5 Scientific Benefits Of Rhodiola Rosea For Depression

rhodiola for depression

Name: Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea, Rosavin, Rosenroot, Golden Root, Arctic Root
Active Compounds: salidroside, ρ-tyrosol, rosarin, rosavin, rosin
Goes well with: Siberian ginseng, Schisandra chinensis, Turmeric (Curcumin)
Number of scientific references: 48
Level of Evidence: Level II What is this?

Note: Rhodiola rosea is a natural antidepressant; it modulates brain chemistry and reduces stress hormone levels. Studies in humans have found that Rhodiola extracts improve mild to moderate depression and help in stress relief and burnout syndrome.
Further research is required to confirm the safety of use of Rhodiola roots as an add-on therapy for depression.

Previously, I have told you how ashwagandha helps in depression as an adaptogen. Another member of the adaptogen family is Rhodiola rosea.

It is popularly used in a traditional medicinal system in Nordic countries, Eastern Europe and Asia.

As an adaptogenic herb, Rhodiola is known to enhance stress resistance and resilience. Other names of the herb include Rosenroot, Arctic root, Golden root, Roseroot. [1]

Traditionally it used to treat headaches, kidney stones, diarrhoea, skin conditions, painful conditions and fatigue. It also said to enhance intellect.

Rhodiola roots contain phenolic compounds, essential oils, fats, waxes etc. Geraniol is the most important constituent of roseroot’s essential oil imparting it a rose-like fragrance.

Tyrol and salidroside are major bioactive components of the herb followed by rosavins.

One of these rosavins has Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor activity (MAOIs). Monoamine oxidase is enzymes that oxidise monoamines or our neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine that influence our mood.

MAOIs are a type of antidepressant and Rhodiola components are found to mimic their actions.

Rhodiola rosea helps in depression as an adaptogenic herb by impacting brain chemistry and lowering stress. Studies in humans have found that Rosenroot extracts benefit from mild to moderate depression and support stress relief.

Suggested Rhodiola rosea Supplements For Depression

Please consult a health practitioner before taking dietary supplements.

Rhodiola rosea standardised extracts (Used in research studies)

There are two standardised extracts of Rhodiola that are commonly used in research studies:

The SHR-5 extract is a standardised extract of R. rosea developed by the Swedish Herbal Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden.

It is standardised to contain 4mg rhodioloside per 144mg of the tablet. It is a 70% ethanolic extract with a drug to extract ratio of 4:1. 200mg of SHR-5 is equivalent to 800mg of the root.

WS® 1375 extract/Vitano is developed by Dr Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals. It is an ethanolic extract with herb to extract ratio of 1.5-5:1. This is equivalent to 300-1000mg of the whole root.

Vitano is the whole root extract that contains WS® 1375.

It may be difficult to access them in your country, so I have listed a few supplements below.

Rhodiola rosea dietary supplements

Here are a few popular and trusted R. rosea dietary supplement brands that are found to be benefit in depression. These are also standardised with respect to rosavin and salidroside content.

Nature’s Way Rhodiola rosea
Thorne Rhodiola
Gaia Rhodiola rosea
rhodiola supplement 1

Image Credit: Nature’s Way Products, LLC. (Schwabe Group)

rhodiola supplement 2

Image Credit: Thorne Research, Inc.

rhodiola supplement 3

Image Credit: Gaia Herbs

Contains 250 mg Rhodiola root extract per veg capsule standardised to 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside Contains 100mg Rhodiola root extract per veg capsule standardised to 3% rosavins Contains 120 mg Rhodiola root extract per veg capsule containing 6mg rosavins

Equivalent to 850 mg dry herb

Buy from Amazon

Buy from iHerb

Buy from Amazon

Buy from iHerb

Buy from Amazon

Buy from iHerb

5 Scientific Benefits Of Rhodiola rosea For Depression

Most of the research on Rhodiola’s effect on brain chemistry is fairly old and restricted to Russian journals, but recent research has explored the clinical utility of the herb in Major Depressive Disorder.

Apart from going over those studies, we will explore mechanism of action of rhodiola root extract in case of depressive and anxiety related symptoms.

1.Rhodiola rosea lowers symptoms of depression

As I mentioned previously, Rosenroot has monoamine oxidase inhibition activity. This makes it a potential herb for depression.

