Rhodiola rosea

rhodiola-roseaThe marketing hype surrounding Rhodiola rosea would suggest that anyone taking it would be cured of almost any ailment and have renewed vitality. It might have some benefits, as yet unproven, because of the presence of natural products known as rosavins, which may or may not be physiologically active. But, the idea that it could allow you to live long and prosper? Well, there are no peer-reviewed scientific research papers to support such claims, as far as I know and there are never likely to be. There are no panaceas, no elixirs of youth. Get over it people.

R rosea (aka golden root, roseroot, hóng jǐng tiān in TCM) is a member of the Crassulaceae family and grows across the Arctic, the mountains of Central Asia, the Rockies, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Carpathian Mountains, Scandinavia, Iceland, Great Britain and Ireland.

The Wikipedia entry for R rosea says it may be effective for improving mood and alleviating depression and early stage studies on people have shown some efficacy in improving physical and mental performance, alleviating fatigue, and reducing high-altitude sickness. Someone achieving their healthcare management MBA would find these studies very helpful. A possible mode of action involves what the entry describes as, “optimizing serotonin and dopamine levels”. This apparently happens by inhibition of the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which supposedly ties in with an effect on endorphins, the body’s natural opiates.

A press release that I received could be used as a source in a final project of a student studying their masters in health administration. It was about R rosea and highlights a previously published article that claims that, “the roots appear to aid the brain by alertness and energy, without any trace of stimulants such as caffeine.” Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? If the root stimulates the brain, then surely by definition it is a stimulant?

I asked the author of the press release, Linda Todten of publicity company TMC Communications, to explain exactly what the description was intended to convey, this is what she had to say:

As you know, the trend is for “energy drinks” that combine large amounts of caffeine, or caffeine containing plants such as Guarana, along with high amounts of carbs for a big “energy boost.” The studies that the Swedes and Russians have done over the years have shown how this category of plant, the Adaptogen, can actually bring the body back to its full energy level without being over stimulated as happens with caffeine. Plus, the extract SHR-5 has been shown to have a very solid mental acuity boost via double-blind, placebo controlled studies in students or night shift physicians and others.

But, any product with a physiological effect cannot work without some side-effects; no herbal extract could be that specific at the molecular level.

Indeed, the plant root contains a variety of chemical natural products including rosavin, rosarin, rosin and salidroside (and sometimes p-tyrosol, rhodioniside, rhodiolin and rosiridin), which are all described as active ingredients of R rosea. These compounds are polyphenols, they may have some antioxidant activity but good evidence for positive health effects in people remains elusive, indeed that is the case for most antioxidant supplements.

R rosea products are marketed in the USA and elsewhere. Todten had this suggestion: “Think about the fact that this one product (Arctic Root brand) has sold over 400 million doses. Not many dietary supplements can claim that. That says, to me, that people must like the way it works to reduce stress or energize,” she told me. “People are not sheep, and they wouldn’t make a product a best seller in Europe over ten years with hundreds of millions taken if it didn’t do something that they liked!”

Well, couldn’t that simply be the power of marketing? What we need are references in the medical literature that provide results from large-scale, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of R rosea. I don’t think there are any such studies published in the peer-reviewed journals yet.

Fundamentally, there is no difference between a “natural” chemical and a “synthetic” one and equally no difference between the active component in a herbal remedy and that present in a pharmaceutical product. Indeed, some 40% of prescription drugs are based on natural products or derivatives of the active components of herbal medicines.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that just because there is some equivalence that all herbal medicines are active. Many are stufff and nonsense and the claims of some marketers for any given product, whether ginseng, hoodia, St John’s Wort, R rosea etc are often entirely sales hype. Moreover, a herbal remedy may contain a range of other components that are not beneficial and may even be detrimental, such as heavy metal contaminants or toxins.

One website describes R rosea thus: “Extracts of the roots have a reputation for stimulating the nervous system, relieving depression, enhancing work performance, improving cognition and memory function, eliminating fatigue and preventing high altitude sickness. The extract has been classified as an adaptogen. In simple terms, an adaptogen helps produce adjustments in the body to resist stress (e.g. chemical, biological, and physical). In addition, Rhodiola rosea also contains a range of antioxidant compounds.”

It’s that phrase “have a reputation for” that is most intriguing. Lots of things have a reputation but reputations are not scientific proof, nor are anecdotes from the countless people who email me or comment on this post claiming to have some insight into R rosea. As I understand it the word “adaptogen” is nothing more than modern pseudoscientific rebranding of the word “restorative” or “tonic”.

115 thoughts on “Rhodiola rosea”

  1. @Anne Why would I want to try it? I’m writing about it from the perspective of a science journalist, not as a putative consumer. Yes, you have the choice regarding this and other products. I am merely highlighting the fact that there is no evidence. I would not take anything or give anything to my kids that was based purely on anecdote there are too many confounding factors and potential for adverse reactions (way more than with conventional pharma, despite the tabloid scare stories).

    I love the way you put scientific consensus in quote marks, as if the knowledge and evidence of years of peer-reviewed work can be shrugged off on the basis of a single anecdote and marketing.

    Anyway, this is an old post. I no longer have time to argue these points and have closed comments. Thanks for your interest.

  2. I take your point on your trying Rhodiola Rosea being non-scientific. And you could try it and, I suppose, have a placebo effect even if you expected it not to work.

    On the other hand, some effects are so dramatic that I can’t deny their efficacy. One example of such is given by my daughter, who has a form of ADD where much of her brain is overactive. As a result, if unmedicated, she feels absolutely driven to ‘do’, that is she is constantly thinking about what she wants to do next, pretty unaware of what is going on around her, and almost constantly frustrated and angry about the things she envisions doing but is not able to make happen. Through Amen Clinics we found out that GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid – the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain) helps this kind of condition. But the “scientific” consensus is that it can’t help because it does not cross the blood brain barrier. I have been told by doctors that it can’t be doing anything because of this. But with GABA she calms down and relaxes, laughs at things that would have made her angry, turns into a pretty normal happy kid. Take her off of it for 48 hours and she goes back to the way she used to be.

    The point is that if you put herbals in order from least obviously acting to most obviously acting (with GABA in my daughter being towards the ‘most obviously’ end), there is no bright line anywhere along this continuum where you can says, “OK, below this point we want to have scientific proof, and above this point the evidence is so dramatic that we can accept anecdotal evidence and be pretty sure that it works”. It is not necessary to scientifically proof absolutely every assertion before you accept it. If I required, or was required, to meet this standard, my daughter’s and my family’s lives would be much more difficult and much less happy. But each person has to draw this line for themselves. You just draw your line further up towards the obviously effective than I do. Every person draws that line in a different place depending on their need and experience, and that is OK. I see, and hope you see, a really good role for you in this area is helping people make an informed decision about where they draw their line between what they accept as believable and what they want harder proof for.

    My own perspective on looking for help for my spouse/partner for her CFIDS was that I immediately discounted anything where the messenger said something like “and for the ultimate cure buy our super deluxe energy rejuvenator”.

    On Complex and emergent systems, I must apologize for my non-sequitur. I wasn’t bringing the subject up as relevant to this particular thread, but was just wondering if perhaps you had another thread going somewhere that discussed these areas

  3. @Anne The point I was trying to make is that you seemed to be suggesting that I couldn’t discuss the science (or lack thereof) behind a product because I hadn’t tried it myself. That suggests a rather skewed perception of how science gathers evidence. I have no reason nor inclination to take this stuff and am simply commenting (as a science blogger with a chemistry background) on the hype surrounding it. I have written about the hype used to market other such products. If research offers up data in a proper clinical trial setting that shows it to have efficacy for specific problems.

