The Complete Guide To Rhodiola Rosea

The Complete Guide To Rhodiola Rosea

February 04, 2019

Rhodiola rosea (rhodiola), also known as golden root and rose root, is a flowering plant species commonly found in colder climates and mountainous regions of

Europe and Asia. The plant grows nearly three feet tall and produces yellow flowers with a rose-like fragrance; it is quite popular in Russia and Scandinavia, where it has been studied rather intensively for over four decades.

Historically, rhodiola has been used for its medicinal qualities as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to (and overcome) stress. In fact, rhodiola use dates all the way back to ancient Greece, and the term “golden root” was given to the plant by Chinese emperors who would travel to Siberia just to retrieve it.

Moreover, the Vikings were said to use rhodiola for boosting their physical stamina and strength. In Asian countries, the plant is often brewed as a hot tea for fighting off pathogens and altitude sickness. Some cultures even believe rhodiola may reduce the risk of cancer, though more human data is necessary to confirm this.

Recent research findings suggest that rhodiola does indeed have a multitude of benefits, especially for fighting anxiety, reducing depressive symptoms, neutralizing free radicals, enhancing work performance, supporting heart health, and promoting mental alertness. [1]

With that in mind, this guide will take an in-depth look at how rhodiola works, the evidence supporting its benefits, how to supplement with it, and things to look for in a high-quality rhodiola supplement.

How Rhodiola Rosea Extract Works

Rhodiola has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is rapidly becoming a more common nootropic for everyday use.

Much like KSM-66® ashwagandha, rhodiola is considered an adaptogen, a term used to describe plant extracts that help our bodies counteract the adverse stressors (whether physical, chemical or otherwise) we face on a daily basis.

Thus, supplementing with a rhodiola supplement helps to normalize your body’s functions and restore homeostasis, especially when you endure stressful situations.

For example, if stress causes a certain body parameter to increase, then an adaptogen like rhodiola can help reduce that parameter back to a more normal level; if a parameter is low, the adaptogen can help elevate it towards normalcy.

The precise mechanisms that govern the adaptogenic properties of rhodiola are not yet fully understood, but current evidence suggests that compounds in the plant’s roots help balance levels of neurotransmitters - specifically catecholamines (such as dopamine, adrenaline, etc.), acetylcholine, and serotonin - in the central and peripheral nervous systems. [2] Consequentially, rhodiola helps improve mood, reduce stress, enhance cognitive function, promote focus, and a variety of other benefits. [3]

The roots of rhodiola contain 28 distinct constituents classified into six separate groups:

  • Phenylpropanoids (rosavin, rosin, rosarin)
  • Flavonoids (rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, tricin, acetylrodalgin)
  • Phenylethanol derivatives (salidroside, p-tyrosol)
  • Monoterpenes (rosaridin, rosiridol)
  • Triterpenes (beta-sitosterol, daucosterol)

Organic acids (gallic acids, caffeic acids, hydroxycinnamic acids, chlorogenic acids)
While each of these constituents may have their own unique benefit, rosavin and salidroside appear to be the most biologically active of the bunch. [4] Hence, nootropic supplements will generally state the specific potency of rhodiola root extract by giving the percentage of rosavin(s) and salidroside.

In addition to their antioxidant actions in the body, these compounds work through a variety of pathways to promote many components of health and longevity, including:

  • Reducing physical and mental fatigue
  • Improving mood
  • Fighting stress and anxiety
  • Enhancing muscular and brain energetics (ATP, creatine phosphate, etc.)
  • Protecting the cardiovascular system
  • Decreases the toxicity of anti-cancer drugs (and may also increase their effectiveness)

As you can see, rhodiola has rather ubiquitous activity throughout many bodily tissues and organs. It may seem like the jack of all trades and master of none, but there is no shortage of evidence backing the magnitude of these rhodiola benefits.

