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What Is Rhodiola Used for Today?
Rhodiola is currently marketed as the “new ginseng,” said to fight fatigue , enhance mental function , increase general wellness , improve sports performance, and enhance sex drive in both men and women . A few double-blind studies involving a single proprietary product support the first two of these uses, finding that the use of this particular rhodiola extract by people in stressful, fatiguing circumstances may help maintain normal mental function.
For example, a double-blind , placebo-controlled study of 56 physicians on night-duty evaluated the potential benefits of rhodiola for maintaining mental acuity. 1 Participants received either placebo or rhodiola extract (170 mg daily) for a period of 2 weeks. The results showed that participants taking rhodiola retained a higher level of mental function as measured by tests, such as mental arithmetic.
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated one-time use of the same rhodiola extract (at a dose of 370 mg or 555 mg) in 161 male military cadets undergoing sleep deprivation and stress. 2 The results showed that rhodiola was more effective than placebo at fighting the effects of fatigue.
Finally, a third double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of a low dose of this rhodiola extract (100 mg daily for 20 days) in 40 foreign students undergoing examinations (presumably a highly stressful situation). 3 The results showed modest benefits on some measurements of fatigue and mental function, and no significant benefit on others. The study authors considered the outcome relatively unimpressive, and blamed this on the dose chosen.
While these results may sound impressive overall, they were all performed in former Soviet republics, and studies from these sources must be viewed with caution. For reasons that are unclear, double-blind studies performed in the former USSR (or China) almost always find the tested treatment effective. 4 This consistent pattern of excessively positive results has made outside observers highly skeptical. For this reason, only if confirmation is obtained in a more reliable setting can rhodiola be considered to have real supporting evidence behind it.
One small double-blind trial performed in Belgium did find evidence that use of a different rhodiola extract at a dose of 200 mg 1 hour before endurance exercise may improve performance. 5 However, another study failed to find benefit with a combination of cordyceps and rhodiola. 6 Very weak evidence hints that rhodiola might be helpful for preventing altitude sickness , 7 and might aid cancer chemotherapy (by protecting the liver ). 8
- Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. 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. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:365-371.
- Shevtsov VA, Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, et al. A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiolarosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine. 2003;10:95-105.
- Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:85-89.
- Vickers A, Goyal N, Harland R, Rees R. Do certain countries produce only positive results? A systematic review of controlled trials. Control Clin Trials. 19(2):159-66.
- De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, et al. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004;14:298-307.
- Colson SN, Wyatt FB, Johnston DL, et al. Cordyceps sinensis - and Rhodiola rosea -based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19:358-363.
- Wing SL, Askew EW, Luetkemeier MJ, Ryujin DT, Kamimori GH, Grissom CK. Lack of effect of Rhodiola or oxygenated water supplementation on hypoxemia and oxidative stress. Wilderness Environ Med. 2003;14:9-16.
- Udintsev SN, Krylova SG, Fomina TI. The enhancement of the efficacy of adriamycin by using hepatoprotectors of plant origin in metastases of Ehrlich's adenocarcinoma to the liver in mice [in Russian]. Vopr Onkol. 1992;38:1217-1222.