Nutrition Notes

The Health-Supportive Actions of Rhodiola

More than 100 plants make up the Rhodiola genus, which has been used medicinally for centuries in Asia, Europe, and some native populations in the northern latitudes of North America. Rhodiola rosea (known as roseroot, golden root, or simply rhodiola) grows in limestone and granite soils in high altitudes. Currently, it is the most commonly used species of the genus. Rhodiola is used to support human health based on its role as an adaptogen, which means that it can help support the body’s natural response to stress. Rhodiola also promotes a healthy response to inflammation and oxidative stress among many other health-supportive actions in the human body.

Rhodiola influences the inflammatory process in several ways. Salidroside is the most potent component of Rhodiola rosea. Studies have shown that it modulates the inflammatory response through the regulation of T helper type 1 and T helper type 2 cell balance. A decrease in the expression of pro-inflammatory tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 genes were observed in a study exploring the effects of salidroside on certain animal populations. In addition, salidroside attenuated the phosphorylation of nuclear factor kappa-B and superoxide dismutase levels and influenced the mitogen-activated protein kinase and phosphoinositide 3-kinase/Akt pathways in vivo. 

Recent research indicates that rhodiola may support cognitive function, healthy mood, and brain health through a variety of mechanisms. In a laboratory study assessing the effects of rhodiola on L-glutamate excitotoxicity, rhodiola was found to exhibit neuroprotective qualities through its ability to stabilize cellular calcium homeostasis.

An animal study showed that salidroside increased expression of brain-derived growth factor, which influences neuronal survival, plasticity, neurogenesis, and synaptogenesis. Other research suggests that rhodiola may support mood by influencing the levels of 5-hydroxytryptamine in the prefrontal cortex.

An emerging field of research is the support of brain health during the aging process. Recent research points to rhodiola as a potential support of cognitive function as we age. An animal study showed that supplementation with rhodiola significantly reduced cognitive impairment and pathological changes of the midbrain related to Parkinson’s disease. Studies related to Alzheimer’s disease indicate that rhodiola may be supportive in its prevention for this disease, which is due to its role in the modulation of neuroinflammation and oxidative stress, and in its ability to influence several pathways and molecules in the brain. One study reported that salidroside weakened hypoxia-induced abnormalities in amyloid precursor protein, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed to further understand the potential role of rhodiola for the support of healthy aging.

Scientific research indicates that rhodiola may support human health in a multitude of ways. This review article provides a comprehensive table for detailed information. Supplementation with rhodiola may support a healthy response to stress, inflammation, and oxidative stress. It may also promote brain health, cognitive function, and a healthy mood.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT