Rhodiola Rosea As A Nootropic
Everything You Need To Know
If you’ve been researching natural nootropics for any time at all, you will no doubt have come across rhodiola rosea.
Today this herb can be found in many pre-made premium brain supplements. In fact, we would go as far as to say that it is fast becoming one of the most widely used and well-respected natural nootropic substances in existence.
In fact, it is in many of our top rated stacks right now. We don’t expect that to change any time soon; in our opinion, rhodiola rosea is a must-have for a modern, professional-quality nootropic. Without it, a supplement is quite simply missing a key ingredient.
But you’d be forgiven for not fully understanding what rhodiola rosea actually is, how it works, or whether you really need it.
Detailed, reliable information on rhodiola rosea is actually pretty difficult to come by.
There are lots of blog posts talking about it in a vague sense.
You can certainly find tens of thousands of words written by supplement manufacturers describing how amazing it is, how it can solve all of your problems, and so on.
But it’s a little more difficult to find a thorough explanation as to how rhodiola rosea actually works in the human body.
It’s still quite hard to find a list of the benefits of rhodiola rosea supplementation which have all been validated by independent, scientific study.
So, we’re going to remedy that.
Below you ill find a brief outline of what rhodiola rosea is, how it acts once it has been consumed by humans, and how it can actually benefit you.
We will go through all of the benefits of rhodiola rosea that have been backed by concrete science.
If you finish the article and you still have some questions, or you think we’ve made any errors, let us know in the comments section. We’re always happy to hear from our readers!
What Is Rhodiola Rosea?
Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant. It grows naturally across a surprisingly large swathe of the planet, from Northern Europe to East Asia.
It has been used for centuries in traditional medicines across the world, although it seems to be particularly important in traditional Chinese medicine.
Indeed, it is long been used as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions, most of which are mental in nature. Traditional uses of rhodiola rosea have included the treatment of depression, anxiety, and mental fatigue.
Rhodiola rosea has also long been used to treat physical ailments, more specifically the lowering of chronic fatigue and the bolstering of the immune system after severe illness.
Today, rhodiola rosea is almost exclusively used for its cognition enhancing properties.
It is still used by people around the world today for the exact same purposes; reducing mental fatigue, lowering anxiety, and helping to attenuate the symptoms of depression.
So that’s a brief outline of what rhodiola rosea actually is. But how does this plant behave once it is in the body? How does it produce these effects? What is it in rhodiola rosea that gives it these properties?
How Does It Work?
When you see rhodiola rosea listed on a particular supplement’s ingredient list, you might see two compounds listed next to it: rosavin and salidroside.
These are the two active components of rhodiola rosea.
They are the compounds that give rhodiola rosea its anxiolytic and fatigue-busting properties.
Without these two compounds, we wouldn’t be interested in rhodiola rosea at all.
Typically, rhodiola rosea provides about 1% salidroside and 3% rosavins by weight.
Extracts may provide more than this, but when rhodiola rosea is used in supplements, we are typically dealing with a whole plant extract with this potency. If we are dealing with a more potent extract or a concentrate, we would expect that to be explicitly stated on the bottle.
When we see 3% rosavins, that does not typically refer to rosavin alone. Other compounds classed as rosavins which are also found in rhodiola rosea include Rosin, Rosarin, and Rosaridin. Of these, we believe that Rosavin is the most important when it comes to cognitive enhancement.
Salidroside is a glucoside of Tyrosol; a phenethyl alcohol. It is actually thought to be the main bioactive component of rhodiola rosea.
While rhodiola rosea contains many more unique chemical compounds, these two substances are easily the most relevant when we are discussing mental performance.
When you supplement with rhodiola rosea, it is these two compounds which have an effect on your mental performance.
So how do they work exactly? How do the compounds in Rhodiola rosea affect cognition?
It seems that some bioactive compounds in rhodiola rosea can inhibit the synthesis of enzymes called Monoamine oxidase A and Monoamine oxidase B (hereafter MAOA and MAOB).
MAOA is a very important regulator of brain function. Its primary function is the degrading (or breaking down) of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
MAOB, like MAOA, plays a major role in the degradation of dopamine. It has other roles in the regulation of the central nervous system, but its effect on dopamine levels is what most concerns us here.