    I don’t see the relevance of discussions on complexity or emergent systems. The marketing claims for a herbal extract have nothing to do with emergent systems, although I am sure marketeers would love to be able to attach such labels if it helped them sell more snake oil.

  4. Frankly David, I have no idea how many herbal remedies you have under discussion – this is the only one I have looked at. So I was primarily referring to this herbal remedy – I can’t speak to the others. I would not necessarily have assumed that you were primarily, or even frequently given to covering herbals, given the name of your blog, but hey, if you are you are.

    Does make me wonder though – are you having any discussions on complexity and emergent systems? A favorite subject of mine, although I was having trouble finding books on it until I realized that they are mostly in the computer section at the bookstores. One of my favorites is Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, but it was published in 1994, but I haven’t found anything more recent that is similar in approach.

    But back to the original subject, given the history of this particular herbal it is hard to imagine (assuming you aren’t highly allergic) that it could do you any harm taken for a short time. Of course you are in the position of having to decide which of however many herbal remedies you might try, if you were to start down this road, so I can to some extent understand your reluctance. My own experience with it was that it noticeably lifted my mood and increased my energy, and my partner has the same experience.

  5. @Anne So…you think I ought to “try” all the herbal remedies that I mention on my blog regardless of whether or not I have the ailments they’re alleged to treat? Bizarre.

  6. Why would I want to take it Mary?

    There are just too many claims for this plant and not enough evidence. Recent work by one team has focused on antidepressant, anxiolytic effects and smoking-cessation assistance another team talk about preventing binge eating, it’s a rather limited literature. The rosavins may well have physiological activity, my truck is with the marketing hype that suggests it is some kind of medical panacea. It is not. Moreover, the word “adaptogen” seems to be nothing more than a rebranding of phrases such as rejuvenating, tonic, and restorative with apparently no basis in science that allows marketeers to use a sciencey-sounding word in their sales guff.

  7. Well David, when it comes to Rhodiola rosea, you obviously haven’t taken it, to feel the effects for yourself. The caution – which gives many natural supplements an uphill battle – there are 2 in 12 brands that really do contain the 3% rosavins that is purported on the label. This fact was determined in University Labs as part of a study done in Alberta. There have been studies which prove out the claims!

  8. Yes, Elizabeth, but by definition something that stimulates is a stimulant whether it’s a chemical, a thought triggering chemical release (adrenalin, perhaps?), or whatever…

  9. Hi David. It is possible for something to have a stimulant EFFECT without being or containing any stimulants. (Even a thought can have a stimulant effect – just think of how you feel on waking to discover your alarm hasn’t gone off and you have 30 minutes to get to work!)

  10. The longevity of a product in human history is not necessarily a positive thing (alcohol, marijauna, tobacco, opium to name but a few have been around for centuries) and who knows what chronic illnesses people who took it hundreds of years ago as a tea suffered. Even today, if it’s widely taken, we really don’t have the stats to say whether or not it’s safe. However, as you say taking a concentrate in a capsule is different from drinking an infusion.

  11. I am not stating the following as absolute proof of anything, just as things to take into consideration in looking at Rhodiola Rosea. One is positive, one negative, but related.

    The positive first: Rhodiola Rosea is reported to have been used by the natives of Siberia for at least 1000 years. If there were severe side effects, likely they would have been found. Also, there are several varieties of Rhodiola – and from what I have read the Rhodiola Rosea is by far the most effective.

    Now the negative: Most of us take the herbal root whole in capsules ( at least I assume that what is in my capsules is ground up root), and the natives of Siberia drank it as a tea. So I do have a concern that we may be getting harmful agents that do not come into the tea, or at least not in significant quantities, by actually eating the root.

    Anne Johnson

  12. This is the abstract from the latest research paper on R rosea:

    “Rhodiola rosea (roseroot) extract is a commercially successful product, primarily used to reduce the effect of fatigue on physical and mental performance. In this perspective we present our investigation of the most recent studies performed on human subjects. With a focus on the statistical methods we found considerable shortcomings in all but one of the studies that claim significant improvement from roseroot extract. Overall, the study designs have not been well explained. Experimental results have been confused and appear to be in some cases incorrect. Some of the conclusions are based on selected results and contradicting data have not been adequately taken into account. We point to other studies of higher quality performed on roseroot, several that found no significant effect and one that did. We conclude that the currently available evidence for the claimed effects is insufficient and that the effect of Rhodiola rosea is in need of further investigation before therapeutic claims can be made.”

    This is to published in the respected journal Planta Med and went online at the end of May. The paper is by Blomkvist J, Taube A, Larhammar D of the Department of Neuroscience, Unit of Pharmacology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.

    So, although there are claims around that “researchers tout its usefulness in warding off depression, cancer and cardiopulmonary dysfunctions…treat hypertension, irritability, headaches, fatigue and many other sleep disturbances…increasing thyroid function, improving memory and learning capabilities, regulating menstruation and infertility and even helping to protect one from environmental toxins.” It looks like other researchers who have studied the studies come to a very different conclusion.

    Panaceas are the medical equivalent of perpetual motion machines.

  13. David,

    Please be more specific when describing your results in “fundamental statistics.” Without context, the result you quote is meaningless. For example: if you are trying to detect if a two-sided coin is biased, how many flips do you need to reject the null hypothesis (that the coin is unbiased) with p < 0.01?

    Hint: it ain’t anywhere near 10,000.

    More to the point, with decent statistical intuition, it is often possible to make reasonable estimations of likelihood of the effects of a single factor. This becomes increasingly true as the effect size increases, and more alternative factors are reasonably controlled for. It doesn’t take too many strikes to the head to conclude that it wasn’t your breakfast bowl of Cheerios that knocked you out.

    Anyway, your points about long-term side effects are well-taken. It’s a risk I imagine is acceptable for those suffering from extreme depression or fatigue. If, like acetaminophen, it turns out that we’ve been wrong the whole time, well… maybe then some will decide it wasn’t worth it. But I suspect many will not.

  14. Just a few quick additional thoughts. Anecdotal evidence is fine in the absence of proper trials of any product with considered conventional or alternative. However, fundamental statistics would show that you need around 10,000 anecdotes to have an error margin of 1%. That means you need 10,000 cases describing benefits before you know to a one in one hundred degree of accuracy that those benefits are actually due to the thing being tested.

    Moreover, just because users have not noticed any side-effects doesn’t mean they are not happening. Taking mega doses of vitamin C, for instance, seemingly has no side-effects until one day you get the agonising gripping pain of kidney stones…

    There are also the general contraindications that might exist between any physiologically active product, whether mainstream or alternative, and medical conditions and other drugs or products a person might be taking. Who’s to say (in the absence of widespread trials) that taking R rosea is not a serious long-term risk factor for a particular illness for a sub-group of users who happen to have hypertension, say?

    Bottom line is, of course, you can take what you like, many people do, it may make you think you’re healthier than you otherwise would be, but almost certainly it is not a cure-all, and without wider studies, you may be exposing yourself to unknown risks (alternatively, you may have hit on the elixir of life, and out live us all!).

  15. Hi David and Anne;

    I don’t want to get into the middle of your debate but I would like to share my personal experience. I have been a long time sufferer of depression for most of my adult life. I have struggled with all kinds of prescription drugs and I’ll tell you, studies or no studies, that although these drugs have maintained me to a degree, the side effects and dosage adjusting have been difficult to say the least.

    I tried Rhodiola and felt better within 24hrs. I have now weened myself off of meds for almost a year. My anxiety decreased, my mood improved, and most surprisingly I could see better. I am able to concentrate at work and for the first time in many years I can actually sit down and read a book! It may not seem like much to those that are healthy, but to those of us that have been fighting the war of mental illness, this feels like the battle field has finally been leveled.

    I can now think subjectively and make choices constructively. After 14 years of being held hostage by drugs that just kept me alive, I am now capable of actually living.