Water and alcohol extracts of the root inhibit the activity of monoamine oxidase enzyme A and B by 80-90%. [2]

Rosiridin is the most active compound that strongly inhibits MAO B. This contributes to its antidepressant activity.

Rhodiola extracts containing 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside are found to exert and adaptogenic, antidepressant and anxiolytic effects on the central nervous system. [3]

Panossian and colleagues have found that roseroot extracts have a stronger antidepressant activity than imipramine (a conventional antidepressant) and St. John’s wort. [4]

They identified the active compounds responsible for this action: rhodioloside and tyrosol.

Other components such as rosavin, rosarin did not have any activity alone but contributed to a synergistic effect with rhodioloside.

Studies in animal models show that Rhodiola root extracts may influence serotonin levels in the brain and protect brain cells from damage occurring in depression. [5]

A recent review of the literature on Rosenroot’s antidepressant action reveals that its active component salidroside interacts with multiple biochemical networks connecting brain chemistry, hormones and the immune system and this contributes to its antidepressant effect. [6]

The research also pointed out that it roseroot is much safer than conventional antidepressants.

One of the earliest studies investigating the effects of Rhodiola rosea supplement on depression in humans was published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 2007. [7]

In this phase III clinical trials, individuals with a current episode of mild to moderate depression were assigned to the following groups:

  • Group A: two tablets or 340 mg/day of SHR-5 Rhodiola extract
  • Group B: two tablets twice a day or 680 mg/day of SHR-5 extract
  • Group C: placebo

The study lasted for 6 weeks. Group A and B experienced significant improvement in depressive symptoms, emotional instability, insomnia and physical symptoms of depression.

No such changes were observed in the placebo group.

No serious side effects were reported. Researchers concluded that a dose of 340-680 mg of standardized Rhodiola supplement SHR-5 can benefit in mild to moderate depression.

Researchers from University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine conducted a clinical trial to compare the effect of Rhodiola rosea with a conventional antidepressant, Zoloft in MDD. [8]

Sertraline or Zoloft is a common SSRI (selective serotonin receptor inhibitor) antidepressant.

57 patients with ‘mild to moderate’ Major Depressive Disorder were treated with SHR-5 R.rosea extract (340-1,360 mg/day), sertraline (Zoloft) 50-200 mg daily, or placebo for 12 weeks.

Modest but non-significant reductions in depressive symptoms were observed in all treatment groups.

Sertraline treatment showed the best treatment response among the three but was associated with increased risk of side effects.

Rhodiola supplements were less effective in lowering depressive symptoms than sertraline but it was much safer and well tolerated than the conventional antidepressant.

It was confirmed that rhodiola root extracts may be more favourable for patients with mild to moderate depression.

Quick Gist: Rhodiola rosea exerts antidepressant action in multiple ways: influencing brain chemistry, exerting adaptogenic action, protecting brain cells from damage etc.

Studies in humans have confirmed that Rhodiola rosea helps in depression. It is effective in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate depression and is much safer than conventional antidepressants.

2.Roseroot reduces stress and anxiety

Rhodiola rosea is a plant adaptogen that has been approved by HMPC/EMA (Committee for Herbal Medicinal Products, European Medical Agency). [9]

Its active compounds rosavin and salidroside contribute to its adaptogenic effect. [10]

Rhodiola root can be a promising herbal remedy for stress relief.

Some findings suggest that it lowers oxidative stress occurring in stress and fatigue but researchers highlight that its stress protective action may not involve enhancement of natural antioxidant defences. [11]

It acts on the HPA axis- hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland axis.

This is a feedback network between major hormone-secreting glands and part of the brain; it influences the level of cortisol, a hormone that participates our stress response.

By balancing the HPA axis, rosenroot may reduce cortisol levels and deliver an anti-stress effect. [12]

Heat shock proteins are a set of highly conserved proteins that are involved in cellular stress response.

