Cliff Notes:
  • Rhodiola Rosea (also known as golden root, rose root) is a flowering plant in the family Crassulacea. It grows naturally in the wild Arctic regions of Europe including Britain, Asia, and North America.
Brain Effects:
  • Research has shown rhodiola rosea to increase cognitive stamina while also helping to balance the overall stress response system.
The positive therapeutic effect of Rhodiola rosea extract was also observed in an open label, uncontrolled study in 128 patients with pronounced states of fatigue of different genesis. For example, 128 patients between 17 and 55 years of age (male/female: 75/53) were treated with an R. rosea extract and as a result the clinical symptoms of fatigue were considerably improved or disappeared completely. Their diagnosis of fatigue was confirmed by psychological examinations and increased mental work capacity. Indeed, there are also therapeutic effects of Rhodiola rosea extract in exhaustion due to psychogenic and somatogenic origin (82%) or in patients convalescing from somatic and infectious diseases (80%). For example, patients suffering from post-influenza fatigue showed improved mental and physical working capacity already on the third day after intake of Rhodiola rosea extract. Thus, these patients improved in focusing their attention, and headaches vanished. Furthermore, Rhodiola rosea extract reduced and eliminated general weakness and fatigue in cases of traumatic cerebrastenia injury and also significantly facilitated the normalisation of the autonomic functions in this group of patients. (1)
Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Alexander Panossian and Georg Wikman
The aim of the study was to assess the efficacy of the standardised extract SHR-5 of roots of Rhodiola Rosea L. in the treatment of individuals suffering from stress-related fatigue. The phase III clinical trial took the form of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with parallel groups. Participants, males and females aged between 20 and 55 years, were selected according to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare diagnostic criteria for fatigue syndrome. A total of 60 individuals were randomised into two groups, one ( N = 30) of which received four tablets daily of SHR-5 extract (576 mg extract/day), while a second ( N = 30) received four placebo tablets daily. The effects of the extract with respect to quality of life (SF-36 questionnaire), symptoms of fatigue (Pines’ burnout scale), depression (Montgomery -Asberg depression rating scale – MADRS), attention (Conners’ computerised continuous performance test II – CCPT II), and saliva cortisol response to awakening were assessed on day 1 and after 28 days of medication. Data were analysed by between-within analyses of variance. No serious side effects that could be attributed to the extract were reported. Significant post-treatment improvements were observed for both groups (placebo effect) in Pines’ burnout scale, mental health (SF-36), and MADRS and in several CCPT II indices of attention, namely, omissions, commissions, and Hit RT SE. When the two groups were compared, however, significant effects of the SHR-5 extract in comparison with the placebo were observed in Pines’ burnout scale and the CCPT II indices omissions, Hit RT SE, and variability. Pre- VERSUS post-treatment cortisol responses to awakening stress were significantly different in the treatment group compared with the control group. It is concluded that repeated administration of R. ROSEA extract SHR-5 exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome. (2)
A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue.  Olsson, von Schéele B, Panossian AG.
Extracts of plant adaptogens such as Eleutherococcus senticosus (or Acanthopanax senticosus) and Rhodiola rosea can increase stress resistance in several model systems. We now show that both extracts also increase the mean lifespan of the nematode C. elegans in a dose-dependent way. In at least four independent experiments, 250 microg/ml Eleutherococcus (SHE-3) and 10-25 microg/ml Rhodiola (SHR-5) significantly increased life span between 10 and 20% (P < 0.001), increased the maximum lifespan with 2-3 days and postponed the moment when the first individuals in a population die, suggesting a modulation of the ageing process. With higher concentrations, less effect was observed, whereas at the highest concentrations tested (2500 microg/ml Eleutherococcus and 250 microg/ml Rhodiola) a lifespan shortening effect was observed of 15-25% (P < 0.001). Both adaptogen extracts were also able to increase stress resistance in C. elegans: against a relatively short heat shock (35 degrees C during 3 h) as well as chronic heat treatment at 26 degrees C. An increase against chronic oxidative stress conditions was observed in mev-1 mutants, and during exposure of the wild type nematode to paraquat (10 mM) or UV stress, be it less efficiently. Concerning the mode of action: both adaptogens induce translocation of the DAF-16 transcription factor from the cytoplasm into the nucleus, suggesting a reprogramming of transcriptional activities favoring the synthesis of proteins involved in stress resistance (such as the chaperone HSP-16) and longevity. Based on these observations, it is suggested that adaptogens are experienced as mild stressors at the lifespan-enhancing concentrations and thereby induce increased stress resistance and a longer lifespan. (3)
Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans.  Wiegant, Surinova S, Ytsma E, Langelaar-Makkinje M, Wikman G, Post JA.
The aim of this review article is to assess the level of scientific evidence presented by clinical trials of adaptogens in fatigue, and to provide a rationale at the molecular level for verified effects. Strong scientific evidence is available for Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract, which improved attention, cognitive function and mental performance in fatigue and in chronic fatigue syndrome. Good scientific evidence has been documented in trails in which Schisandra chinensis and Eleutherococcus senticosus increased endurance and mental performance in patients with mild fatigue and weakness. Based on their efficacy in clinical studies, adaptogens can be defined as a pharmacological group of herbal preparations that increase tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhance attention and mental endurance in situations of decreased performance. The beneficial stress-protective effect of adaptogens is related to regulation of homeostasis via several mechanisms of action associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the control of key mediators of stress response such as molecular chaperons (e.g. Hsp70), stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK1), Forkhead Box O transcription factor DAF-16, cortisol and nitric oxide (NO). The key point of action of phytoadaptogens appears to be their up-regulating and stress-mimetic effects on the “stress-sensor” protein Hsp70, which plays an important role in cell survival and apoptosis. Hsp70 inhibits the expression of NO synthase II gene and interacts with glucocorticoid receptors directly and via the JNK pathway, thus affecting the levels of circulating cortisol and NO. Prevention of stress-induced increase in NO, and the associated decrease in ATP production, results in increased performance and endurance. Adaptogen-induced up-regulation of Hsp70 triggers stress-induced JNK-1 and DAF-16-mediated pathways regulating the resistance to stress and resulting in enhanced mental and physical performance and, possibly, increased longevity. (4)
Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity.  Panossian, Wikman G.