For example, rhodiola has been shown to reduce fatigue biomarkers (e.g. blood urea nitrogen, lactate dehydrogenase) after intense exercise, and it even stimulates glycogen synthesis in skeletal muscle tissue. [5] In fact, one study found that rhodiola root extract effectively doubled fat metabolism (compared to placebo) and enhanced brain energy metabolism during exhaustive resistance training. [6]

Other studies suggest rhodiola may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and adrenal fatigue by reducing myocardial and adrenal catecholamine release. [7]

Moreover, rhodiola appears to inhibit the growth of various cancer cell lines and also augment the anti-cancer properties of chemotherapy drugs (while mitigating their harmful side effects). [8] One study actually compared the effects of rhodiola and cyclophosphamide - a chemotherapy drug - on tumor growth and blood cell precursors in bone marrow. [9] Mice given cyclophosphamide experienced a 31-39% reduction in tumor growth but also 40-50% reduction leukocytes. On the contrary, mice given Rhodiola rosea root extract experienced a 19-27% reduction in tumor growth with no reduction in leukocytes/bone marrow cells.

Arguably the most compelling finding was that mice given both cyclophosphamide and rhodiola root extract experienced a 70-86% reduction in tumor growth and less toxicity on bone marrow cells than chemotherapy alone.

On that note, let’s take a closer look at exactly what benefits you can expect from using a high-quality rhodiola extract.

Benefits of Supplementation with Rhodiola Rosea Extract

What’s particularly promising about rhodiola is that can help increase both mental and physical performance without stimulating the heart and depleting levels of catecholamines in the CNS like many stimulants often do over time. For example, you likely have noticed that the effects of caffeine tend to diminish the more you consume it. As such, the initial increase in cognitive and physical capacity is followed by a “crash” that leaves you feeling worse than baseline.

Conversely, adaptogens - like extracts of rhodiola root -  increase initial work-capacity without a significant diminishing in performance thereafter. [10] This is likely due to distinct mechanisms between rhodiola and classic stimulants like caffeine.

This is not to say that caffeine isn’t beneficial, because it certainly is when used in moderate amounts and the appropriate frequency. Actually, since they work through different mechanisms, caffeine may have additive effects with rhodiola.

To reiterate from earlier, the main benefits of using a rhodiola root extract supplement include:

  • Natural anxiety and stress-reducing (via increasing serotonin precursor transport)
  • Strong anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Promotes calmness/relaxation
  • Enhances cognitive function and memory
  • Bolster immunity
  • May promote fat loss by increasing lipolysis

Rhodiola Root Extract as a Nootropic

Supplementing with rhodiola can help enhance the synthesis of serotonin via precursors like L-tryptophan and 5-HTP. [11] Hence, rhodiola stacks well with either of these nootropic ingredients if your goal is to increase serotonin/boost mood.

A particularly interesting pilot study completed In 2008 examined the effects of a rhodiola root extract supplement in subjects that had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). [12] The study included 10 participants that each had Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS) scores greater than 16. (The HARs is a clinical assessment used for diagnosing anxiety disorders).

After 10 weeks of supplementing with 340 mg of rhodiola root extract daily, the subjects’ HARS scores dropped by an average of 50%. Moreover, none of the participants dropped out of the study, signifying the exceptional tolerability of rhodiola.

In addition to reducing stress and fighting anxiety, rhodiola appears to produce modest increases in cognitive performance and learning ability/memory recall. This is a welcome nootropic benefit for scholars and people that work a mentally demanding job.

Recommended Forms and Dosages

Since the roots of rhodiola are where the bioactive constituents reside, you want to find a supplement that contains rhodiola root extract. It is imperative that you read the label of your rhodiola supplement and identify the precise potency of rosavins and salidroside ideally, the product should provide at least 3% and 1% of each, respectively (like AMBITION™).

Be circumspect of any supplement or nootropic containing Rhodiola rosea root extract with no specific potency listed. If the label only states the total dose of rhodiola root extract, chances are it is low-grade and provides minimal bioactive compounds (meaning you won’t notice much benefit from it).

Rhodiola is best absorbed on an empty stomach, generally 30 minutes before a meal. It does not appear to readily interact with other nutrients or drugs but may have a synergistic effect when taken in conjunction with stimulants.

Assuming the potency of your rhodiola nootropic supplement is 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides, the dosing suggestions are as follows:

For Boosting Mood and Relieving Stress: 150 mg taken twice daily on an empty stomach (preferably upon waking and in the early afternoon)

For Enhancing Cognition and Mental Performance: 100 mg taken one to two times daily on an empty stomach about 30 minutes before meals

For Immune, Cardiovascular, and Antioxidant Support: 150 mg taken once daily on an empty stomach 30 minutes before breakfast or lunch

For Fat Loss and Physical Performance: 150 to 300 mg taken once daily on an empty stomach, ideally 30 minutes prior to exercise

SInce rhodiola is an adaptogen, chronic (ongoing) use is advised for maximum benefit. If you’re using rhodiola for acute stress - such as an exam or athletic event - a higher dose is necessary (2-3x the recommended daily amounts).