Apparently a study published in Phytomedicine, 2009 revealed that adaptogens like R. rosea mediate an anti-stress response by increasing the level of such heat shock proteins. [13]

Research in animal studies indicate that roseroot extracts may counteract other adverse effects of stress such as reduced appetite and anorexia. [14] [15] [16]

It influences the level of neurotransmitters and beta-endorphins (endogenous opioid peptide that relieves stress and pain) to relieve stress. [17]

Olsson and colleagues have demonstrated that treatment with SHR-5 Rhodiola supplement (576mg extract per day) for 1 month helps reduce stress-related fatigue and burnout symptoms. [18]

The herb lowered stress hormone levels and exerted a nootropic effect (improved mental performance and attention) in patients with stress-related fatigue. [19]

Edwards et al. have shown that 200mg of Rhodiola rosea supplement WS® 1375 twice daily for 4 weeks helps lower life stress-related symptoms. The improvements were clinically relevant. [20]

Roseroot extracts also have anti-anxiety effect. [21]

In patients with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Rhodiola rosea at a dose of 340mg per day for 10 weeks is found to reduce anxiety scores with mild side effects such as dry mouth and dizziness. [22]

Vitano, a proprietary Rhodiola rosea supplement, is proven to reduce anger, anxiety, stress, confusion and improve cognition and mood in mildly anxious individuals. [23]

Quick Gist: Treating stress at early stages can cut down the risk of developing mild depression. Also stress management can improve recovery from depressive episodes.

Rhodiola is a natural stress-relief herb that lowers cortisol levels and acts on multiple biochemical pathways to curb physical and mental symptoms of stress. It also benefits in generalised anxiety disorder.

Treatment with standardized extracts of Rhodiola root is found to improve mild to moderate stress-related symptoms within 15 days to 1 month.

3. It protects and enhances cognition and memory in depressive disorder

Cognitive deficits in depression could occur as a result of the disorder or even due to the medications are taken to treat it.

Apart from disturbances in brain chemistry, inflammation in the brain and high levels of oxidative stress could damage the structure and function of brain cells. This may lead to cognitive disturbances in depression.

By cognitive disturbances, I mean minor memory lapse, brain fog, reduced attention, difficulty in calculating etc.

Rhodiola has a natural nootropic action: it sharpens memory and cognition.

Multiple studies conducted in humans (not specifically in depressed individuals) indicate that rosenroot extract improves mental performance, attention, forgetfulness, calculation and short-term memory under stressful conditions. [24] [25]

These effects were observed in a relatively short time period of about 2-12 weeks.

In fact, one study suggests, that a single dose of Rhodiola exerts a rapid stimulating and cognition-enhancing effect within 30 minutes of administration and this effect lasts for around 4-6 hours. [26]

R.rosea’s memory-enhancing effect improves when used with Gingko biloba. [27]

Salidroside, one of the major bioactive components of the herb, is responsible for protecting and enhancing cognition in the face of mood disorders. [28]

Acetylcholine is one of the neurotransmitters that is significantly involved in memory formation, storage and processing.

Roseroot modulates acetylcholine levels in the brain to prevent stress-related cognitive deficits. [29] [30]

In animal models of depression, Rhodiola root extracts are proven to increase serotonin levels in the hippocampus (part of the brain that predominantly deals with memory) and repair damaged neurons to improve memory and cognition. [31]

Quick Gist: Rhodiola rosea protects and improves cognition in depressed individuals by influencing brain chemistry. It improves memory and mental performance.

4.It lowers inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain

The concept of neuroinflammation or inflammation in the brain has been gaining a lot of attention in the field of Major Depressive Disorder research.

Researchers are attempting to designing specific antidepressant drugs for neuroinflammation.

Inflammation in the brain involves a cascade of events: stimulation of glial cells (immune cells of the central nervous system), increase in the level of pro-inflammatory parameters, activation of oxidative-nitrosative pathways.

In simpler terms, there is a high level of inflammatory agents and oxidative damage in the brain in Major Depressive Disorder which contributes to symptoms of depression.

Curcumin found in turmeric mediates an antidepressant action by possibly reducing neuroinflammation.

Similarly, rhodiola and turmeric combination is found to relieve stress by regulating immune responses and lowering the levels of pro-inflammatory agents. [32]

Multiple studies in animal models have confirmed that the rosenroot’s anti-inflammatory action contributes to its antidepressant effect. [33] [34] [35]

The anti-inflammatory effect of rosin and salidroside may even result in a neuroprotective or brain protective action. [36]

Rhodiola rosea also has the antioxidant property that can help lower oxidative stress in the brain during depression. [37] [38]

Quick Gist: Rhodiola’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities helps lower neuroinflammation and oxidative damage in the brain thus protecting brain cells from damage in depression.

