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Rhodiola Rosea: a Risky Relief for Anxiety?

Sally-Anne Soameson, Psychiatrist
Rhodiola Rosea: a Risky Relief for Anxiety?

Rhodiola rosea is an herb that some believe can be used for anxiety. The supplement rhodiola rosea is generally taken as an antidepressant. However, many antidepressants are also recommended for people who suffer from anxiety. When taking an antidepressant for your anxiety disorder, it is important to ascertain whether either the drug's effects or its side effects have the potential to make anxiety worse.

This article will review the benefits associated with taking rhodiola rosea, as well as the potential problems to watch out for if you are planning on taking this supplement as a treatment for your anxiety.

A Rosea, By Any Other Name

It's extremely popular to look for alternative options for anxiety, but note that very few of them work, and even if they do, you should always be looking for ways to reduce anxiety without any supplement or medicine. 

Rhodiola rosea grows in the cold and goes by many other names, including arctic root, golden root, rose root, Aaron's rod, and king's crown. All of these refer to a small plant with yellow flowering stalks.

In Russia, Scandinavia and the mountainous regions of China, the plant has been traditionally collected and consumed to cope with the stresses of life in frigid climates. Specifically, it is meant to treat fatigue, increase sexual potency, and promote happiness.

In the U.S., where studies have been made supporting its use as an antidepressant, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has removed some products containing rhodiola rosea from the market. This is due to growing claims in alternative medicine circles of it’s potential as a treatment for the flu, migraines, bacterial infections, colds and even cancer - all of which have been proven false or not proven at all.

The plant is believed to have combined stimulating and relaxing qualities make it a good one for people suffering from depression, but a more complicated choice from people who experience anxiety on a regular basis. The following section will review the possible positive effects of rhodiola for anxiety sufferers.

Relief Through Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola is believed to have beneficial effects for people suffering from depression that should also be beneficial for people with anxiety. These include:

Though such tests look promising, it is still unclear what components of rhodiola rosea cause it to work the way it does, and causes some people to question whether the effect could be primarily placebo. There are few if any controlled studies, and it's possible the mechanism may be something harmful. In any case, along with the potential benefits to taking rhodiola rosea, there are also a few potential risks that you may want to bear in mind.

Risks of Using Rhodiola Rosea

While the antifatigue or stimulant effects of rhodiola rosea may be partly explained by its reported ability to promote clear thinking and improve memory, they may also be due to energizing components that in anxiety sufferers may also promote anxiety. The effects of rhodiola that leads some to suspect a risk of negative interactions with anxiety are as follows:

There may also be long-term risks as well. Because rhodiola has never truly been studied, it is very difficult to know what it may cause, if anything.

Should You Use Rhodiola Rosea?

As with most herbs and supplements, there isn't enough information to know whether or not it's worth using this herb for anxiety. Preliminary research has generally been carried out on mice, with few human studies. One study published in 2008 showed that Rhodiola Rosea in the form of the drug Rhodax showed significant improvement in GAD symptoms over the course of ten weeks when taking 340mg of the extract.

Still, though not much is known about the functionality of rhodiola rosea, it is a relatively low risk supplement for people with anxiety if taken in the recommended dosage amounts. As with any non prescription supplement, it is advisable to consult your doctor before using it on a regular basis.

Article Resources
  1. Bystritsky, Alexander, Lauren Kerwin, and Jamie D. Feusner. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax®) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14.2 (2008): 175-180. 
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