Safety and Potential Side Effects

Another great quality about rhodiola is that it’s exceptionally safe, has very low toxicity potential, and have virtually no notable side effects in appropriate doses.

In fact, the LD50 (lethal dose) of rhodiola root extract for a 165-lb man is about 235,000 mg; since most clinical trials use between 200-600 mg of rhodiola per day, the margin between a safe/effective dose and a lethal dose is astronomical.

In rare cases (particularly in individuals who to be anxious), rhodiola use may increase agitation and jitteriness. In such instances, reducing the dose and gradually working up over time may be necessary.

As with any herbal extract, you should inform your healthcare provider before beginning use of rhodiola supplements, especially if you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder and currently take antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety medications.

Key Takeaways

  • Rhodiola is one of the most promising adaptogenic herbs known to man, with versatility that is arguably unmatched by any other nootropic. Better yet, it’s essentially non-toxic and even when side effects are present, they are easy to remedy with dosage adjustments.
  • There is immense potential for rhodiola in medical and everyday applications. It is appropriate for modern research and clinical trials to continue investigating this adaptogenic herb as it would only serve to benefit society.
  • Benefits of rhodiola range from enhancing cognitive function, reducing stress, improving mood, boosting athletic performance, mitigating oxidative stress, supporting cardiovascular function, and maybe even decreasing the risk of cancer.
  • The rosavins and salidroside found in the roots of rhodiola seem to govern many of these benefits. Thus, be sure to find a rhodiola root extract that is standardized to contain at least 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside.
  • AMBITION™ contains a clinical dose (150 mg) of high-potency Rhodiola rosea root extract in every dose, along with a synergistic nootropic blend that helps you stay driven and on-point throughout the day.


1.  Khanum, F., Bawa, A. S., & Singh, B. (2005). Rhodiola rosea: a versatile adaptogen. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 4(3), 55-62.
2.  Van Diermen, D., Marston, A., Bravo, J., Reist, M., Carrupt, P. A., & Hostettmann, K. (2009). Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 122(2), 397-401.
3.  Brown, R. P., Gerbarg, P. L., & Ramazanov, Z. (2002). Rhodiola rosea. A phytomedicinal overview. HerbalGram, 56, 40-52.
4.  Ming, D. S., Hillhouse, B. J., Guns, E. S., Eberding, A., Xie, S., Vimalanathan, S., & Towers, G. N. (2005). Bioactive compounds from Rhodiola rosea (Crassulaceae). Phytotherapy Research: An International Journal Devoted to Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation of Natural Product Derivatives, 19(9), 740-743.
5.  Lee, F. T., Kuo, T. Y., Liou, S. Y., & Chien, C. T. (2009). Chronic Rhodiola rosea extract supplementation enforces exhaustive swimming tolerance. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 37(03), 557-572.
6.  Verpeut, J. L., Walters, A. L., & Bello, N. T. (2013). Citrus aurantium and Rhodiola rosea in combination reduce visceral white adipose tissue and increase hypothalamic norepinephrine in a rat model of diet-induced obesity Nutrition research, 33(6), 503-512.

7.  Maslova, L. V., Kondrat'ev, B., Maslov, L. N., & Lishmanov, I. (1993). The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in stress. Eksperimental'naia i klinicheskaia farmakologiia, 57(6), 61-63.
8.  Liu, Z., Li, X., Simoneau, A. R., Jafari, M., & Zi, X. (2012). Rhodiola rosea extracts and salidroside decrease the growth of bladder cancer cell lines via inhibition of the mTOR pathway and induction of autophagy. Molecular carcinogenesis, 51(3), 257-267.
9.  Udintsev SN, Schakhov VP. 1991. Decrease of cyclophosphamide haematotoxicity by Rhodiola rosea root extract in mice with Ehrlich and Lewis transplantable tumors. Eur J Cancer 27(9):1182.
10.  Panossian A, Wikman G, Wagner H. (1999). Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phytomedicine 6(4):287– 300
11.  Adaptogen, A. P. P. (2001). Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev, 6(3), 293-302.
12.  Bystritsky, A., Kerwin, L., & Feusner, J. D. (2008). A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax®) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(2), 175-180.

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