Rhodiola Rosea to Treat Anxiety and Depression

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

In my last post we talked about the recent Consumer Reports list of supplements to avoid. Kava, a supplement used to treat anxiety, was one reported to avoid for possibly dangerous side effects. But are there supplements to treat mood and anxiety which are not known to pose great health risks and also have research to back up their efficacy? You have to do your homework to find them but there are some supplements which may fit this category. Rhodiola rosea is one supplement I have come across in my personal research which appears to pose very little risk to safety and has quite a bit of research to show that it can increase feelings of general mental well being.

Disclaimer: Any time you take a supplement you are taking a risk because supplements are not FDA approved. There may be side effects or long term effects which are unknown. Do your own homework to research any supplement you choose to take. And remember to discuss your choices with your doctor to make sure that there are no harmful interactions between your supplements and the medications you are already taking.

What is Rhodiola rosea?

Rhodiola rosea is a plant which grows in high altitudes such as the mountains of Siberia and is one of the few plants which can grow in freezing temperatures. It is the root of this plant which provides the ingredients to create the supplement. Rhodiola rosea also goes by the names of Golden Root, Siberian Root, Roseroot, or Artic Root.

Rhodiola rosea is considered to be an adaptogen. In order to be classified under this category an herb must have the following characteristics:

  • The herb must be nontoxic to the user and cause no harmful side effects.

  • The herb must benefit the body as a whole instead of targeting a specific region. It must help the body to be more resistant to all types of stressors.

  • Adaptogens must help to create a state of balance or normalization and help to restore a natural homeostasis to the body.

The medicinal uses of Rhodiola rosea have been used in Russia for over sixty years.

What are the reported benefits of taking this supplement? (Remember that these are reported effects but it may end up that the supplement does not benefit you in any way.)

  • Increased energy, endurance and stamina

  • Reduction in stress levels and a decrease in situational anxiety

  • Increased mental clarity

  • Uplifts mood

  • Decrease in mental fatigue

These are just some of the supposed benefits to taking Rhodiola rosea. I have listed the ones which I felt I felt would be of most interest to people suffering from anxiety and/or depression.

What does the research say? Let's start with safety and possible side effects as well as how to best take this supplement. In a report included in the Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety authors Farhath Khanum, Amarinder Singh Bawa, and Brahm Singh provide an extremely thorough investigation of Rhodiola rosea and how it works.

Here are some of the conclusions they make about the safety of this supplement:

  • Rhodiola rosea has a very low level of toxicity in rat toxicity studies (Kurkin and Zapesochnaya 1985).

  • Overall, this supplement has very few side effects. Many users find that it improves their mood, energy level and mental clarity.

  • Some people prone to anxiety may find that Rhodiola rosea makes them feel overly activated, jittery or agitated. The authors suggest that if this occurs to reduce the dosage and only increase it gradually to get the desired therapeutic effect.

  • This supplement should be taken early in the day because in some cases it can interfere with sleep or cause vivid dreams.

  • Rhodiola rosea should not be used in individuals with Bipolar Disorder due to its antidepressant effect or those more vulnerable to becoming manic when given antidepressants or stimulants.

  • There are no known contradictions with other medications but it can have an additive effect when taken with other stimulants.

  • Rhodiola rosea is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach thirty minutes or more before breakfast and/or lunch.

Research about the Effectiveness of Rhodiola Rosea

Medical News Today reported in 2007 that [Rhodiola rosea Extract was effective in treating mild to moderate depression]. This was one of the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies of this supplement for patients diagnosed with depression. The results of this trial were published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. Richard P. Brown, MD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons concluded that the results of this study showed that:

"Two dose levels of Rhodiola rosea were found to significantly reduce symptoms of depression in patients with mild to moderate depression compared to placebo in this randomized clinical trial. In addition to mood elevation, evidence indicates that R. rosea has numerous other benefits, including enhancement of cognitive function, sexual function, and both mental and physical performance under stress."

There are many other studies to validate the effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea in decreasing stress induced fatigue, improving physical stamina and endurance, and increasing feelings of general well being. Life Extension on-line lists the scientific journal abstracts of some of these studies on Rhodiola rosea.

How do I take it?

As stated above, Rhodiola rosea is best taken on an empty stomach thirty minutes before breakfast or lunch. You do not want to take it later in the day as it can interfere with sleep.

Fox News health blog columnist, Chris Kilham, otherwise known as The Medicine Hunter, describes Rhodiola rosea as "[the ultimate power herb]." Kilham reports that you can find Rhodiola rosea in natural food stores such as Whole Foods (this is where I purchased mine). He reports that the majority of human studies show the best results when Rhodiola rosea extract is taken between 200-600 mg daily. The extract should be standardized to 2 percent rosavin, or a total of 5 percent of the total group of rosavins.

As a side note, I just took this supplement this morning. I will be sure to report back about my personal experience in taking Rhodiola rosea. In case you want to read up more about this supplement I have included the resources I have used in researching this article. If you have tried this supplement and wish to talk about your experience we would be very grateful for your input.


Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."