This Newsweek article on using rhodiola rosea for herbal stress relief was originally re-published with permission on Rhodiola Rosea in May of 2003 in PDF format. Using a PDF viewer or your web browser, you can view the original article at Health: Herbal Stress Buster.
Below we have re-formatted the content for faster and easier reading on the modern web. All copyrights and credits still belong with Newsweek magazine, with illustration credit to Jack Molloy and article research and writing credit to Anne Underwood.
Health – Herbal Stress Buster: Tests show the rhodiola herb can enhance endurance and reduce stress. Can a Russian root be good for your health and provide you with herbal stress relief?
NEWSWEEK Feb. 3 issue — As a Soviet soldier in Afghanistan in 1979, Zakir Ramazanov discovered a tonic that helped him reduce stress, while boosting mental and physical energy. It wasn’t alcohol, but tea — made from the golden-yellow roots of a Siberian plant called Rhodiola rosea, which the Siberian soldiers received in their mothers’ packages from home. Now a plant physiologist and president of National BioScience Corp. in Chester, N.Y., he is supplying extracts of the same root to U.S. supplement makers and researching its beneficial properties. “Given the frenetic pace of American life,” he says, “America needs rhodiola.”
Although rhodiola is just starting to create a buzz in this country, it has been used for centuries in Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland. Even the Vikings used it to enhance their endurance. But it was the Soviet Union in the 1960s that began seriously researching it — in part to maximize the performance of its Olympic athletes. Now the herb is poised to take off in the United States, with GNC rolling out Pinnacle’s Rhodax nationwide. “It’s got everything to become an herbal superstar — a high-safety profile, compelling benefits and a reasonable amount of scientific research,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council.
Most of the studies on rhodiola have been Russian. But in recent years, Western journals have published some intriguing research showing improved performance in medical students during exams and physicians on night call after taking rhodiola. Next month the journal Phytomedicine will publish a trial by George Wikman at the Swedish Herbal Institute and Russian colleagues comparing 180 elite Russian cadets before and after routine night duty. Not surprisingly, the cadets were not as strong on abstract thought and memory tests at 4 a.m. as they were when rested. But those on low and medium doses of rhodiola significantly outperformed those taking either a placebo or no pill at all.
Scientists are still unraveling the clues to rhodiola’s effects. But animal research indicates that it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while optimizing levels of key brain chemicals involved in mood. It also appears to boost synthesis of a molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells need to produce energy. “When you see how it works, the effects make sense,” says Dr. Richard Brown of Columbia University, who has given rhodiola to 300 patients for depression and other disorders. “It has no side effects that we’ve noticed — only side benefits.”
[Editor's Note: Please read Rhodiola Side Effects for more detail on current known side effects of rhodiola. Also, Dr. Richard Brown has since published an excellent book on his rhodiola rosea research, which you can purchase at Amazon: The Rhodiola Revolution. I hope this helps.]
Still, doctors note that more research is needed on long-term complications and adverse drug interactions. (So far none have been noted.) And they sound the standard warning that pregnant women should not try new herbs. Even doctors who are open to rhodiola caution that any benefits may be modest. Dr. Andrew Weil, perhaps the nation’s leading herbal arbiter, has been taking rhodiola for six months and notes “increased energy, but nothing dramatic.” Others may have no energy boost at all, if the real problem is a medical disorder such as an underactive thyroid.
Rhodiola also won’t help if you buy a bad product. Reliable brands at present include Arctic Root, Rosavin, Rhodax, Clear Energy and Longevia, which cost $20 to $50 for a month’s supply. Look for bottles that say Rhodiola rosea — not Rhodiola sacra or any other rhodiola species, as these lack the active rosavin compounds.
[Editor's Note: Please note that this article was published in 2003. The current availability and accuracy of the above recommendation cannot be officially verified by RhodiolaRosea.Org.]
But such caveats cannot dampen the enthusiasm of radio host Liz Sterling of Boca Raton, Fla. After taking Longevia for two months, she says, “it’s as if my shoulders have lowered, and stress just rolls off.” We should all be so lucky.
For a good example of more recent research on rhodiola for stress relief, you can read a pilot study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA in 2008:
I also discuss, in detail, the results of the Phytomedicine study mentioned in the article in my Rhodiola Rosea For Depression article.
For more on rhodiola uses and benefits, please read Rhodiola Benefits. Thank you for visiting and reading Rhodiola Rosea. I hope rhodiola rosea provides effective and safe herbal stress relief for you.