Rhodiola Herb Eases Depression, Improves Moods

Clinical research has established that the Rhodiola rosea herb can significantly reduce depression, boost moods and reduce stress and fatigue.

rhodiola helps ease depression

Research finds that Rhodiola rosea helps ease depression and improves moods.

Depression is surging

Major depressive disorder affects some 350 million people every year, and a majority of these cases do not respond to drug treatment. Over 16 percent of adults will have depression at one point in their lives. Certain herbs can help according to the research.

In the U.S. alone, more than $120 billion is spent on major depressive disorder cases. Most of these treatments come in the form of psychotherapy drugs. And psychotherapy drugs are some of the most addictive and mentally-disruptive treatments of conventional medicine.

Depression symptoms certainly stem from an inner emptiness, but they are often exacerbated by imbalances among the nervous system, which include neurotransmitter and even mineral imbalances.

For this reason, there are a number of psychiatric drugs that are used for depression, which alter the nervous system’s levels of neurotransmitters and minerals. They don’t cure the inner emptiness underlying the condition, but they can mask the symptoms.

The problem is, most of these also come with side effects that include insomnia, anxiety, cognitive issues, gut issues, hair loss and many others.

Depression-symptom drugs – depending upon which one – can also interfere with speech, driving and other coordination-related activities. Many of these drugs are in fact, somewhat debilitating.

Stress and fatigue often a factor in depression

Researchers have recently discovered that when we are stressed there is a greater risk of depression. Fatigue and stress often go hand in hand. Burn-out syndrome can result in a higher level of stress.

Stress-induced depression is often diagnosed as asthenic syndrome or psychoneurosis.

Human and animal studies have shown that when we are faced with more stress, the response is to respond with greater fatigue. This, as research from the Copenhagen University Hospital, often relates to cellular energy sensors, which can reduce levels of serotonin as oxygen levels are reduced.

Rhodiola herb reduces depression

For centuries, herbal medicine has been treating depressive symptoms with medicinal herbs. These are often far more subtle in their actions, and typically come with few if any adverse side effects.

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Rhodiola rosea is one of these. Rhodiola has been used for centuries for a number of ailments including fatigue, and was mentioned by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (born 40 AD) as part of his healing repertoire. Rhodiola rosea is considered an adaptogenic herb more recently made famous by its use by Russian athletes to increase endurance.

A 2016 review of research from Philadelphia’s Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, rhodiola proved to be a clinical antidepressant. The researchers reviewed clinical research of involving 860 patients with depression. 714 of these had stress-induced depression. The results found rhodiola improved moods and stress levels, changing neurotransmitter function.

The doctors concluded:

“Overall, results of these studies suggests a possible antidepressant action for R. rosea extract in adult humans.”

In a 2019 study, doctors from the North China University of Science and Technology tested rhodiola with 90 sleep apnea patients. They split the patients into three groups. These included two venilator groups and two groups given rhodiola herb for three months.

The researchers found that rhodiola treatment reduced depressive symptoms and reduced anxiety and physiological stress levels. The researchers found that levels of superoxide dismutase levels and malondialdehyde levels improved, illustrating their free radical levels were reduced.

The scientists wrote:

“Rhodiola may improve the negative emotions such as anxiety and depression by inhibiting oxygen free radicals and lipid peroxidation in patients with OSA.”

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine also determined that rhodiola can significantly reduce depression symptoms.

The research was led by Dr. Jun Mao, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Mao and fellow researchers enrolled 57 adults who had received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD). Major depressive disorder means the patient has exhibited at least two episodes of depression that lasted for two weeks or more. It also includes other symptoms such as impending feelings of death or suicide, sleeping problems, weight loss or gain, or an inability to concentrate.

Rhodiola tested against popular psychotherapy drug

The patients were divided into three groups. Over a three-month period, the patients received a daily dose from 340 milligrams to 1,360 milligrams of standardized Rhodiola extract, or between 50 and 200 milligrams of the depression drug sertraline, or a placebo.

Before and after the treatment, the patients were given depression symptom tests that included the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Clinical Global Impression Change (CGI/C) test. These tests provide clinicians with a way to gauge the extent of a patient’s depression symptoms and whether the patient is improving or sliding downward.

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After the three-month treatment period, the patients that took the sertraline drug had the greatest reduction of depression symptoms, with an odds of 90 percent reduced incidence. Meanwhile, the Rhodiola extract also significantly reduced depression symptoms, with an odds factor of 40 percent reduced incidence.