    Never mind the marketing techniques or advertising gimmicks. If a product works, it works. Maybe not for everyone, and maybe not in the same manner, but at least its effective and there are no side effects!



  16. Now, wasn’t that a “tonic” to know that you brightened “Anne’s” difficult day. That’s a natural high, right? Shame we can’t get that in a supplement!

    You’re great David, and I appreciate and respect your opinions…..now, where’d I put my garlic supplement…….?

  17. Thanks for your kind comments – this has overall not been a good day, so thank you both David and Camberwellbeauty for making me feel a bit better about life.

  18. Hello David you cynical git!

    That was very nice.

    And don’t get touchy because I pointed out a fault (repetition)which you accuse others of, that’s all. Comprende?
    Aww, go on, have a slug of beetroot juice, do ya good!


  19. Hi there Flutterby…yes, maybe you’re right…

    “Anne” – thank you muchly for your comments.

    Meanwhile, anyone tired of what I have to say, has every right not to read it, n’est ce pas? Maybe I wouldn’t be such an old cynical git if I was dosed up on rhodioloa, ginseng, and St John’s wort…eh?

  20. Well David
    I think you met your match with this “Anne” postings. What gracious postings, too! You could at least thank this person for their very well written, objectivity and apology. Just saying!

    You say that you get tired of the same old responses, well, I think you tend to repeat your reasons for not believing in said “option”(s) either, and maybe we’re tired of that!

    No, I haven’t tried Rhodiola, yet!

  21. If one has a serious debilitating condition that conventional medicine really cannot treat, then assuming some supplement has at least widespread anecdotal evidence, is not known to be toxic or carcinogenic, then it could be the only alternative. It is the kind of marketing spiel that lists 50 well-known conditions everything from asthma to acne as well as talking about wellness and energy levels that irritates me…

  22. Hi David,

    You did get me – to a point – I did make an inappropriate assumption, inappropriate for three reasons. I did not know for sure that you do not have a science background. In fact, the lack of a science background does not insure (but does make more likely) a misunderstanding of science. And a science background also does not insure a good understanding of science, unfortunately.

    I appreciate your concern about the hype and the rip offs – I share your concern. But, having friends with CFIDS and other diseases that do not have good double blind confirmed cures or even treatments, I have to recognize that these people have to try something or just give up on life. There is no absolute proof that Rhodiola Rosea works. There is also no absolute proof that it doesn’t. Even a double blind study by a drug company is subject to doubts because of prejudiced reporting of data and even failure to report data (there have been articles in the last year in the NYTimes about this). I think you would better serve the public by trying to tease out of the mass of anecdotal evidence some indications, and try to find some balance. But I freely admit, having looked for evidence for the efficacy of various inadequately tested drugs, that it is not a job that I envy you.

    With treatment of CFIDS for my spouse I have generally avoided most things that people are charging for because of concern for being ripped off. On the other hand, trying something like Rhodiola Rosea is such a small investment that we both tried and both felt that it had significant effects. Placebo Effect? I don’t think so, but I can’t say that I know with absolute certainty. But even if it is the placebo effect, my spouse is doing better on than she was without, and we are grateful for that, either way.

  23. Anne, you make quite a significant assumption about my background, don’t you? As to your point. I have had to reiterate this again and again as each commenter in turn makes essentially the same comment: It’s the hype that concerns me most and the fact that so long as we pander to the market snake-oil salespeople will laugh all the way to the bank.

  24. David, your credentials as a science writer and not as a scientist are apparent. You are quite correct that without double bind studies you don’t know that a substance works. But to essentially assume that it doesn’t work is very unscientific. You are welcome to take as your own standard that you would not take something that has not been double blind tested. But if you yourself had something like Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Sydrome (CFIDS) where the hard you pushed the less energy you had, where you had to pick one of the 5 things you really needed to do today because that is all you had the energy for, a disease that a former head of the Centers for Disease Control redirected 15 million in research dollars targeted to, to another disease because he didn’t believe the syndrome was real, and where there was nothing to help you that was double blind tested, you would not want to maintain that standard.

  25. Hmmm….well….if Dr Weil says it’s true…….

    The Mayo clinic reports on ginseng are nothing to do with R. rosea, you cannot talk about “these supplements” as if they are all related and part of the same ilk, that’s like trying to lump cabbages and pork together because they can all be called food stuffs.

  26. I have just read an artical by Andrew Weil M D saying that rhodiola rosea improve exercise results, reduce stress induced fatigue ,anxiety and depression. Is he to be believed or is he another snake oil salesman. He also reports that the Mayo clinic reports that cancer patients who took 1000 mg of american ginseng reported energy levels that were twice as high as those placed on a placebo. Does anyone outthere have any other reports on these supplements

  27. Interesting discussion! Just thought I’d add my voice.

    I’ve tried a variety of herbal remedies in the past, each with published health benefits: vinpocetine, echinacea, St. John’s Wort, etc. I’ve also added in, at various times, things like linseed oil and a vitamin B complex to make up for various lacking nutrients as a vegetarian.

    Last year, I tried R. rosea for the first time. After roughly 3 weeks, my checkup at the doctor’s office showed a lower resting heart rate (57) and blood pressure (~90/50) than I’ve ever had before. I was worried that the BP was dangerously low, but my doctor assured me it’s fine for a “very healthy young man.” The same week, I ran a much faster 5K than I had 3 weeks previously — with no additional training — and felt much less exhausted following it.

    I started taking it again about a week ago, and my suspicion is that the cardiovascular effects I’m feeling (and witnessing in my running times) are not coincidental.

    I’ll point out that I do statistical analysis in a university psychology lab, so I’m no stranger to the dangers (hehe that rhymes) of placebo and self-delusion. Having tried many other supposed panaceas with no apparent benefit, I’m going to try to determine for myself whether these signficantly noticeable effects are coincidental.

  28. Hi Walk, thanks for dropping by and for your supportive comments. So, foggy brain, eh? Sounds like almost as well a defined medical condition as CFIDS and fibromyalgia… Oh, by the way did you have your thyroid function tested before you started taking Rhodiola? Did it actually have a positive measurable physiological effect. Given that so many modern conditions are misdiagnosed, ill-defined, and have a substantial psychological component to their etiology, I remain entirely unconvinced by anecdotal case studies without control.

    It is far too big a stretch of the imagination to think that a single herbal remedy can be a curative for the enormously diverse range of conditions claimed for it. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the marketers don’t simply focus on a small select number of conditions for which it may have genuine activity. Selecting several diffuse conditions with enormously varying symptoms just reminds me of the snake oil sellers. (Same applies to the countless claims for aspirin and vinegar and some of those *are* backed by small-scale trials!)

    As to my trying the stuff myself…I wouldn’t want to risk it, if it really does have potent effects on such a variety of physiological systems as muscle and brain tissue all at the same time, I’d really worry about long-term cumulative side effects…as is the case with some products of the pharma industry too.

    Yes, this is *just* a blog post and yes, my blather boils down to “be cynical of health marketing”, why is that such a problem for you? Maybe a dose of St John’s Wort would quell my anxiety…

  29. 6 months later and people are still commenting and still believing this guy?
    Skepticism is a good thing, but please, do some research people.
    Anyone looking for info on Rhodiola (or any other herbal remedies or supplements, for that matter) should do plenty of research. Some guy’s blog which presents absolutely no insight whatsoever, and consists entirely of a page of blathering that could be summed up as “I don’t believe anything unless a medical lab says so” is no better of a source than the ‘marketeers’ he skewers.

    My comments of November 12 remain valid. Even more-so today, as 8 months of improvement with my CFIDS/ Hypothyroidism/ Fibromyalgia testify. Mr. Bradley’s response to my earlier comment is nothing short of an insult.

