This adaptogenic herbal stimulant has been used as an energy boosting agent in Russia and China for centuries. It stimulates the nervous system, helps with work, along with combating stress and fatigue.
It also contains a number of phytochemicals, neuroprotective antioxidizing agents and is a stress reducing agent.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Rhodiola and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of the Biohacker community online. For more of my own personal experiences, thoughts and comparisons please see the written and video reviews in the sidebar.
Rhodiola has what I think is a risk-reward trade off tantamount to the Racetams or ALCAR, some of my all time favorite Nootropics. It's been studied worldwide "since 1960, more than 180 studies on the uses, chemistry, and pharmacology of this herb have been published.(p. 192)" It has an impressive +400 results on Pubmed for just the past 10 years.
A Stimulating Nutraceutical
Rhodiola has a remarkable energizing effect and a motivating effect which lasts in between 4 - 8 hours, the Pharmacodynamics of Nutriceuticals vary significantly from person to person so you will have to do some experimentation to figure out which dosages and proportions work the best for you. The first time taking Rhodiola for many is a fabulously energizing experience but like many stimulants there is a tolerance curve to this though, which is why I recommend keeping the dosage low and cycling: Once a month take a whole week off Rhodiola.
The internet is rife with anecdotal reports praising its energizing effect...
“Rhodiola has become my favorite mood/productivity enhancer, hands down. I'm very happy with the results I have been seeing.” Opined stephen_b.
“It started working 2 hours after I took it. I felt with a lot of energy, confidence, sexual desire and pro social behaviour (just what I was looking for). It was absolutely great.”
For many this has an effect on verbal intelligence:
“You will even talk faster or clear. You dont have to think much you feel ready, its like your thoughts are waiting in queue to come out just need them to give a chance one after another. I think it does align your nurotransmitters so when you take it in morning you feel that "brain servicing" and inner thought alignment and calmness but not slowdown.”
Since it’s a stimulant it’s probably a good idea to avoid caffeine or coffee while on Rhodiola, many use Rhodiola to wean themselves off coffee. It worked great to help me temporarily quit coffee.
According to Biohackers on Longecity it’s something of an instant satisfaction Nootropic at least in terms of delivering a happy and productive headspace. One self experimenter remarked:
“I tried the [Rhodalia]... and immediately felt a euphoric type high as well increased motivation, stamina and elevated mood.”
Weathermaker on Longecity found Rhodiola a balanced mood enhancer:
“It was very good for giving me a slightly clearer mind and a slightly more stamina -- those two "slightlys" added up to a significant improvement in my productivity, which in itself improved my mood.”
An Anti Fatigue Agent
The effect of Rhodiola most supported in recent human studies it’s marvelous antifatigue properties; from athletes and military cadets to medical students it gives another 2-4 hours of focused, intense labor toward one’s goals.
A 2012 UK study of 101 human subjects concluded:
“Rhodiola extract at a dose of 200 mg twice daily for 4 weeks is safe and effective in improving life-stress symptoms to a clinically relevant degree.”
A Belgian study (Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance) of young athletes concluded:
“Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise capacity in young healthy volunteers.”
This makes it a good option for endurance athletes
- Crossfit junkies
- Long distance swimmers
- Climbers and hikers
A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled Russian study of students, indicated it’s a worthwhile study drug, 20 days of Rhodiola supplementation actually improved exam scores. From the abstract:
“The overall conclusion is that the study drug gave significant results compared to the placebo group but that the dose level probably was suboptimal.”
Another Russian placebo controlled study of 161 military cadets, found that it improved their capacity for mental work significantly over the placebo. This suggests it's potential for professionals like...
- Web developers
- Psychologists and therapists
- Entrepreneurs and solopreneurs
A Russian study (A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work) showed that it increased the capacity to do mentally demanding work while stressed or fatigued. A Netherlands study (Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans) showed it's function of minimizing chronic oxidative stress can increase lifespan as well.
A 2009 study administered 570 Milligrams daily of SHR-5 extract, to those suffering from stress and fatigue. No serious side effects were reported and the improvements were significant: boosting mental performance, particularly concentration and cortisol level decreases in burnout patients.
It’s anti fatigue effects go hand in hand with neuroprotective properties; even the minds of those who live a completely bulletproof lifestyle...
- Very clean diet
- Abstinence from vices
- Regular meditation and exercise to deal with stress
...face daily wear and tear from factors that are practically invisible and unavoidable which surround us daily, like
- Toxins in food
- Environmental pollution
- Acute stress events in one’s personal life
Nutraceuticals like Rhodiola are a really smart preventative measure for protecting the mind from detractors seen and unseen.
A 2008 Chinese study on its antioxidant effects concluded:
“Our findings might raise a possibility of potential therapeutic applications of salidroside for preventing and treating cerebral ischemic and neurodegenerative diseases.”
The studies all indicated improvements in cognition thanks to the anti fatigue effect, however it has yet to be demonstrated in studies that it improves baseline cognition.