5. Rhodiola rosea may improve sleep

Rhodiola rosea is identified as one of the potential herbs for insomnia. [39]

Its active component salidroside has a sedative effect though this has not been noticed as a side effect in any human study that I have come across. [40]

In healthy individuals, Golden root extracts is found to improve sleep pattern and quality. [41]

Similarly in the study published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, it was noted that Rhodiola supplements improved insomnia and sleep issues in individuals with mild to moderate depression. [42]

Quick Gist: Rhodiola rosea may serve as a natural sleep aid for depression, especially in case of mild to moderate depression.

Dosage of Rhodiola rosea For Depression

The dosage of Rhodiola rosea used in studies investigating its effect on mild to moderate depression is:

  • 340-680 mg/day of SHR-5 standardised rhodiola extract
  • 200-400 mg/day of WS® 1375 extract/Vitano

The SHR-5 extract is a standardised extract of R. rosea developed by the Swedish Herbal Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden.

It is standardised to contain 4mg rhodioloside per 144mg of the tablet. It is a 70% ethanolic extract with a drug to extract ratio of 4:1. 200mg of SHR-5 is equivalent to 800mg of the root.

WS® 1375 extract/Vitano is developed by Dr Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals. It is an ethanolic extract with herb to extract ratio of 1.5-5:1. This is equivalent to 300-1000mg of the whole root.

Vitano is the whole root extract that contains WS® 1375.

According to the research studies, it takes about 4-6 weeks to see the beneficial effects of standardized Rhodiola rosea extracts for depression.

Please opt for standardized extracts of Rhodiola root and consult your health practitioner before taking any supplements.

Precautions with Rhodiola rosea Use

Rhodiola supplementation is found to be safe in clinical studies. However, it is important to use only standardized extracts of the herb.

Many commercial Rhodiola supplements are adulterated and some do not even contain necessary amounts of the active components. [43]

A few minor side effects reported in the study are a headache, lightheadedness, nausea, eye swelling and irritability. [44]

Doses higher than 1.5-2g of Rhodiola extract containing 2% rosavin may cause irritability and insomnia.

Piperine, present in black pepper, is found to disrupt Rhodiola rosea’s activity; please avoid taking it with any supplement containing piperine or bioperine. [45]

A study indicates that Rhodiola extracts do not interact with drugs like warfarin (a blood thinner) and theophylline (a drug used for lung diseases). [46] Further research on the same is warranted.

No study to date has examined the effect and safety of taking Rhodiola extracts along with conventional antidepressants.

A case study has described the potential of drug interactions between antidepressants and Rhodiola rosea. [47]

A 68-year-old individual with recurrent depressive disorder and somatic syndrome was experiencing restlessness, trembling and developed vegetative syndrome after taking Rhodiola extract in addition to antidepressant paroxetine.

Researchers concluded that this could be a case of serotonin syndrome caused by a combination of Rhodiola and antidepressants. Adequate care must be taken when utilizing add-on therapy.

Not much data is available to confirm the safety of Rhodiola in pregnancy and lactation.

Avoid taking R. rosea for long periods and at high doses. Avoid taking it at a time close to taking medicines; maintain a 3-4 hour gap.

Please consult your doctor before taking R.rosea supplements.

Conclusion

A study published in Phytomedicine 2014 explored the impact of Rhodiola extract and its active constituents (salidroside, triandrin, and tyrosol) on various genetic expressions. [48]

It was observed that herb acts on several pathways and genes and delivers beneficial effects on emotional, neurological and psychological aspects especially in case of aggressive behaviours.

It’s remarkable to know how herb-based molecules can extend their therapeutic benefits even to human behaviour associated parameters.

Rhodiola works for mild to moderate depression by influencing brain chemistry, offering neuroprotection, lowering inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain and exerting an adaptogenic effect.

It can help in stress relief and lower physical symptoms of stress and burnout. Golden root may also be beneficial for protecting and enhancing cognition in depressed individuals.

Rhodiola shows some exciting potential as an add-on therapy or herb for Major Depressive Disorder but further research is required to confirm its use and safety with conventional antidepressants.

Have you used Rhodiola root for managing depressive symptoms or while recovering from MDD? Then, please share your experience in the comments section below.

Explore the research-based benefits, dosage and safety of Rhodiola root for depression.

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