These neurotransmitters are almost entirely responsible for feelings of empathy, motivation, reward, joy, and excitement. Preventing the enzyme responsible for destroying these neurotransmitters from forming would be a sure-fire way of increasing their prevalence, which would in turn support feelings of motivation, contentment, joy, and so on.
This study, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2009, concluded that “Rhodiola rosea L. roots have potent anti-depressant activity by inhibiting MAO A and may also find application in the control of senile dementia by their inhibition of MAO B.”
So it is pretty clear that at least some of rhodiola rosea’s properties come from this mechanism.
It also seems likely that the active compounds in rhodiola rosea affect serotonin availability directly.
This study, published in Phytomedicine in 2012, looked at the usefulness of rhodiola rosea as a treatment for nicotine withdrawal. Rather than looking for a way to defeat withdrawals altogether, the researchers were looking for a way to attenuate the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
The researchers involved concluded the following: “Results show a significant increase of 5-HT content in N treated with R. rosea, with a significant increase of serotonin receptor 1A, suggesting an involvement of serotonin in beneficial effects of R. rosea on suffering produced by nicotine withdrawal.”
There is also a growing body of evidence which suggests that rhodiola rosea has a significant impact on neurogenesis.
We think there needs to be an awful lot more investigation into this aspect of rhodiola rosea use, but it is certainly worth laying out the
This study found that a rhodiola rosea extract had a significant protective effect on the brains of rats with brain damage.
Their findings were pretty conclusive: “Our findings indicated that the RCE [Rhodiola rosea extract] improved the impaired hippocampal neurogenesis in the rat model of AD through protecting NSCs by its main ingredient salidroside which scavenged intracellular ROS [reactive oxygen species].”
It seems that rhodiola rosea has a pronounced protective effect on the brain through its anti-oxidant properties.
This study replicated these findings, with researchers concluding the following: “The results showed that SDS [salidroside] achieved functionally successful nerve regeneration in the rat sciatic nerve crush injury model, indicating that SDS holds potential as a neuroprotective agent for peripheral nerve therapies.”
Another study, published in a 2009 edition of Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, looked at the protective power of rhodiola rosea extract when given to rats before they were subjected to brain injury.
Like in the other studies, the researchers observed a profound positive effect from rhodiola rosea supplementation. Here though, the went further in their conclusions:
“R. rosea extract can protect rats against cognitive deficits, neuronal injury and oxidative stress induced by intracerebroventricular injection of streptozotocin, and may be used as a potential agent in treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as AD.”
There are many more mechanisms through which people believe rhodiola rosea exerts positive effects on human health and performance.
But we know most of you haven’t come here to learn in great detail about how rhodiola rosea works. As such, we think we can leave that section there. We think that is enough to get you started on your own research. If you are interested in learning more about rhodiola rosea’s mechanism within the human body, we strongly suggest starting with some of the studies cited above and exploring their citations.
Now, most of you are probably here to find out once and for all if this stuff can actually enhance your cognitive function.
So, let’s get to it!
Does Rhodiola Rosea Actually Boost Cognition?
One thing that it is easy to find online are long lists of benefits associated with rhodiola rosea supplementation.
Many thousands of words are written on the benefits of rhodiola rosea supplementation every week.
Yet in the cases of fitness bloggers and supplement manufacturer-sponsored blogs, you will find that scientific citations are few and far between.
Most of the time, people take up an entire blog post waxing lyrically about rhodiola rosea without once backing up their claims.
So, we’re going to try and do the opposite. We’re going to briefly mention a benefit of using rhodiola rosea, and we will then cite at least one robust independent, trustworthy study showing that this benefit exists.
Here is a brief rundown of benefits and some proof that they are real. If you have heard a benefit associated with rhodiola rosea use before but it isn’t listed here, it’s probably bogus.
First and foremost, rhodiola rosea is known to significantly reduce feelings of mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
This study looked at the therapeutic effects of rhodiola rosea supplementation in subjects with what was described as “life stress symptoms”. The researchers concluded the following: “Rhodiola extract at a dose of 200 mg twice daily for 4 weeks is safe and effective in improving life-stress symptoms to a clinically relevant degree.”
Note that the researchers observed a benefit after just 3 days of supplementation. Improvements were seen across every measure; fatigue inventory recall tests, subjective well-being questionnaires, and subjective stress symptom reporting.
While a reduction in fatigue and subjective feelings of stress is notable, rhodiola rosea seems to be particularly effective at supporting focus and mental clarity hile ubsjects are under acute stress or in a state of mental fatigue.