An Armenian study (Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty) of +50 night shift physicians showed a statistically significant correlation between a standardized extract SHR/5 of Rhodiola rosea and improved complex perceptual and cognitive cerebral functions.
Great news for those who have to stay sharp while working the night shift but don’t want to resort to hardcore pharmaceutical solutions like Modafinil or drink their teeth black with cup after cup of coffee.
Rosavin vs Salidrosides
Rosavin corresponds to the neurotransmitter Serotonin and Salidrosides to Dopamine.
In nature, Rhodiola root has approximately 5% Rosavins to 1% salidrosides. Many Rhodiola supplements contain a 3% Rosavins and 1% Salidrosides and this is the proportion of micronutrients that is ideal for most people.
Amongst self experimenters there’s some diversity of reports depending upon these reports, some biohackers report marked difference between say 2% and 5% Rosavins. So my recommendation, since it’s such an affordable supplement, is to purchase two different supplies or brands of Rhodiola, one in the 3%:1% proportion and another in the 5%:1% proportion.
Then A/B or split test them on yourself using the Caballo Protocol, which is a 5 factor DIY self experimentation protocol, to determine which proportion hits your cognitive sweet spot.
A 2002 Yechang, China study (The effect of rhodiola and acetazolamide on the sleep architecture and blood oxygen saturation in men living at high altitude) demonstrated that Rhodiola improves sleep quality for young men. Unfortunately, it doesn't mention the dosage used, I assume it's pretty low, higher dosages of Rhodiola will keep you up.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A 2008 california pilot study demonstrated that 340 Milligrams daily of Rhodiola had a significant effect in 10 human participants dealing with generalized anxiety disorder. From the abstract:
“Rhodiola rosea is an herbal supplement that many in the general population in Russia and elsewhere in the world have used for decades to alleviate everyday anxiety, depression, and insomnia... The goal of this pilot study was to evaluate whether R. rosea is effective in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder... Significant improvement in [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] symptoms was found with Rhodiola, with a reduction in [Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale] scores similar to that found in clinical trials.”
A 2007 placebo controlled study of 89 people was very optimistic stating:
“For individuals in groups A and B, overall depression, together with insomnia, emotional instability and somatization, but not self-esteem, improved significantly following medication, whilst the placebo group did not show such improvements... It is concluded that the standardized extract SHR-5 shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression when administered in dosages of either 340 or 680 mg/day over a 6-week period.”
For these reasons Rhodiola is also effective at treating and preventing depression.
As a plant adaptogen it has exciting anti aging potential. ‘Adaptogen’ is just a phrase for the category of herbal ingredients that modulate the adrenal system and hence our hormonal response to stress. Rhodiola’s antiaging effect is due to a nuclear translocation of DAF-16, a hormetic mimicking of stress - it’s probably not going to change your perception of stress but it does improve how your biology deals with it.
It has been shown to increase lifespan by 10% - 20% in Nematodes (worms!) in a Dutch study and it’s had similar effects in other animal studies.
A 2007 University of California study stated:
“Rhodiola supplied every other day at 30 mg/mL significantly increased the lifespan of [the flies]. When comparing the distribution of deaths between Rhodiola-supplemented and control flies, Rhodiola-fed flies exhibited decelerated aging.”
A Dr. Mahtab Jafari, who led a similar 2013 study, had this insight:
"We found that Rhodiola actually increases lifespan on top of that of dietary restriction... It demonstrates that Rhodiola can act even in individuals who are already long-lived and healthy.”
This is an exciting finding as a lot of antiaging science revolves around dietary restriction and for ethical hedonists like myself dietary restriction - forcing oneself to go a little hungry all the time in exchange for years or maybe even decades of added longevity - is not really an acceptable trade off!
The consensus seems to be that it enhances exercise capacity, diminishes fatigue from physical labor and decreases recovery time. A 2011 meta-analysis of 7 human studies out of University of Exeter, UK concluded:
“[Rhodalia] may have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions.”
A 2013 study found that it’s positive effects were most acute in a protein rich diet and declined in carbohydrate rich diets.
Cognition vs Memory
A 2013 study involving a passive avoidance task, indicated that it could be a positive influence on the memory of both the healthy and those dealing with cognitive decline - which is just the kind of finding that Biohackers are looking for!
“It was found that the extract of Rh. Rosea improved performance during learning session, short and long memory retrieval tests... The studied plant extract can be a candidate for treatment of dementia and other memory disturbances.”
However, the conclusions of the studies seem to be a little conflicted over whether it actually aides memory or whether it just prevents memory retardation due to stress factors. Bottom line is that there are more proven memory and cognition upgrade options in the biohacker’s toolchest.
Self experimenter extraordinaire Abelard Lindsay has some interesting insights on it’s effects on memory...
“I have a curious thing that happens when I take Rhodiola. Besides the good mood and anxiety lowering effects. Often times after taking it, random memories from my childhood or 10 years ago will come to me spontaneously. I'm not trying to remember them, they'll just show up. What's also interesting is they are mainly neutral or slightly pleasant memories. This has happened to me a number of times pretty reliably. The effect seems to be increased when combined with Piracetam.”
Two Italian studies conducted in 2011 and 2012 indicated that it maybe a (literal) lifesaver for smokers, the studies showed it alleviated some of the depression and physiological symptoms that are associated with Nicotine cessation - quitting smoking.
From the 2011 study:
“Results show that both affective and somatic signs (head shaking, paw tremors, body tremors, ptosis, jumping, piloerection and chewing) induced by nicotine withdrawal are abolished by administration of Rhodiola rosea L. extract in a dose-dependent fashion, during both nicotine exposure and nicotine cessation.”
The 2012 study concurred:
“Results show a significant increase of 5-HT content in N treated with R. rosea, with a significant increase of serotonin receptor 1A, suggesting an involvement of serotonin in beneficial effects of R. rosea on suffering produced by nicotine withdrawal.”
So Rhodiola supplementation may be a great idea for those who are trying to quit smoking. My own personal experience agrees with this; I used supplemental Nicotine for about 2 months, getting quiet addicted to the stuff and then ran out. At that time I was using Rhodiola liberally experienced no nicotine withdrawal symptoms whatsoever.
“The present results indicate for the first time that Hypericum perforatum extracts may have therapeutic properties in bingeing-related eating disorders.”
Mechanism of Action
It boosts dopamine and serotonin levels by inhibiting monoamine oxidase and helping opioid peptides. MAO Enzymes antagonizes two of the primary Limitless neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine), Rhodiola blocks MAO Enzymes, so this nootropic is a case of your enemy of your enemy being your friend. A 2009 Italian study:
“The present investigation demonstrates that Rhodiola rosea L. roots have potent anti-depressant activity by inhibiting MAO A and may also find application in the control of senile dementia by their inhibition of MAO B.”
It also boosts some of the positive endorphins (opioid peptide beta-endorphin) that fight stress and make you feel good.
History and Origin
Rhodiola rosea herb grows in cold arctic regions such as eastern Siberia and Scandinavia. Chinese and Russian folk medicine has used it for centuries to boost energy. Supposedly the Vikings used it to preserve physical robustness. It is mentioned as early as first century AD by the Greek physician Dioscorides.
Rhodiola boosts sexual appetite and helps improve athletic performance by decreasing recovery time. Rhodiola also helps with altitude illness, it protects bodily organs from from low oxygen hypoxia related damage.
Unlike a lot of vile, powdered smart drugs it’s an herbal, earthy tasting reddish powder. It's a pretty nice taste and small actually that grows on you over time.
For some it makes their burps smell like roses.
It works best if you take it on an empty stomach about 30 minutes before a meal.
- 200 Milligrams - 600 Milligrams daily for extracts of at least 3% rosavins and 0.8-1% salidroside.
- 100 - 170 Milligrams daily for 3.6% rosavin extract
- 180 - 300 Milligrams daily for 2% rosavin extract
One study administered as much as 680 Milligrams daily to treat mild depression and negative side effects were not reported.
However, less is more with Rhodiola, if you take too high a dosage (especially with the higher percentage extracts) it has some contrary effects to what’s probably desired. So start with a low dosage as opposed to an attack dosage. As low as 50 milligrams daily to prevent fatigue.
A number of self experimenters report that it has a synergistic effect on memory and cognition with Piracetam. Based upon the glowing recommendation in Piracetam Protocol, I’m going to include Rhodiola in the Piracetam Protocol.
The Soviet Formula
From it’s space program and it’s wars in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan to its fierce spirit of athletic competition the Soviet Union made extreme performance demands of its citizenry. From the labs behind the iron curtain emerged a hardcore herbal formula for peak performance and resilience...
Also known as Adapt-232. A 2010 Double-blind, placebo-controlled Armenian study of 40 healthy women, came to some optimistic conclusions, from it’s abstract:
“The subjects in the ADAPT-232 group quickly (two hours after verum was taken) gained improved attention and increased speed and accuracy during stressful cognitive tasks, in comparison to placebo. There was also a tendency of ADAPT-232 to reduce percentage of errors, which means better accuracy, quality of the work, and degree of care in the volunteers under stressful conditions.”
The bad news... Is that if you want to try Adapt-232 you can’t. It’s not for sale anywhere. So I’ve decided to study the documentation, formulate it and will sell it, I encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter to be updated when it’s available.
For some it has a marvelous effect in combination with St. John’s Wort, to quote Sasha in the UK:
“I started taking 1 capsule of Rhodiola and 1 of St John's wort together twice daily. I can't fathom how these two plants work synergetically (perhaps someone here can enlighten me) but they sure do for me, I got better mood, more energy/stamina, and felt stimulated without feeling stressed or jittery. My concentration got better, and although I think I was intellectually stimulated I can't tell wether this kind of stimulation might be beneficial for someone who deals with important mental tasks.”
Rhodiola rosea, when taken at high dosages has side effects typical of stimulant nootropics; restlessness, insomnia, irritability, and increased heart rate and possibly increased blood pressure. Don’t take it before bed.
No interactions are reported on WebMD.