Rhodiola rosea (referred to here as “rhodiola”) is a plant that grows at high altitudes in the arctic areas of Europe and Asia. It has been categorized by some researchers as an “adaptogen,” meaning it supposedly helps the body’s natural ability to “adapt to” stress. It has been used for centuries to enhance physical and mental performance and fight stress. Rhodiola is a common dietary supplement ingredient in products with claims to boost brain health, increase energy, reduce fatigue and anxiety, and improve athletic performance and mental clarity.
Not enough evidence exists to show whether rhodiola can help Military Service Members boost brain health and optimize performance.
Can rhodiola boost brain health?
Some of the latest research with animals shows that rhodiola can improve learning and memory function. Research into boosting brain health among healthy adults is scant. However, some research has shown improvements in general fatigue under stressful conditions and improvements in performance related to attention and short-term memory tasks after taking the dietary supplement rhodiola (up to 600 mg per day) for as short as one day and up to 4 weeks. No studies have shown any benefit above this amount, and smaller amounts (up to 370 mg per day) might be more beneficial than larger amounts.
Overall, studies with rhodiola suffer from poor methods and small sample sizes, so the strength of the evidence is very low. As a result, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to determine if and how much you might benefit from taking rhodiola as a dietary supplement to boost brain health.
Is it safe for a Military Service Member to take as a dietary supplement?
Side effects appear to be minimal but could include dizziness, headache, dry mouth, or (the opposite) excess saliva. Studies have reported rhodiola to be safe when taken up to 12 weeks in small amounts (up to 600 mg), but the safety of long-term use is unknown, so discuss any noticeable side effects with a physician. Avoid the use of rhodiola if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you’re considering its use for a child, until further research on its safety is available.
A surge in the global demand for Rhodolia rosea has put a strain on the harvesting areas and supply of this ingredient for use in dietary supplement products. Other species of rhodiola exist, but they don’t have the same properties as Rhodiola rosea. These other species are often mixed with or used in place of Rhodiola rosea, which raises concerns about the quality and safety of products containing “rhodiola.” Such products could contain other ingredients disguised on product labels as Rhodiola rosea, which means that some products could be adulterated and potentially unsafe. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to some manufacturers of dietary supplements containing Rhodiola rosea for making false health claims about its effectiveness.
Can rhodiola produce a positive result on a military drug screening test?
Rhodiola in dietary supplements is not prohibited for use by Military Service Members and should not register on a routine military drug screening test.
The bottom line about rhodiola
There isn’t enough evidence to know if and how much benefit you might gain by using Rhodiola rosea to boost brain health and optimize performance. It seems safe in small amounts and for short periods, but there isn’t enough research to be able to confirm any effects (beneficial or harmful), especially for long-term use and among various populations.
The evidence presented here is for the single ingredient Rhodiola rosea and does not represent the evidence for rhodiola when combined with other ingredients. With multiple-ingredient supplements, it is nearly impossible to know which substance might cause any effect, either beneficial or harmful. In addition, the evidence presented is only for healthy adults.