Ask Dr. Julie / Health & Wellness / Managing Stress / Mental Health

Happy Pill and Energy Booster?…Where Can I Get Some Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea is a supplement that quickly became one of my favorite to recommend to my patients in my integrative medicine clinic in San Jose, CA. Some of my patients like to call it their ‘happy pill.’

Clinically, the reason is it helps with energy and boosts mood.

Rhodiola has some serotonin effects which help with uplifting mood. That’s a plus right? Yes it is…but you then also have to be careful not to take too much or take any if you are already on a lot of anti-depressant medications. Too much serotonin can cause Serotonin Syndrome but I’ve never had a patient on Rhodiola where that’s occurred. But then again, I’ve generally not given my patients Rhodiola if they are on multiple or high dosages of anti-depressant medications.

What is Serotonin Syndrome? It is a group of symptoms that may occur if too much serotonin promoting medications or supplements are used at the same time. Symptoms can include but are not limited to agitation, diarrhea, sweating, tremors, high body temperature and overall not feeling well with hyperactive reflexes.

Having said all that, the fact is that I’ve never seen that clinically from Rhodiola rosea but it’s something to keep in mind when considering whether you should take it or not. The safest thing to do is to ask your doctor before using any supplements which include Rhodiola.

Now that I’ve been the Debbie Downer about Rhodiola and you’re probably wondering why you’re still reading this when the title is so positive…well, now the great parts of Rhodiola starts…

Clinically, Rhodiola has been very helpful in getting the mood and energy up in my patients. The question comes down to whether that’s just a coincidence in my clinic or is there some science behind that.

In a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study with parallel groups done over 6 weeks, males and females aged 18-70 were selected based on DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for mild to moderate depression using Beck Depression Inventory and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression questionnaires. Patients were randomized into one of three groups and one group of 31 people got 2 tablets per day of Rhodiola (340mg/day) and a second group of 29 people got two tablets of Rhodiola twice daily (680mg/day) and third group of 29 people got two tablets of placebo daily. Depression complaints were evaluated on day 0 and 42 of study. The two treatment groups showed significant improvement in overall depression, insomnia, emotional stability and somatization were improved but not self-esteem. Placebo group did not show such improvements. There were no serious side effects in the study in any of the groups. The conclusion from the study is that Rhodiola 340mg-680mg/day for 6 weeks helped with mild to moderate depression. They used SHR-5 for Rhodiola. (1)

In another study done for fatigue therapy, 56 young healthy physicians working night duty were evaluated for total mental performance as calculated by Fatigue index. Overall testing looked at mental fatigue involving complex perceptive and cognitive cerebral functions such as associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation, ability of concentration and speed of audio-visual perception. These were tested before and after night duty during three periods of two weeks each. One week was with them taking one Rhodiola or placebo tablet daily, then a washout week, then another week of placebo or Rhodiola tablet daily therapy. This study was a double-blind, cross-over study. The perceptive and cognitive cerebral functions were tested using 5 different tests. Treatment with Rhodiola showed statistically significant improvement without serious side effects suggesting that Rhodiola can reduce general fatigue under certain stressful situations.

As you can see, it’s not just in my clinic that we’re seeing Rhodiola as a energy boosting ‘happy pill.’ And despite my initial word of caution with the theoretical risks of Serotonin Syndrome, there are generally no significant side effects. But the best way to be safe is to check with your doctor before use. It’s always best to be safe.

At the end of the day, Rhodiola rosea is a great option for mood lifting and energy boosting goals. The cool thing about Rhodiola, unlike a lot of the anti-depressant medications is that you don’t have to take it every day. You can just take it as needed for when you need a little bit of a mood lift or energy boost. So, if we can all get a little more energy and feel a little bit more happy…I’d say we’re doing pretty well.

References:

  1. Darbinyan V, et al. Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 2007. 61(5). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08039480701643290
  2. Darbinyan V, et al. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue—A double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. October 2000. 7(5): 365-371.
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