Rhodiola may be helpful for mental fatigue

Rhodiola is a herb that I keep hearing about, it is considered to be an adaptogen.  I thought I would write about it now since I started last week writing about another adaptogenic herb, Siberian Ginseng.

To recap – Based on clinical studies, adaptogens can be defined as a group of herbal preparations that increase tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhance attention and mental endurance in situations of decreased performance. The beneficial stress-protective effect of adaptogens appears to be complex, these herbs seems to work via several mechanisms including actions on the hormonal and immune systems (1)

Rhodiola is also known as Golden root, it is a herb that is native to the northern regions of Europe, Scandinavia and Alaska as well as parts of Eastern Siberia.  The species of Rhodiola that is commonly used in supplements is Rhodiola rosea (occasionally Rhodiola crenulata is used insupplements).

In a recent review paper (1) it was found that strong scientific evidence is available for Rhodiola rosea extract, for the improvement of attention, cognitive function and mental performance in fatigue and in chronic fatigue syndrome.  A well designed, but small, study took place this year (2) which concluded that repeated administration of Rhodiola rosea extract exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol (a stress hormone) response in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome.  No serious side effects were reported.

Another study (3) which took place in healthy young individuals (aged 19-21) who were under a background of continued fatigue and stress (since they were army cadets) found that Rhodiola showed a pronounced anti-fatigue effect.  The results are interesting but the study was small and short-term, further trials would be necessary before any firm conclusions could be made about the anti-fatigue effects of Rhodiola in healthy individuals.

Exam period has just finished and schools have broken up for the long summer break but I wanted to mention one last study (4) which aimed to investigate the effects of Rhodiola rosea in students during a stressful examination period.  The investigators found that those receiving the Rhodiola had significant improvements in physical fitness and mental fatigue.  The self-assessment and general wellbeing scores were also significantly better in the group taking Rhodiola compared to those receiving placebo.

It does seem as though this herb may be helpful to take during periods where mental stress is expected.  As with Siberian ginseng, further clinical trials are necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn and recommendations for the use of Rhodiola can be made.  However, if you are feeling a bit stressed or fatigued at the moment you might decide to try a short term (2-3 week) course of this herb to see if it aids your symptoms.  Consulting a qualified herbalist would be a good idea prior to making a long-term decision.  The general dosage of Rhodiola is 50 – 750 mg per day or 500 mg taken immediately prior to exercise or any situation that demands mental clarity or energy.  Usually supplements are standardised to contain 0.8%, to 3% Salidrosides or around 40% polyphenols (bioactive plant chemicals that have antioxidant and other properties).  Always follow the manufacturers dosage instructions.

(1)Panossian A, Wikman G.  2009.  Evidence-Based Efficacy of Adaptogens in Fatigue, and Molecular Mechanisms Related to Their Stress-Protective Activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep 1. [Epub ahead of print]
(2) Olsson EM et al.  2009.  A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 75(2):105-12.
(3) Shevtsov VA et al.  2003.  A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine. 10(2-3):95-105
(4) Spasov AA et al.  2000.  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.  7(2):85-89.

Written by Ani Kowal