Is rhodiola a Good Thing?
July 9, 2005 9:53 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I saw our doctor yesterday; he said we were both basically in good shape but he highly recommended we try rhodiola, touted in this book. He says the book is overwritten but he's checked out the claims and thinks they're substantiated enough to recommend using it; I like the fact that he prefers diet/lifestyle changes to prescription drugs unless the latter are clearly indicated, but I wanted to see if any MeFites knew anything about rhodiola, which I'd never heard of.
posted by languagehat to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
I'm pretty sure it's the "red flaxseed" that shows up in the Nenets stories. Red flaxseed and ginseng tea all the time. That said, I don't think that itinerant siberians live especially long or healthy lives. But maybe they would die sooner without it.

I did a course of ginseng for a couple months (the other siberian herbal staple) and I didn't notice a thing. But it didn't hurt me, either. Worst case scenario is you're out a few dollars and no different otherwise. But maybe it will make you feel great.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:37 AM on July 9, 2005

I’ve been using as a reliable and best-price supplier of supplements for some time. While I hadn’t heard of rhodiola rosea, I did find this listing at Swanson:

Swanson Premium Brand Rhodiola Rosea Root SW1004
400 Mg 100 Caps SAVE 70% (reg) $29.99 (our price) $8.99

“…Rhodiola Root is the premium choice to counteract the mental and physical effects of stress. This potent herb helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol while enhancing levels of key brain chemicals involved in regulating mood. Plus, rhodiola works naturally to promote synthesis of ATP, the primary energy source for all cells in the body. Our powerful capsules contain 400 mg of rhodiola root powder and provide a great way to conquer the mental and physical challenges of stressful times….”

Thanks to you, Language Hat, and Swanson, I think I’ll add it to my diet.
posted by ozziemaland at 10:59 AM on July 9, 2005

Odd. You're both "basically in good shape," and yet he recommends some unproven herbal tonic that will be of simialr benefit to each of you. Wouldn't be my doctor after that visit. Ask him to show you the peer-reviewed double-blind controlled studies in which the effects of the herb are statistically significant for people with your conditions . .. oh wait, you don't have any conditions. Oh, and ask him to describe any known long-term effects of using this stuff. Bet he has no idea, and I bet the science hasn't been done.

If he'd recommended you both try taking an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiolytic pharmaceutical drug just because the claims for these drugs are substantiated (as well they are, negative and positive) you'd laugh out loud. But because it's herbal, it's cool.
posted by realcountrymusic at 11:23 AM on July 9, 2005

Yeah, I agree with realcountry. The guy may have an MD, but when you're describing the sort of actions you describe, I think I'd prefer it if you referred to him as your herbalist. He's certainly not functioning as an allopathic physician.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:30 AM on July 9, 2005

Response by poster: Mayor: Cool, if I wind up taking it I'll enjoy feeling one with the Nenets!

ozzie: Thanks for the tip on a cheap source.

rcm, ikkyu2: Thanks for your input, but we like our doctor for many reasons that seem good to us, and believe it or not we're not New Age morons.
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on July 9, 2005

I'm with rcm and ikkyu2. What you're describing, LH, seems very bizarre to me--and not the actions of someone I'd put much faith in.

However, your followup post makes it sound somewhat like the doc is a friend of yours in which case I think he's just making a personal recommendation, which is different. Could that be the case?
posted by dobbs at 12:29 PM on July 9, 2005

Response by poster: Look, I'm well aware of the quantity of crap out there masquerading as "traditional medicine" or whatever. If I read Joe Bloe recommending this stuff on his blog, I'd roll my eyes and move on. This guy is not some spell-chanting herbalist or quick-talking homeopathist, he's an honest-to-Hippocrates doctor with an MD and everything, and he does all the normal blood work and tests. I wouldn't go to anyone of a less scientific description. I'm not saying that means he's right about this, but it does give it enough credibility to push it across the eye-rolling border into "maybe I should try this" land. I'm very interested in people who have investigated the stuff themselves and have useful things to say about it. I'm not so interested in general warnings about quacks and herbalists. There is such a thing as nonprescription herbs that are good for you, you know. Why, sunlight, which doesn't cost a thing, is highly recommended by doctors in the know! In other words, much as I appreciate people's concern, if you aren't familiar with rhodiola, you're probably not going to be very helpful in answering the question.
posted by languagehat at 1:09 PM on July 9, 2005