    If you’re considering Rhodiola Rosea to improve your mental clarity (alleviate ‘foggy brain’ – if you suffer from it, you know what I’m talking about), as a no-shake/no-crash stimulant, or just to help relieve fatigue, I strongly recommend you give it a shot.

    Use caution and do your research when considering ANY herbal remedy, just as you would (or SHOULD) with any drug. But do yourself a favor and do real research – the bloviating OPINION of Mr. Bradley, who is predisposed to say it’s ineffective, and by his own testimony has neither actually investigated, tried, tested or done more than cursory research, is completely worthless and misleading.

  30. I wouldn’t want to take any of these things. Why is it that people complain about pharmaceutical products, which are tested intensively and usually contain a single active ingredient, and then opt for the so-called “natural” version which is a cocktail of active and inactive ingredients of unknown concentrations and toxicities that have rarely been tested properly on anyone, just because some marketing hype makes claims for them as some kind of universal cure-all? Beats me.

  31. Rhodiola Rosea is a main ingredient in Hydroxycut that has been recalled for causing liver failure. Might it be the culprit? I’d be too scared to take it unless it is cleared. Other ingredients in Hydroxycut were Carcinia Cambogia, Gymena Sylvestre, Chromium, calcium, Green Tea etc.

  32. @William Hmmm, you seem to be suggesting that someone who feels perfectly fit and well take a dose of this stuff and that it will make them feel better? But, I don’t feel sick…

    @BV The team you cite is the same group I mention in the original post. I don’t doubt their integrity but they are not independent of the marketing of this product, are they?

    @Richard Is that your book? Send me a copy for review, please.

  33. Go to a GNC or health food store. Buy a bottle with anywhere from 5-15 mgs of rosavins (one of the active extracts) per serving and take it for a couple of days. Incredible stuff. Marketers be damned, just try it.

  34. David – I agree the marketing hype is excessive, but you’re wrong in saying Rhodiola “has no proven health benefits”. Several double-blind clinical trials have been published showing Rhodiola rosea reduces fatigue and increases the ability to concentrate. The latest is published here: Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12. Epub 2008 Nov 18.

  35. Just wanted to mention that there is a book out titled The Rhodiola Revolution by Dr Richard Brown and Dr Patricia Gerbarg, you might want to check it out for yourself.

  36. Kristen, Kristen, Kristen…as I explained, it’s the hyperbole surrounding the advertising that I hate and the fact that there is no independent evidence that this stuff works, oh and the fact that the people marketing it make so many diverse claims for it, and…..the list goes on….

  37. This has to be one of the dumbest knee-jerk anti-herb articles I’ve ever read. Listen, dude, just because you want to be a skeptic doesn’t make you smart!

  38. Hi, I noticed that under the information on your rhodiola rosea information, I was unable to comment. Hence, I am here to make my statement. I have personally used the traditional antidepressant meds and found them to be useless. The side effects outweighed my depression & anxiety plus they just made me want to do nothing at all. I was searching the web for an alternative and found this site rhodiolarosea.com. They offer free stuff. I got the product and in about 4 days, I noticed I had more energy, I wanted to go back to work and I was actually looking forward to my day. I have tried St. Johns Wort but I didn’t notice anything like this rhodiola. What other information do you have on rhodiola? I would be interested to know the difference between the various kinds that are out there on the web. Can you give me any advice?
    I know that the one from the rhodiolarosea site, I think the name is rosavin, is working. I would still like more information if you have any.
    Butler Holloway

  39. I can’t believe I blew that spelling! & Yes, lets put this one to bed, shall we? Been fun though……mind you, Prosac is another horror story…….!

  40. St John’s Wart would be interesting…he could’ve got rid of those by licking a toad and burying it in a churchyard right, or was the prescription for St John’s *Wort*? ;-)

    Interestingly, some clinical trials have shown that StJW is more beneficial than the pharmaceutical antidepressant Prozac.

    I think it’s probably time to close comments on this post…

  41. Camomile tea, eh? Where are the clinical trials, the placebo controls, the blindfolds, the ISO standard kettles to brew it? where, where WHERE , WHERE??????!!!!!!


    *At his own joke ;-)

    David, David…..see the state you’re getting yourself in, all over kettles and the like! Well, try some St. John’s Wart then…..that surely must be ok, I mean, named after a Saint and everything!
    Joining you in ROFL! ;-)

  42. @All

    By the way, and I know this is going to hoist me by my own petard, I wrote about Ayurveda some time ago. I suspect that my argument in that post will clash on some fronts with my own argument in this current post, but I don’t think I ever claimed to be perfect, and these are, after all, just blog posts. You don’t have to read them (although I’d prefer that you did of course).

  43. Anonymous – I’m speaking for David here – I think you will find, he is not American!!!! See what assumptions can do to your credibility?
    However, I live in the USA, and you have no idea what you are talking about! The majority of Americans I know all take forms of natural remedies/supplements everyday, more so than any of my Eng. counterparts/friends/family, so please don’t make blanket statements re: nationality, ok?

  44. Camomile tea, eh? Where are the clinical trials, the placebo controls, the blindfolds, the ISO standard kettles to brew it? where, where WHERE , WHERE??????!!!!!!


    *At his own joke ;-)

  45. Anonymous – typical arrogant american? Huh? I’m not American. Your a typical anonymous commenter. Just because a practice has been around for a long time “in the east” doesn’t mean it’s worthy. And, what’s all this about “God gave us all we need on this earth to survive, and that included natural medicines.”? Purleeez.

  46. Okay. Fair enough Dan.

    I am *not* however, a pharma industry blogger. I’ve written equally as scathing articles about “industry” products and have written some rather supportive stuff about CAM too. I guess my main problem is that I get emailed by companies selling snake oil and hyping their product (on both sides as it happens) and pointing to “trials” that involve a handful of people. But, yes, you’re right, if you feel something works for you, then it’s your call, obviously.

  47. David, before using the “root” as you call it, I had coffee in the AM to feel alert and clear. The “root” now does that for me, without a boost in my blood pressure readings and with a much more fog-clearing feeling. You keep talking about clinical trials. Don’t you realize that many of these herbal products DO have clinical trials, published in peer reviewed scientific journals? The one that I take has its main ingredient tested in double-blind, placebo controlled and randomized studies, which were all published in reputable journals (no crazy new age publications). They were tested in hospital environments, on real people, and I (or anyone else) can search out those publications and read them via Google. That’s what I did before trying them. Yes, the tablets were provided them by the manufacturer, but that is JUST exactly what pharma companies do. Except that it has been discovered (in the case of anti-depressants) that companies held back publication of the negative trials, and ONLY published the positive ones!!!

    I don’t understand your comment about “where’s your control.” If I want to feel better, and I investigate a quality product with genuine science behind it and want to try it, and DO get results, that isn’t something that can or should be torn apart by a pharma-industry blogger who simply seeks to trash anything “alternative.”


  48. you’re a typical arrogant american.
    Eastern herbal medicine has been around longer than western, and they do a lot more studies why, because they are not controlled by the big pharmaceutical companies. Did you ever wonder why westerners are the most unhealthy people maybe because of all the drugs and preservatives we put in our foods and our bodies. God gave us all we need on this earth to survive, and that included natural medicines. Marketeers exist everywhere and the worst being the science based pharmaceutical companies, laughing all the way to the bank, because unlike herbals most drugs are addictive, wow think of all the repeats. What’s wrong with people thinking for themselves, doctors are not gods they’re just educated drug pushers and when they can’t find a drug to help you, they dismiss you and say Sorry nothing more I can do for you. SCIENCE is not the end all it cannot explain everything!!!!!!!

  49. thanks for the correct spelling, I knew I screwed it up! Now…….as for your angst…….try some Camomile tea!!!!!

