on a cycling test[64]with another study performing a VO2 max test (and not reporting on the outcome of said test) noting a reduction creatine kinase and C-reactive protein release from the test relative to placebo.[110] In other studies merely assessing cardiovascular output on a cycling test (in part of a battery of tests on fatigue) there does appear to be benefit with rhodiola relative to placebo,[62][63] which has been tested in one study (acute dose of 3mg/kg SHR-5) which noted that rhodiola taken prior to a 10k bicycle ride showed significantly reduced time to complete the ride (25.4 minutes relative to 25.8 minutes) and reduced heart rate during the warmup (136+/-17 relative to placebo’s 140+/-17) but not during exericse, which alongside average power output and cadence only trended towards improvement.[112] This study was conducted in recreationally fit women, and the subjects reported less subjective fatigue after consumption of Rhodiola Rosea,[112] and is duplicated in Medline.[113]

Some other studies are confounded with Cordyceps sinensis (no significant effect of supplementation with 300mg rhodiola with 2.5% salidroside on VO2 max of trained cyclists),[114]Cordyceps and minerals (same dose of rhodiola and again a failure of 2 weeks of supplementation to improve performance),[115] or 5mg zinc with 200mg rhodiola in elite rowers, where despite increasing plasma anti-oxidant capacity there was no effect on power output or time to complete a 2,000m rowing test.[116] Other studies using trained or elite athletes note that 170mg of rhodiola for 4 weeks trended to but failed to significantly increase VO2 max.[107]

Mixed effects when looking at the interaction of rhodiola and physical exercise, with some benefit seen with higher doses in untrained persons but more moderate doses in trained athletes not having a significant ergogenic effect. Studies are a bit too hetereogeneous to compare (studies in elite athletes are confounded with inclusion of other nutrients, and it is unclear if the benefit seen in the other studies is due to higher dosages or due to training status)