(Rhodiola rosea)

By Steven Horne and Paula Perretty

In cold regions of the world (including much of the Arctic, the mountains of central Asia and Europe, the cold Siberian climate of Russia and even parts of the Rocky Mountains) a small plant called rhodiola thrives. Both research and tradition suggest that this hardy little plant is one of the world’s best adaptagens. An adaptagen is a plant that helps the body perform better under stress, and improves health in a general, non-specific manner.

Rhodiola has been used in traditional medicine in Russia, the Scandinavian countries and even China. Studies of its benefits have appeared in the scientific literature of many countries, including Russia, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and Iceland. It is particularly popular in Russia where it was classified as an adaptagen due to its ability to increase resistance to various forms of chemical, biological and physical stress.

Although there are over 200 species of plants in the rhodiola genus, many of which have been traditionally used as food or medicine, the species in use in modern herbal medicine is Rhodiola rosea. This variety has been studied in Russia and Scandinavia for more than 35 years. It has developed a reputation as a nervous system stimulant that decreases depression, reduces fatigue and enhances performance. It is considered a valuable tonic for altitude sickness and for enhancing a person’s ability to withstand cold weather.

The plant contains a wide range of biologically active substances including organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, and phenolic glycosides that are attributed to the plant’s adaptogenic properties. The glycosides enhance nervous system function and protect the cardiovascular system. The flavonoids and the organic acids are powerful antioxidant scavengers.

There is research from Russia and other countries that support some of these health claims. For example, in a study involving endurance tests of rats, administration of Rhodiola rosea increased swimming times 135-159%. In another study involving fresh water snails, incubation of snail eggs in Rhodiola dramatically increased the snail larva’s ability to withstand three forms of environmental stressors: heat, oxidative stress and exposure to heavy metals. Rhodiola has also been shown to enhance memory in laboratory animals and is believed to aid neurotransmitters in the brain.

Rhodiola also appears to have some cardioprotective activity. In animal studies, it was shown to enhance the ability of cardiac tissue to withstand cold induced stress. It has also been shown to mitigate adrenal-induced (i.e., stress induced) irregular heartbeats in rats. It has also been found to have some anticancer activity.

Research shows that extracts of rhodiola can increase neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Rats given a water extract of rhodiola had increased levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that elevate energy and mood. It is believed that rhodiola does this by inhibiting the activity of enzymes like monoamine oxidase, which break down these neurotransmitters.

Based on the research, rhodiola appears to be of benefit in conditions of general depletion from excessive stress involving fatigue, decline in work performance, sleep difficulties, jet lag, poor appetite, irritability, high blood pressure and headaches. It can be a useful tonic for altitude sickness and enhancing resistance to disease during cold weather. It functions as an anti-depressant and general mood elevator and may be helpful for insomnia, depression and fatigue. Rhodiola may also be a beneficial addition to supplement programs to help with cancer, lack of periods in women, sexual dysfunction in men and schizophrenia.

Rhodiola is found in two NSP products, AdaptaMax and Cellu-Smooth. As it’s name implies, Adaptamax is an adaptagenic formula and Cellu-Smooth is for helping to burn off cellulite and fat. Rhodiola is a key ingredient in both.


Selected references:

Rhodiola rosea: A Possible Plant Adaptogen by Gregory S. Kelly, ND, in (Alternative Medicine Review, 2001.

Rhodiola rosea – Plants For A Future database report. www.pfaf.org.