  50. I’m never offended…

    Yes, I had debilitating sciatica in my left leg for well over a year while it was misdiagnosed again and again. Chiro spotted it as L4/L5 prolapse within seconds, treated accordingly, fixed within 4 sessions. Now, if only she could do something for my angst…

  51. Well, David I’m glad the chiro worked out for you – I am just into work from my very own chiro appt. My husband also had same outcomes as you with siatica (spelling) – two visits to the chiro, taken care off! I’ve enjoyed the debate, certainly don’t want to offend in anyway.

  52. Me, sensitive? Skin like a rhino…just trying to help bounce the debate back and forth. I don’t think I said anything derogatory about anyone’s self control though, yes, and I think we do agree that there are no absolutes and occasionally non-alt physicians do recommend alt remedies. I must confess (and I’ve discussed it here before) I received successful treatment for a spinal condition from a chiropractor, although it was seriously misdiagnosed by an osteopath, his acupuncturist colleague, a sports injuries specialist, two general practitioners, and an orthopedic specialist! But, there were never any herbs involved, apart from a bit of arnica massage oil at one point ;-)

  53. Now, now David, don’t be too sensitive! You throw out those comments to people, then expect a response! Telling people about their self control, etc. is very confrontational not scientific. Maybe these people have consulted with Drs. re: other aspects of their lives/behaviour, we don’t know that, do we? To repeat myself…doesn’t it speak for itself, that by visiting sites such as this, I AM attempting to think more critically? I don’t rush off at the slightest whim and buy miracle “products” – if so, I’d be beautiful, have a body to die for, skin that never ages, a completely detoxified body from little foot pads, etc. etc. I’m not an idiot. I try to do the same critcal thinking/research on approved pharma drugs. There are no absolutes.

  54. Yes, that’s it Mme Butterfly, I’m aiming for world domination and control of all minds, rather than simply attempting to get people to think more critically about the claims made about expensive products with dubious and/or unproven therapeutic value. That does count on both sides of the argument. Moreover, how do you know it *isn’t* the coffee? Have these guys somehow managed to do double-blind placebo-controlled trials on themselves to demonstrate that there were no deleterious physiological effects from some other aspect of their lives prior to taking the remedy?

  55. Dan & Gigru…I think you’re fighting a loosing battle here! Bit like arguing about religion. According to David, anyone who takes something that has made them feel better, has no self control, coz it was the coffee man, the coffee, that dun it, you fools!!! …..”Long time storing up….” hmm, check out what statins will do to you after storing up in ones little liver. “….Personal attitude problems? I guess all those people on those vile approved drugs such as Prosac had the same problems….”get off that stuff people, it’s your attitude….!!!
    Dan & Gigru – you just keep on doing what makes you feel great, you’ll never be able to live up to David’s expectations of attitude, self control, etc. & No, I haven’t tried the root…..however, I have recently rid myself of 2 approved pharma drugs, and haven’t felt this well for a long time – I take several vitamins Bcomplex, garlic, fish oil, CQ10, Cal & D – and considering a couple more. The “safe prescribed, approved drugs” (ha!) can take a hike, for me personally, anyway. Just visit some of the forums – i.e. medications.com and read the horror stories about some of these drugs. frightening.

  56. @Dan – who are these negative voices from the pharma industry of which you speak, it’s not that long ago that I was highlighting adverse drug reactions. But, once again you, like so many others, have fallen into the trap of assuming this “remedy” is what’s to blame for your 180 degree turnaround. You’ve dropped the coffee and made the decision to try the root, where’s your control? Who’s to say that it wasn’t simply the caffeine keeping you down, or your personal attitude prior to trying the root. More to the point, who’s to say that there’s not some dodgy component of that “remedy” that is storing up long-term health problems for you? Just saying…

  57. Gigru,

    I’ve taken Arctic Root for more than six or seven years now, every day. I can assure you that it works, at least in my case. I’ve given up coffee now, which was unthinkable for me a few years ago. I’m alert, I write well again, and in general my life has come 180 degrees because of this supplement. Don’t let the negative voices from the pharma industry discourage you.


  58. It was with pleasure I read your reply to “Doctor of Metaphysics ” on November 14th, 2008
    “Plants evolved in all their amazing variety essentially by chance, at the whim of their environment and their genes, not as a holistic medicine cabinet for humanity”
    There are still too many people who regard MAN as THE cosmic pivot.
    I suppose it was naive of me to think such people had disappeared on the onset of the age of enlightment.
    I found this forum by chance while trying to find out what was known of this particular extract as I had in mind to order some compound that had it as its major component and, I’m quite sure of it, I shall return periodically to check on what’s going on.
    I’m pushing sixtyeight and could do with some “noncaffeinestimulant”
    Have a good 2009

  59. I’ve used Rhodiola rosea daily for more than six years. I am a writer, and started taking it for the clarity effect. My reason for saying anything here is that I think the product gets a raw deal from the promoter of this blog, and many of the followup comments as well. Dangerous? For me, I think the products of the Pharmaceutical industry are dangerous. More people are killed taking pharmaceutical drugs than herbal remedies, that’s for sure!

    The first effect I noticed with Rhodiola was the mental clarity — I soon dropped my morning coffee ritual. For anyone on this blog, readers or writers, their brain is probably something they know very well. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. You feel refreshed, not stimulated, and the thoughts come easier. Artistic or mental activities come easier.

    The second effect I noticed was that my days seemed a bit sunnier. I had a definite feeling of mental “uplift.” This is very subtle, but Dr. Richard Brown of Columbia University in NYC has given it to hundreds of clinical patients who have dropped pharma anti-depressants, so I guess that larger doses than mine can actually have an anti-depressant like effect.

    Finally, I haven’t had a cold or a flu in six years. Everyone around me gets a couple a season — not me. This isn’t a claim that appears on the box, but some kind of side benefit.

    I don’t want to get into any arguments here – I’m just telling you exactly what I have experienced. The brand I take is strong — I’ve checked out “store brands” and they are very weak in comparison. Mine is sold on the Internet.

  60. Rhodiola rosea is great and as a consumer let me tell you the claims are true. It helps alleviate stress, improve mood and focus and it does give you much more energy. I will tell you right now that there are so many so called miracle pills that make so many claims but do nothing but harm you. And people think just because some doctor offers you a pill its safe and its the best decision you can make for your health WRONG!!!!!! When you do a little research on the so called loving FDA you’ll quickly see their guidelines and so called safe drugs were sold to the highest bidder. Wait let me rephrase that. Basically if you have enough money the FDA will say drinking a can of gasoline is safe. (Look at aspartame) Also look at how many people are getting sick now a days i really think the FDA almost wants us to stay sick and on their drugs forever, That is the name of the game. I would recommend for anyone trying to improve their health to try this supplement. ITs great its natural and IT WORKS BETTER THEN ANY PILL I’VE TRIED. I know this is hard to believe that some plant can be stronger than todays top pharmaceuticals (that kill you while drug companies lobby millions if not billions to keep all the right players on their side) but yes its true it works. Look this stuff up people because im to tired to keep writing and need sleep but in short before you take any man made pill get onto google and read the side effects from as many alternative studies you can. Or else you’ll end up with cancer, tumors, diabetes, fat sick depressed all the time and you’ll never be able to get better because the true cures are covered up by people who want us to stay sick. Thats why all people become sterile and sick and have no clue because the stuff causing it is allowed to hit the markets and all info exposing it is hidden. Look at people who live in areas outside of western culture and who use herbs for cures they aren’t getting the cancers and the tumors and becoming sterile for no reason. So when you get the cancer from not listening and doctors scratch their heads and say you’re going to die from this cancer we have no clue where it came from, just remember those companies spending billions of dollars to hide info just like this that im telling you.