However, the adverse side effects were quite high for the sertraline-treated patients, with a 63 percent adverse effect level, compared to 30 percent among the Rhodiola group and 16 percent among the placebo group.

The researchers concluded:

“Although R. rosea produced less antidepressant effect versus sertraline, it also resulted in significantly fewer adverse events and was better tolerated. These findings suggest that R. rosea, although less effective than sertraline, may possess a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for individuals with mild to moderate depression.”

What makes Rhodiola work for depression?

Research suggests that Rhodiola affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis – which is the link between the body’s neurotransmitters and hormones. The herb has an ability referred to as adaptogenic – which means that it helps balance the body’s stress response. This was determined clinical by Swedish researchers in 2005.

This is apparently accomplished by allowing precursors of serotonin and dopamine through the blood-brain barrier. This in turn allows more of these important neurotransmitters to be produced. Rhodiola also helps increase body levels of endorphins, and has been shown to halt cancer growth.

Rhodiola increases brain plasticity

Part of rhodiola’s effects may be related to its direct affect on the brain.

A 2018 study from the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University tested 28 healthy volunteers. They were given either 500 milligrams of rhodiola or a placebo. The doctors then tested their brain stimulation and activation levels.

They tested their brains’ motor brain function, cortical activity, and intracortical brain function. They also tested nerve conduction and spine activity.

The researchers found that just a single dose of rhodiola significantly affected their brain plasticity levels. They wrote:

“Our findings suggest that a single oral dose of Rhodiola rosea extract intake modulates cortical plasticity in humans preventing the activity-dependent reduction in the efficacy of neuronal synapses. These results suggest that the adaptogenic and antidepressant effects of Rhodiola rosea extract might be based on its modulation of brain plasticity.”

In this publication, we have discussed a number of other strategies for depression as evidenced by recent research. These have included how plant-based nutrients reduce depression and anxiety, and that chamomile treats depression symptoms


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Scientific References

Yu HL, Zhang PP, Zhang C, Zhang X, Li ZZ, Li WQ, Fu AS. Effects of rhodiola rosea on oxidative stress and negative emotional states in patients with obstructive sleep apnea]. Lin Chung Er Bi Yan Hou Tou Jing Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2019 Oct;33(10):954-957. doi: 10.13201/j.issn.1001-1781.2019.10.013.

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Amsterdam JD, Panossian AG. Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):770-83. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2016.02.009.

Concerto C, Infortuna C, Muscatello MRA, Bruno A, Zoccali R, Chusid E, Aguglia E, Battaglia F. Exploring the effect of adaptogenic Rhodiola Rosea extract on neuroplasticity in humans. Complement Ther Med. 2018 Dec;41:141-146. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.09.013.

Østergaard L, Jørgensen MB, Knudsen GM. Low on energy? An energy supply-demand perspective on stress and depression. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Nov;94:248-270. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.08.007.

Mao JJ, Xie SX, Zee J, Soeller I, Li QS, Rockwell K, Amsterdam JD. Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):394-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.01.010.

Mao JJ, Li QS, Soeller I, Xie SX, Amsterdam JD. Rhodiola rosea therapy for major depressive disorder: a study protocol for a randomized, double-blind, placebo- controlled trial. J Clin Trials. 2014 Jun 20;4:170.

Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2005 Oct;19(10):819-38.

Lishmanov IuB, Trifonova ZhV, Tsibin AN, Maslova LV, Dement’eva LA. Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 1987 Apr;103(4):422-4.

Majewska A, Hoser G, Furmanowa M, Urbańska N, Pietrosiuk A, Zobel A, Kuraś M. Antiproliferative and antimitotic effect, S phase accumulation and induction of apoptosis and necrosis after treatment of extract from Rhodiola rosea rhizomes on HL-60 cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Jan 3;103(1):43-52.


  • Case Adams, Naturopath

    California Naturopath, Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, Doctorate in Integrative Health Sciences, Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Diplomas in Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, certificates in Pain Management and Case Management/Contact Tracing. Has authored more than 30 books and hundreds of periodical articles on natural medicine. Recreational activities include surfing, sailing, running, biking, swimming, SUPing, hiking. Contact: case(at)caseadams(dot)com.

    https://www.caseadams.com [email protected] Adams, Naturopath Case

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