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The restorative powers of rhodiola

If things have been getting on top of you recently, it might be time to try a herbal remedy beloved by Chinese emperors to help them cope under pressure. Rhodiola rosea has also – allegedly – been studied in secret by Russian scientists1 in a bid to improve their athletes’ endurance.

So could the herb help you beat the symptoms of stress, in the office or the gym?

How rhodiola works to combat stress

Rhodiola rosea is called an ‘adaptogen’; one of the herbal remedies that help the body adapt to and cope with the symptoms of physical, mental or environmental stress. Adaptogenic herbs are said to have both calming and stimulatory properties, so they can pep you up or soothe frazzled thoughts.

When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands release hormones that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response – cortisol, and adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as catecholamines). These cause the classic symptoms of stress such as a racing heart and shallow breathing. But rhodiola reduces our reaction to stress by curbing production of these stress hormones.

A trial published in Planta Medica in 2009 followed 60 people with stress-related fatigue taking 576 mg rhodiola every day for 28 days. The results showed decreased cortisol release and enhanced concentration.2 And in 1994, Russian researchers found that rhodiola could help protect the heart from the damaging effects of stress by preventing the release of catecholamines.3

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Can rhodiola improve your workout?

Exercise is good for us, but it’s still considered a form of stress on the body. Now research suggests that rhodiola rosea could help you get more out of an exercise session.

A small American study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013, found that people given rhodiola before a time trial on a stationary bike pedalled faster, and felt less exhausted, than those who took a placebo.4 In another study of 52 healthy young men, those given 15 drops of rhodiola tincture were able to pedal at maximum intensity for 9% longer than those given a placebo.5

Rhodiola for exercise recovery

Rhodiola could help with post-exercise recovery, too. In a study of 42 master level competitive skiers, the heart rates of those given rhodiola 30-60 minutes before a training session returned to baseline more quickly afterwards than those given a placebo.6 Another study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2010, followed 14 male athletes taking rhodiola supplements for four weeks. The University of Rome researchers who conducted the study concluded that rhodiola could lower levels of lactic acid and reduce skeletal muscle damage after exercise.7

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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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1. Kristina Johnson. Before Steroids, Russians Secretly Studied Herbs. Available from:
2. Olsson EM, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of rhodolia rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Available from:
3. Maslova LV, et al. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of rhodolia rosea in stress. Available from:
4. Noreen EE, et al. The effects of an acute dose of rhodolia rosea on endurance exercise performance. Available from:
5. (page 9) Richard P. Brown, Patricia L Gerbarg, Zakir Ramazanov. Rhodolia rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Available from:
6. (page 10) Richard P. Brown, Patricia L Gerbarg, Zakir Ramazanov. Rhodolia rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Available from:
7. Parisi A, et al. Effects of chronic rhodolia rosea supplementation on sport performance and antioxidant capacity in trained male: preliminary results. Available from:

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