  61. What a bunch of ___holes! they must work for the FDA…. Guys..try it! before going on and on and on………………………………….

  62. “Anonymous”, it’s always helpful to receive comments from someone who dares not speak their name. You mention garden variety fruit or vegetables…it’s the word garden that is the clue here, these species have been genetically engineered through generations of selective breeding to provide us with tasty and safe food, they are not wild type species. Compare that with something like cassava, which produces cyanide compounds and has to go through a highly complicated cooking process before it is edible. As for vitamins…the picture is not quite so simple as you may think. Several vitamins are highly toxic at higher dose and others are suspected of having deleterious effects on health by promoting inflammation and putatively even certain cancers.

    The point about Rhodiola is that, despite your claims for an amassed literature on its efficacy, there is no substantial clinical trials on its effects. There are some small tests and studies that have been carried out by those promoting the herb.

    It is nevertheless perfectly possible that Rhodiola does indeed contain something beneficial, but the hype for this kind of supposed panacea always claims a myriad array of health benefits for almost every problem you can name, which is where the possibility of coincidence is stretch too far.

  63. Sounds like the users of Rhodiola might not be the only ones that fail to understand the “basics of biochemistry”.

    I don’t see a single biochemical argument in this article; there is nothing at all about theorized mechanisms and reasons why they do not or cannot function.

    As far as I’m concerned, reactions to hype have about as much value as the hype itself. For instance, this kind of skepticism has gotten us brilliant little gems of insight such as “It would be an incredible impossible coincidence that we could find a compound in nature that was perfectly adapted to improve our health but produce no byproducts and have no side effects”. Interesting. How about your garden variety fruit or vegetable? Do those not count? Or how about any of the panoply of vitamins that are essential to human survival but don’t occur at all naturally in the human body? That’s a hell of a coincidence! Impossible!

    And this from the person who thinks themselves apt enough to taunt others about failing to understand the basics of biochemistry? Good heavens.

    If you want to find out about Rhodiola or any other herb, read Pubmed for a while to see what sorts of specific effects it’s been investigated for. There are also a few monographs floating around about it, and, needless to say, Russia’s been studying extensively for years. Granted that a science writer (as opposed to an actual science) only need to brandish a bit of rogue skepticism to see that Russian scientists are a bunch of hacks with a vested interest to tout their national herb, right?

    It amazes me that skeptics think that their skepticism alone buffers them from the ignorance they try so hard to fight with their writing. No. Doubt alone doesn’t work. You have to do your homework, too.

  64. I did forget to mention in my previous post that I purchase my Rhodiola from a manufacturer which DOES test for harmful contaminants and follows GMP guidelines.

  65. David,
    So, I’m guessing that everything you buy at the supermarket or elsewhere has to be rigorously tested to a drug purity standard before you will consume it?

  66. My doctor has never “forced” any drug on me, either – my choice to take or refuse, which I have done on many occassions. NHS less apt. to “push” anything (I’m originally from the UK). Anyway, it all boils down to opinion, as to what works for you and what doesn’t, and I have yet to take Rhodi, but if I do, I’ll let you know – following up on Red Yeast too, seems less evil than statins.

  67. Jeff King – terribly sorry to know your outcomes with Statins. I have a friend that nearly lost all of his kidney/liver functions, was on dialysis all caused by statins (according to Cleveland Clinic).

    David – “…overblown emails from companies promoting….” And…..what about the barrage of approved drugs being rammed down our throats every 2 minutes on the TV & by our Doctors – take this & WOW we can suddenly gallop across fields, run 50 miles, renew our marriages, live soooo much longer with those wonderful statins, never break a bone again (no matter that your jaw becomes locked!), etc. etc. I’m trying to make the point that the same tactics are used by both.

  68. As a physician who was recently forced to retire by statin-induced ALS, I agree that there is a drastic double standard for tolerance of risk from prescription medicines vs. botanicals.

    Thousands die every year from NSAIDS (motrin, naprosyn, etc.) yet these are sold OTC and widely promoted, and many thousands of women were killed and injured by heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer caused by hormone replacement therapy using synthetic progestins like Provera before this practice was quietly abandoned by mainstream medicine.

    If even 1% as many people were reported to be injured by an herb or other supplement it would be off the market instantly, with criminal prosecutions to follow.

    Anyone not familiar with the statin-ALS link should look at Duane Graveline’s website, spacedoc.net for background and ongoing developments.

  69. @Mme Butterfly My intention has never been to dismiss anything out of hand. But, when I receive obviously overblown emails from companies promoting alternative remedies I cannot help but bite and tear their evidence-free claims to shreds.

  70. David, you talk about “commercial interest….” I agree, but so do the drug companies when they tout their products, so not a terribly valid comment. “It won’t kill you” comment…..we’re often told that with approved drugs, too and I have seen some terrible outcomes from approved drugs – especially statins. As to “tests on pharmaceuticals….to show side affects….” yep, you get the little printout with your prescription…..then do a bit more digging i.e FDA site, etc. and also read about what you were NOT told on your little printout! I have been the recipient of side affects not listed, but found once I did some research on FDA. No approach is perfect re: meds/herbals – I just don’t think you can dismiss either out of hand and make the best choices you can based on some of ones own research.

  71. The “it won’t kill you” line that bothers me. It took an age to spot that Harold Shipman was killing people despite record keeping. If you have people who are ill taking drugs which are poorly or even untested, then how would you tell if it was killing a significant percentage of users? Combine that with pracitioners with no training in diagnosis and you could have a death toll of thousands of people a year which no-one can track.

    Tests on pharmaceuticals can show dangerous side-effects and unwanted outcomes. It’s staggering that alt-med doesn’t seem to find similar problems given that belladonna etc are all natural.

  72. Sean.

    First, Wikipedia is not considered a fully verifiable part of the scientific literature.

    Second, I’ve seen that paper referenced several times (it is on PubMed, which is a valid source) and allude to it in my post. I believe the team who published those results declair a vested, commercial interest in Rhodiola.

    Third, you suggest that I “try” Rhodiola myself. I have no reason to.

    Fourth, you say it won’t kill you. How do you know? How do you know that there is not some trace element or toxin in any one of the thousands of unregulated herbal remedies on the market that is a potent carcinogen? Many people eschew foods because they think traces of pesticides on them might cause harm, yet are perfectly happy to ingest large quantities of untested herbs!

  73. David, H
    Here is but one study (obtained from Wikipedia). Have you ever tried Rhodiola yourself? Give it a whirl. It won’t kill you and it may surprise you!

    Department of Neurology, Armenian State Medical University, Yerevan, Armenia.

    The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy and safety of standardized extract SHR-5 of rhizomes of Rhodiola rosea L. in patients suffering from a current episode of mild/moderate depression. The phase III clinical trial was carried out as a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study with parallel groups over 6 weeks. Participants, males and females aged 18-70 years, were selected according to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression, the severity of which was determined by scores gained in Beck Depression Inventory and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) questionnaires. Patients with initial HAMD scores between 21 and 31 were randomized into three groups, one of which (group A: 31 patients) received two tablets daily of SHR-5 (340 mg/day), a second (group B: 29 patients) received two tablets twice per day of SHR-5 (680 mg/day), and a third (group C: 29 patients) received two placebo tablets daily. The efficacy of SHR-5 extract with respect to depressive complaints was assessed on days 0 and 42 of the study period from total and specific subgroup HAMD scores. For individuals in groups A and B, overall depression, together with insomnia, emotional instability and somatization, but not self-esteem, improved significantly following medication, whilst the placebo group did not show such improvements. No serious side-effects were reported in any of the groups A-C. It is concluded that the standardized extract SHR-5 shows anti-depressive potency in patients with mild to moderate depression when administered in dosages of either 340 or 680 mg/day over a 6-week period.