This double-blind, placebo controlled study, for example, looked at how students’ performances in tests changed with rhodiola rosea extract supplementation.
The researchers found that the group given rhodiola rosea extract exhibited significantly less mental fatigue, and far greater performance in neuro-motoric tests. The researchers ultimately concluded that “the study drug gave significant results compared to the placebo group but that the dose level probably was suboptimal.”
Another study returned very similar results. This trial, published in Phytomedicine in 2000, found that 2 weeks of rhodiola rosea supplementation improved performance on work-related tasks by as much as 20%. Much of these improvements can be explained by the apparent reduction in mental fatigue brought about by rhodiola rosea.
One of the most impressive things about rhodiola rosea is that it seems to have two simultaneous but related effects on cognition.
It is very effective with regards to reducing fatigue and supporting focus under stress, but it also seems to be just as effective at boosting subjective well-being, improving mood, and promoting feelings of calmness.
These effects are related but different; they can be thought of as being two sides of the same coin.
This trial looked at the effect of long-term rhodiola rosea supplementation on subjects suffering with symptoms of depression. The results were really quite impressive. The researchers summed it up quite succinctly: “It is concluded that the standardized extract SHR-5 shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression when administered in dosages of either 340 or 680 mg/day over a 6-week period.”
How To Take Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea is an unusual nootropic substance in that the amount you need to take changes significantly depending on how you want to use it.
If you intend to use rhodiola rosea as an instant, short-term treatment for acute stress or mental fatigue, then a higher dose is necessary; somewhere in the region of 300mg is definitely going to produce results without putting you at too high a risk of side effects.
For short-term, quick acting nootropic supplements, 200mg is about standard.
This kind of dose of good quality rhodiola rosea can have an impact in as little as 3 hours. The half-life of rhodioloa rosea seems to be between 4 and 6 hours, although if you are using high doses infrequently, you will probably notice peak effectiveness about 2 hours after taking it and it will taper off well before 6 hours. The half-life of salidroside is actually about 45 minutes in vivo.
This changes when you start using rhodiola rosea as part of a daily, long-term nootropic stack.
When using rhodiola rosea on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time (weeks and months), then a significantly lower dose is sufficient to achieve the same results.
If taken daily as part of a balanced nootropic stack, 50mg of rhodiola rosea is enough to deliver the same benefits as provided by an acute dose of 250mg.
The difference is that, when taken every day, the effects do not peak and trough; rather, you remain at a constantly heightened level of cognitive functioning. Your ability to concentrate despite being mentally drained will be higher round the clock, not just for the 3 hours after taking rhodiola rosea.
This is how we think rhodiola rosea should be used; as a method of keeping you constantly energized, focused, de-stressed, and contented.
Is Rhodiola Rosea Right For You?
Usually, whether or not you should introduce a substance into your supplement regiment depends on your own specific goals, needs, and dietary requirements.
That is still true, but we think the group of people who stand to benefit from using rhodiola rosea is very large; more so than for most other nootropic substances anyway.
That’s because rhodiola rosea offers benefits that we can all use: heightened focus in stressful situations, reduced mental fatigue, improved mood, and elevated subjective well-being.
There is even reason to believe that it may aid with neurogenesis; the growth and maintenance of brain cells.
The risks associated with rhodiola rosea use are very mild. Side effects are extremely rare (unless you are using a very high dose), and the benefit potential is huge. It is a well tolerated, widely-used, and well-understood substance. it has been used for hundreds of years and our bodies seem to be very good at processing it (again, assuming you aren’t using a silly dose).
If you aren’t already utilizing rhodiola rosea, we strongly suggest that you look into doing so.
Johnson, B. “Mind Lab Pro Review: The complete package nootropic?.” Safety 9 (2019): 10. – Full article.
van Diermen D, Marston A, Bravo J, Reist M, Carrupt PA, Hostettmann K. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Mar 18;122(2):397-401. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.01.007. Epub 2009 Jan 9. PMID: 19168123.
Darbinyan V, Aslanyan G, Amroyan E, Gabrielyan E, Malmström C, Panossian A. Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nord J Psychiatry. 2007;61(5):343-8. doi: 10.1080/08039480701643290. Erratum in: Nord J Psychiatry. 2007;61(6):503. PMID: 17990195.