Languagehat: So for what condition is he recommending this product? Why did he bring it up?
posted by rxrfrx at 4:03 PM on July 9, 2005

posted by matteo at 4:22 PM on July 9, 2005

Well, there is a real study that shows an anti-fatigue effect, but I agree that it is a bit odd that he recommended it without you complaining about any problems. Did he advise a specific source? Even doctors sometimes have moments of bad judgement.

There are lots of supplements that are really, truly worth considering, but I would start with where you personally see a problem in your health or performance.
posted by trevyn at 4:24 PM on July 9, 2005

Best answer: You want answers and not guff? Here you go: The number of studies on rhodiola is relatively small on PubMed. I quick skim of the literature for work done in vivo AND in vitro, yields some potentially dubious studies that suggest improved exercise endurance, improved mental endurance, improved mood, and possible some protective effects against liver and heart disease. But exceedingly few if any of these are double-blind placebo-controlled studies, and none are published in particularly reputable journals as far as I could tell. I found nothing available about significant toxicities.

So bottom line is maybe it's a good thing but it's too early to say. Anyone who asks me about 'herbal' drugs gets the same caveat though: herbals are not legally subject to large-scale clinical trials to determine adverse effects as are pharmaceuticals. As a clinician in the last few years I have already seen more than a handful of people end up on liver transplant lists because of some "chinese herb" they took. Believe me, such things do happen. People do die rapidly. Or suffer through a shortened lifetime of awful immunosuppressive medications because of these things. So if you're willing to take that risk for what is almost always some vague, likely placebo-induced, qualitative improvement in how you feel, then best of luck. YMMV.
posted by drpynchon at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2005

Best answer: Academic studies can be found at Medline. (via the National Center for Biotechnology Information.) Some of the articles require a paid subscription, but the summary still provides a great deal of information. In this case, Medline returned 127 hits for rhodiola, with a variety of results. Medline only gives you the results of academic studies, so it eliminates all of the product-pushing hits that a Google search will give you. (Academics may still debate the scientific rigor of some of the studies, but that's a different question.)

On preview: drpynchon beat me to it.
posted by ambrosia at 5:02 PM on July 9, 2005

Mod note: pulled another AskMe post on rhodiola making matteo's wtf not make sense, sorry
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:07 PM on July 9, 2005

Response by poster: drpynchon, ambrosia: That's exactly what I was hoping for. Thank you very much.
posted by languagehat at 8:21 PM on July 9, 2005

LH, if you and Mrs. LH decide to take it for any length of time, would you consider posting what results, if any, you notice? I had never heard of rhodiola before your post, but as a fan of various nutritional supplements, I am intrigued and will certainly do more research, if I can find more, that is. But it would be nice to have first-hand experience, such as what we've all come to trust here at AskMe.
posted by Lynsey at 11:28 PM on July 9, 2005

Response by poster: Well, I'd love to oblige, but in what venue would I do so? This thread will be closed by the time I'll have a sense of how it's working, and if I go to MetaTalk and start a thread about "what rhodiola did for me" I'll be flamed so that I can never sit down again. However, if somebody starts one of those "I'd like to find out what ever became of some of those AskMeFi situations" MeTa threads, I'll be glad to post in it.
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on July 10, 2005

Response by poster: OK, I need to apologize a bit to rcm and ikkyu (though I still think they weren't being very helpful): my wife informs me that the doctor suggested it only for her, and I suppose if he had included us both without explanation that might have been a tad suspicious. All I can plead in explanation of my lapse is that I hate going to the doctor and the whole experience obviously threw me into a fugue state. Apparently all I need is some vitamin D. (And maybe new batteries for my brain.)
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on July 10, 2005

Response by poster: Hey, this thing still works! For anyone who cares, the rhodiola seemed to help my wife; she's felt better/calmer since she's been taking it. But of course placebo effect has to be reckoned with.
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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