    PMID: 17990195 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  74. Kevin, once again, you’re falling into the trap of assuming that because you as an individual have seen something you believe to be an effect of something you’re taking that it proves efficacy. It doesn’t prove a thing. You may, like any of us, be susceptible to a placebo effect. The problem is that you *know* you’re taking the stuff, you’ve read the marketing blurb, you want to believe it. We need blind tests to demonstrate efficacy, blind tests in which neither the patient nor the person prescribing the medication knows what’s in the material being prescribed – placebo or pill. That way we can tease apart the effects as well as any side-effects.

    Cynicism and scientific skepticism are very much a part of the process of finding a cure, without them we’d all be dousing our herbal remedies with snake oil salad dressing.

    By the way, it’s unhelpful to use an anonymized email address if you wish to receive follow-up comments!

  75. For someone with depression and PTSD, Rhodiola has helped immensely. It does what it says it does.

    Cynicism and scientific skepticism didn’t help cure anything. Thanks for nothing.

  76. Jackie, Jackie, Jackie…I’m so glad that you agree with me because as with the unknowns in the pharma industry itself, the almost random use of herbal remedies and the exploitation of vulnerable sick people needs to be addressed from both sides, doesn’t it? It’s interesting that you highlight two components of the products and that they should be taken at the correct dosage, salidrosides/rosavins, it would be interested to see the extensive, successful, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials for these compounds given at the correct dosage from the fifty years of research into this herb that you mention…

  77. I’m sorry I didn’t catch your credentials? Rhodiola Rosea has been studied by several entities over
    the past 50 years. I do agree with you that it may not be known how exactly how it works but this is not to say that it doesn’t work at all. I was on zoloft for 15 years. No drug company, researcher or drug company
    knows exactly how the ssri’s work! Zoloft was nothing more than an expensive sedative. For five years I have tried to get off that drug. If you know anything about withdrawal from SSRI’s (perhaps you think there are none?) then you know it can be an utter nightmare to stop taking them. Two doctors (who didn’t prescribe the drug to me and never asked why I was put on it in the first place just shook their heads when I asked to get off it). I read the “Rhodiola Revolution” and I’ve read studies done by Russian researchers and UCLA and many others. Professional studies of Rhodiola have been carried out on it for over 50 years. I chose not to take just “any Rhodiola” sold but to select a product grown in the correct conditions and providing the correct doseage of salidrosides/rosavins.

    Each year that I tried to wean off the zoloft I developed intense flu symptoms, and each time I suffered with paranoia and hallucinations. This year with the support of Rosavin I continued to exercise (in spite of the flu symptoms from the SSRI withdrawal). While weaning over a period of 3 months I suffered with just one day of deep depression and absolutely no hallucinations or paranoia but continued to have moderate flu sympoms. I weathered through the flu symptoms. If this was “placebo effect”, then give me more!!

  78. I would agree with you that many herbs and herbal blends are ineffective and have a placebo effect. The same could be said for prescription drugs. The difference is that herbs overall have less negative side effects. I have found them way more beneficial then the over the counter medicine and garbage energy drinks that many people take.
    I have been taking Rhodiola Rosea for about 5 years. It is excellent for maintaining energy during heavy weightlifting workouts and also is great for concentration. I drink coffee in the morning and have rhodiola in the afternoon when most coffee drinkers would have more coffee. I also feel that Rhodiola gives me a positive mood boost

  79. Sean, I’d rather not take aspirin, thanks. Not so hot for asthma sufferers. But, yes, you’re right FDA approval doesn’t necessarily mean safe, but no testing and no approval at all are even more worrying…

  80. Go ahead and take your aspirin. It was first derived from willow bark. Look it up on Wikipedia. Many drugs in use today are plant derived.
    Drugs are not inherently safe or effective just because they have FDA approval. I have a relative that was in charge of clinical testing for a major pharmaceutical company. She went to work for a different company after she discovered falsified results that had been published in order to push a new drug through. She did not want to compromise her professional integrity or be involved in a lawsuit.

  81. David, I couldn’t agree with you more about leaving homeopathy and herbs in a completely separate category. A few years ago, I began researching homeopathic remedies for minor maladies and general interest. What I learned about homeopathy shocked me.
    When I first learned of how homeopathic products were producted, I distinctly remember thinking – wtf. I thought ‘this can’t be true – do people know this?’
    What never ceases to amaze me is how people are willing to ingest some unknown product (or something that can almost be defined as a placebo) without doing a little research first. Btw, it is my research about Rhodiola which has brought me to your blog for the first time! I’ll be back!

  82. Dukes007, did I specifically state that it does not affect brain chemistry, I don’t think so, but did you ever hear of the placebo effect? More to the point, my post is not a criticism of R rosea itself but one that points out the flaws in the way the promotional materials describe its effects. It could very well have effects beyond placebo. But, if it is, then how does that make it any different from caffeine. If it affects brain chemistry then it will come with side-effects, there are no two ways about it.

    However, I’m rather concerned with the fact that so far all the studies published seem to be tied to researchers involved in the commercialisation of the stuff. Now, you could say the same about the drug industry, but then that has a regulatory framework that is absent from the so-called herbal, natural products market.

  83. Original post absolute bullsh*t. It does effect brain chemistry because it makes you feel better. It makes me feel more high, sedates at higher doses and thats true of my friends who take it daily too. I’m not sure what brain neurotransmitters it does actually effect because there seems to be contrasting information on the internet.

  84. Rhodiola has helped fill in the gaps left behind from Sam-e..DMAE helps too…bringing me more energy and lifting my blah moods…I quit smoking 15 months ago, and periodic blahs…seems I have LESS craving for sweets anymore..so maybe I can at last work on losing the 20 pounds I gained

  85. I bought a bottle of Rosea Rhodiola last week, they were recommended to me as a sleep aid. I took two on Friday night with no effect, good or bad on the speed or depth of sleep.
    i had my usual round of golf on Saturday. It was remarked in our fourball there was something different about my gait and energy levels during the round. I was asked if I was on speed. I never felt so strong after 18 holes: I play / walk a moutainous course and am in my mid sixties. I was puzzled myself , and naturally asked myself could it be the Rhodiola?? as I did nothing else out of the ordinary that could have raised my energy levels. I did not dare take them since for sleep purposes, for fear raised energy would hinder sleep. I’ll certainly be trying them again next Saturday for the golf.

  86. Well, if R rosea doesn’t work, perhaps Acai will. It was promoted by Oprah and so-called health experts after all! This from a recent spam from a company hoping I’d blog about the product and help them shift a few bottles at “just” $18.99 for 16oz. Apparently, their product “is loaded with the natural properties of the Açaí berry to promote energy, healthy digestion, cholesterol management, a strong immune system, and even a healthy, youthful complexion. Pick up a bottle today to receive all the benefits of this illustrious superfood.”

    Well, if it’s illustrious it must be good…or maybe not. The most recent research on it describes it as being “a fair source of vitamin C and good source of natural antioxidants.” (http://tinyurl.com/68q8k7)

    Acai my aspidistra.

  87. Susan (aka Ms Gerbil) Yes, science is about exploration and pushing the boundaries, and certainly there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of medicinally active compounds to be found in nature and hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists searching for them right now.

  88. Aside from proving or disproving old theories, shouldn’t science be about exploration. Question something another person discovered or discover something of your own. I think there are an abundance of herbal remedies still to be uncovered.

  89. Dr Emerick I find it rather amusing when supporters of alt med lump together homeopathy and herbal medicine in their sentences. It’s as if they’re trying to give some credibility to the ludicrous notion of infinite dilution (homeopathy) with the certainly valid (on occasion) world of herbal medicine. Please provide me with one, solid, widescale, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial that demonstrates anything but marginal efficacy for homeopathy…I don’t think anyone can. Moreover, the only sense in which homeopathy goes back “Biblical times” is when Hahnemann would bash his glass vials against his Bible to “activate” the ingredients.

