Rhodiola Rosea: The Science Behind Rhodiola Rosea

Find out what it is about this plant that makes it so versatile


| February/March 2002





Studies conducted in the 1960s showed that extracts from the root had a positive effect in protecting laboratory animals from cold, radiation, and heavy physical excursive, as well as having antioxidant activity. Further studies showed that rhodiola extracts increased work capacity and resistance to irradiation and poisoning by various toxins. Other animal studies have shown it produces an improvement in memory tests, increases learning behavior, decreases fatigue, and helps improve brain function.

Interest in the West was sparked by German scientists, who brought the pharmacological and clinical literature on the herb to an English-reading scientific audience. Notable among them was Hildebert Wagner, Ph.D. from the University of Munich, a leading European medicinal plant researcher well known for his work on adaptogenic and immunostimulatory phytomedicines. In a review of plant adaptogens published in 1994, he highlighted the plant and suggested that clinical studies have shown that salidroside can improve mental ability. In a study designed to measure accuracy of work, called “correction tests,” error rates were reduced by as much as 50 percent.

A recent double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study on a standardized extract of R.rosea was performed to assess the effects of the extract for stress-induced fatigue. It was conducted by Armenian and German researchers. The test population included fifty-six young, healthy physicians (including men and women, ages twenty-four to thirty-five) working night duty. The test method calculated overall mental performance, including mental fatigue, associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation and concentration ability, and speed of audio-visual perception. These factors were measured in three test periods of two weeks each. Perceptive and cognitive cerebral functions used five different tests. A statistically significant improvement was seen in the first two weeks, and no side effects were reported. Each tablet taken contained 170 mg of rhodiola extract, containing 4.5 mg of salidroside.

Another recently published clinical study looked at the effect of rhodiola extract on fatigue of students stressed during the examination period. Significant improvements (but barely so) in physical fitness, mental fatigue, and neuro-motor tests were observed, along with a subjective “feel good” assessment by the volunteers. The researchers, in this case from Russia, felt that the dose level was below optimal levels for the best benefits, so the question of what is the best dose remains.

Look for rhodiola to assume its position next to other well-known adaptogens such as Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). It is not an obscure new herbal medicine from Russia, but one that occurs throughout cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere and has a long and diverse history of use.

It seems that over the past two years, many popular herbs have been scrutinized for possible adverse reactions. Kava is the most recent victim. As of November 29, 2001, Merck’s German division withdrew two kava products from store shelves. The two products sold by Merck in Germany, Kavadura 120 mg and Kytta-Kava, were permanently withdrawn from the market following a notification by the German Federal Institute of Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). The move followed a November 8, 2001, notice to all manufacturers of kava products in Germany informing them of the reports of liver toxicity documented in Germany and Switzerland. The notice sought opinions as to whether kava should be discontinued as a drug or relabeled. Merck was apparently the first manufacturer to withdraw its products from the market.





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