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Rhodiola rosea, called rhodiola, and known as "golden root" or "arctic root" in the mountainous parts of Europe and Asia, has long been employed in Eurasian traditional medicine as a natural tonic, referred to as an "adaptogen." Rhodiola is used to promote good health, strength, endurance and physical and mental performance. Rhodiola's efficacy in treating mental health conditions isn't well-known in America because the earliest studies suffered from poor controls and generalized claims and were not done in the United States or Western Europe. However, those studies and the traditional practices that spawned them have caused people to use rhodiola to treat a wide range of conditions, such as stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment, primarily in Eastern Europe and Asia, but increasingly in the United States and around the world.
Mental Health Implications
Studies document rhodiola's impact on an individual's overall general physical and mental health. Rhodiola can be used to reduce stress, combat fatigue, increase mental performance and improve physical and mental fitness and resilience.
Stress, Neuroprotection and Mild to Moderate Depression
Three of the sources consulted for this outline (most of which ignore rhodiola) concur that rhodiola is a promising and relatively benign treatment for a number of mental health conditions, including stress, neuroprotection ("cognitive stimulation" and improvement in "cognitive deficiencies" and memory) and mild to moderate depression. The Natural Standard mildly but decisively dissents, finding these claims unsubstantiated. All other claims (below) are promising but unproven.
Two sources warn against rhodiola use in persons with bipolar disorder. But some experts (Brown et al.) believe, based on clinical experience, that moderate doses of rhodiola can be helpful in persons with bipolar disorder who are taking mood stabilizers and whose mood swings are primarily depressive with only occasional mild hypomanic symptoms. This requires working closely with a physician if there is any chance of bipolar "cycling."
When combined with tricyclic antidepressants, rhodiola use has been associated with reduction of antidepressant side effects, particularly sedation fatigue and sexual dysfunction, as well as an improvement in depressive symptoms. Brown et al. state that they use rhodiola as an adjunctive treatment in depression because it "increases mental and physical energy" and "improves mood and stress tolerance."
Brown et al. note that rhodiola also can be useful in the treatment of anxiety, and a recent open-label study supports this use.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia Syndrome, and ADHD
Brown et al. add that their clinical experience shows rhodiola to be beneficial in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia syndrome. It is also a useful adjunctive treatment in attention deficit disorder (ADHD), since it activates cognition and tends to improve accuracy, alertness and attention.
Exhaustion, Decreased Motivation, Daytime Sleepiness, Decreased Libido, Sleep Disturbances, and Cognitive Complaints
Iovieno et al. state that rhodiola is effective in treating physical deficiencies such as exhaustion, decreased motivation, daytime sleepiness, decreased libido, sleep disturbances, and cognitive complaints such as concentration deficiencies, forgetfulness, decreased memory, susceptibility to stress, and irritability.
Alleviation of Side Effects of Psychotropic Medication
In Brown et al. II, Panossian asserts, based on one small study, that rhodiola can relieve side effects of psychotropic drugs used to treat schizophrenia.
This brief summary highlights the material covered in our full analysis on Rhodiola Rosea, available here.
- If you are considering continuing the use of rhodiola with psychotropic drugs, you should definitely consult with the prescribing physician, even though there are no documented interactions except for MAOIs. Brown et al. advise against use of rhodiola with MAOIs.
- Rhodiola may add to the stimulant effects of caffeine; it also may augment antianxiety, antibiotic, antidepressant medications.
- Rhodiola may affect platelet aggregation in higher doses.
- Rhodiola may interfere with birth control pills.
- Rhodiola may interfere with diabetic or thyroid medication.
- Generally uncommon and mild.
- May include allergy, irritability, insomnia, increased blood pressure, and chest pain.
- Most frequent side effects (according to Brown et al) are activation, agitation, insomnia, anxiety, and occasional headache.
- Evidence for the safety and appropriateness of rhodiola use during pregnancy and lactation is not currently available, and rhodiola is therefore not recommended for pregnant women or during breastfeeding. Likewise, safety and dosages for children have not been demonstrated. Brown and Gerbarg note that rhodiola has been used in small doses for children as young as 10 years of age without adverse effects but emphasize that dosages for children (8-12 years old) must be small and carefully titrated to avoid overstimulation.
Rhodiola is a very promising treatment for stress and mild to moderate depression and as a neuroprotectant and is promising for a number of other mental health conditions. The risk of drug interactions and side effects is minimal, but consumers using antianxiety, antibiotic, or antidepressant medications, birth control pills, or diabetic and thyroid drugs should consult with the prescribing physician. Rhodiola is just becoming known in America, and is being popularized by experts like Brown, Gerbarg, Mischoulon, and Weil.
For detailed information on Rhodiola Rosea and other treatments, download the full review.