    Herbal medicine is proven in some cases, certainly, and forms the basis of many modern pharmaceutical products. As I’ve said before, I’d rather take an aspirin, than drink tea made from the sap of the cricket bat willow, with all the noxious congeners and impurities that would be present in such a brew.

    Modern medicine is not a panacea, and perish the thought that I contract an “invisible” disease, but this notion that the variety of plants on the planet is somehow related to human illness is nonsense. Plants evolved in all their amazing variety essentially by chance, at the whim of their environment and their genes, not as a holistic medicine cabinet for humanity.

  90. Such cynical people! For someone that is so scientific, you are not very good in research. There have been many papers written about homeopathic approaches and the medicinal use of herbs. It goes back beyond Biblical times. Just because the research isn’t backed by big drug companies doesn’t mean that the people that are being helped by these herbs are irrelevant. For your sake, I hope you don’t come down with an invisible disease such as CFIDS or Fibromyalgia. I am sure you don’t believe they are real either, but I assure you they are. Many people that are sensitive to chemically produced medications are more likely to respond well to herbal products with less complications. Why do you think there is such a variety of plants on this planet? Just something pretty for you to look at? Each one has properties to help us. If one tenth of research money was spent on studying plants medicinal effects, instead of man produced chemicals, we could have wiped out all cancers by now. You need to get off your high horse and face reality- conventional medications cause more problems- they do NOT cure.

  91. I agree, again 100% – therefore, your website is a valuable resource in helping me make, to the best of my ability, sensible decisions. I think that’s fair comment.

  92. Science is all about questioning. In fact, the main aim of science, the only aim of science is to look for evidence that refutes the old theory, and to build a new one that explains the observations more clearly and generates experimentally testable predictions.

  93. Absolutely correct! Of course I’m not going totally against “science” in the absolute sense. I’m actually a very factual, scientific person, if you will. I will take an asprin without hesitation! I believe in realities, not fictional information, hence the continued self education in order to maybe reach your position of knowing indeed, there is nothing but science and its subsequent approaches. In doing so, I see nothing wrong in furthering my knowledge to bring me to that absolute, do you? Or am I never to question science? Science has often told us many things, especially in the health field, only to be retracted later on….i.e. coffee bad/good? eggs, bad/good…..nothing is an exact science, is it?

  94. Heheheh. Isn’t your aim to “make sensible decisions & observations based on some facts” a scientific approach. There’s not point in making observations based on mysticism, especially when it comes to looking after one’s health. Yes, modern science-based medicine is not perfect, but I’d rather taken an aspirin for a headache than brew up the sap of Salix alba or subscribe to a concoction with added arsenic, wouldn’t you?

  95. Goodness! You are really not for too much of anything, other than the scientific approach, are you? You even seem annoyed that someone such as myself would want to journey through various options, to try and educate myself a little in order to make sensible decisions & observations based on some facts. And, as mentioned earlier, there’s an awful lot of not so many pretty “facts” out there re: prescribed medications, yet, we follow like lemings, because REAL doctors are more closely related to Scientists/Science(?).

  96. Mr. Bradley, first thank you for seeing through my disguised name!!
    I do ask you beg my pardon for the loose terminology – I meant homeopathic in an overall group of “optional” health pursuits. Indeed, I know there are some herbal things out there just as sinister – hence the reason for me to visit such websites as this! I’m only trying to educate myself, not become a scientist! I will check on your Ayurveda! Never heard of it, must not be in my plans of options!

  97. Madame Butterfly – there is a world of difference between herbal and homeopathic. And, there are plenty of seemingly all-natural remedies that are just as “disgusting” as any manufactured product. Take a look at my recent item on Ayurveda for some insights into that.

  98. I’m doing quite a bit of research for optional treatments of various things – elevated cholesterol – mind you after doing my own research, I’m really at low risk once you do the “ratios” Anyway, I would rather opt for something like Rhodi than these prescription poisons – i.e seratonin uptakes, statins…..absolutely disgusting……yet doctors are quick to overule some of the homeopathic approaches. I think I will further pursue Rhodiola

  99. @Walk A Mile Thanks for your input and I’m glad you’re feeling benefits of the herb. It’s very difficult to separate out other changes and perceptions when one is doing an experiment on oneself, which is why solid clinical trials involve many people. But, anecdotal evidence can and should be taken into consideration.

  100. Intelligent people will take *ANY* marketing with a grain of salt – whether it’s for that new exercise equipment, a radio, a car, a battery, patented prescription drugs … or herbal medicines.

    That said, I can definitely testify that Rhodiola DOES help “mental performance” and “alleviating fatigue.” Suffering from hypothyroidism and Fibromayalgia which are notoriously untreated or undertreated here in the States, and frustrated with lack of results from the doctors, I began researching treatments in the rest of the world.

    After reading Dr. John Lowe’s medical texts i decided to give some herbal remedies a try. Once I began taking Rhodiola, my basal temperature increased a full degree and my my fatigue decreased greatly; my memory and cognitive difficulties virtually went away and i was able to return to doing web design and programming, which i’d had to stop due to my illness.

    When I stopped taking the rhodiola (in order to test the effects of some other herbal supplements, the memory and cognitive issues began to return, and my fatigued increased again, and my basal temperature began to drop.

    I’ve been back on the Rhodiola for a few days and my basal temperature has started climbing, and I generally feel better overall. So scoff all you want. Me? I’ll take the proven results I’ve had and enjoy a better life.

  101. Harry, there’s is truly no panacea…sorry. Even the 20 so-called superfoods that were cited last month in the media, all really only impart a little health benefit. If there were a true superfood/elixir we’d all know about it, we’d all be taking it and we’d all be worrying about an even older aging population…

  102. DAvid your analysis certainly knocks the floor from the many advertising claims I’ve read for Rhodiola rosea. However people ( including myself ) do wish for a genuine supplement which can offer the beneficial effects claimed for Rhodia R and guarana etc. What supplemet / food /product would you consider is the” best ” in the scientific sense in providing such a boost and other feelings of wellbeing as are claimed for Rhodia and similar products. Or does such a supplement exist???

  103. You make an important point Alkemists, but at least with an isolated product there is a way to test efficicacy of individual components, and as I and others have said before many modern pharmaceuticals are derivatives of natural products. But, most worryingly, particularly when it comes to Ayurveda is that various other materials are added to formulation that are seriously toxic – arsenic, lead, thallium, for instance. That may not be the case for Rhodiola supplements, but given the recent melamine in milk, who knows, eh?

  104. We’re noticing more and more natural product manufacturers or labs using highly purified ingredients, claiming that it improves efficiacy, etc. when in actuality there is next to no resemblance to the whole herb itself. Hence maybe it’s more about the packaging! Who’s to say isolating active compounds and pouring them into a product is the way to go, when the composition of the whole plant or perhaps even a slight extract, tends to gives one the holistic affect desired over time. We just want to make sure it’s safe at a minimum, all things considered. Nonetheless, I agree the “adaptogens” commentary with respect to marketers…quite humorous!

  105. I thought it was rather interesting that the 20 superfoods announced by researchers earlier this week are actually quite mundane, certainly no mention of ginseng, hoodia, rhodiola, or any of those other exotic species that are supposed to improve our lives: apples, blackberries, black tea, blueberries, broccoli, cereal bran, cherries, cherry tomatoes, coffee, cranberries, dark chocolate, green tea, oranges, peaches, plums, raspberries, red grapes, red onions, spinach, and strawberries. Sounds like quite a feast, but I’m shocked not to see Brussels sprouts, which have to be the ultimate uber superfood, surely…


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