Rhodiola: An Adaptogenic Depression Fighter

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a popular and traditionally used adaptogen that has been clinically shown to boost concentration and focus, reduce fatigue (even for people on overnight shifts, when the mind and body are naturally prone to sleepiness), and promote resilience in the face of hectic schedules.

For example, one well-known clinical study focused on fatigue associated with night duty for young physicians, and showed an improvement in the rhodiola group for total mental performance. Other work has shown ability of rhodiola to help reduce feelings of stress, depression and the sense of “burnout.” That’s because rhodiola appears to have a direct action on receptors of our own natural brain chemistry, including noradrenalin, dopamine, serotonin and cholinergic receptors. It also may boost the expression of neuropeptide-Y (NPY), an amino acid peptide that puts the brakes on cortisol and other stress responses, calms the central nervous system, and is reported to be present in higher levels in individuals who exhibit a great degree of self-confidence.

This review found that one of the primary beneficial compounds in rhodiola, salidroside, interacts with brain pathways and receptors that are implicated in depression. Human clinical studies have borne this out, too – rhodiola relieved stress-derived depression – but without side effects.


Amsterdam JD, Panossian AG. Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant. Phytomedicine. 2016;23(7):770–783.

BackgroundRhodiola rosea (R. rosea) is a botanical adaptogen with putative anti-stress and antidepressant properties. Evidence-based data supporting the effectiveness of R. rosea for depression in adults is limited, and therefore a comprehensive review of available animal and human studies suggesting a putative antidepressant action is warranted.

Purpose: A review of the literature was undertaken to ascertain studies of possible antidepressant mechanisms of action and studies of the safety and effectiveness of R. rosea extracts in animals and adult humans.

Methods: A search of MEDLINE and the Russian state library database was conducted (up to October 2015) on R. rosea.

Mechanism of action: R. rosea extracts and its purified constituent, salidroside, has been shown to produce a variety of mediator interactions with several molecular networks of neuroendocrine-immune and neurotransmitter receptor systems likely to be involved in the pathophysiology of depression. A wide variety of preclinical in vivo and ex vivo studies with laboratory animals suggests the presence of several biochemical and pharmacological antidepressant-like actions.

Effectiveness: Clinical assessment of R. rosea L. rhizome extracts in humans with various depressive syndromes is based upon results from two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of 146 subjects with major depressive disorder and seven open-label studies totaling 714 individuals with stress-induced mild depression (diagnosed as asthenic syndrome or psychoneurosis). Overall, results of these studies suggests a possible antidepressant action for R. rosea extract in adult humans.

Safety: In contrast to most conventional antidepressants, R. rosea extract appears to be well-tolerated in short-term studies with a favorable safety profile.

Conclusions: R. rosea demonstrates multi-target effects on various levels of the regulation of cell response to stress, affecting various components of the neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter receptor and molecular networks associated with possible beneficial effects on mood.

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Terry is happy to provide his opinion on diet and nutrition, supplements and lifestyle choices. This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your physician and is not to be considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Should you have any concerns please contact your physician directly.

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