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Rhodiola Rosea for Treating Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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Anxiety can be a debilitating illness. From feelings of fear and panic, to nausea and agitation – it can effect both your confidence and your health.

In this article we look at how rhodiola rosea can be used as an effective treatment for anxiety and all you need to know about how it works.

Could it be the answer you are looking for?

We take a look…


What is Rhodiola Rosea?

Rhodiola rosea is a vibrant, bright yellow-green plant that is often referred to as golden root or roseroot.

It grows to around 30 inches in height and is found mostly at higher altitudes in colder areas of Asia and sometimes in Europe [1].

There are nearly 100 different species of the rhodiola plant, each with their own unique combination of nutrients.

Typically though, it contains a number of bioactive compounds, including phenols, organic acids, alkaloids and flavonoids.

Rhodiola can be eaten raw but has a very bitter taste.

As a traditional Chinese medicine it can also be used as an extract and is sometimes boiled, much like spinach or kale.

Golden root is an adaptogen herb

Behind Asian Panax, Rhodiola is the second most consumed adaptogen herb in traditional medicine.

These are herbs that have a direct effect on your adrenal glands and help you control stress and anxiety.

The extract has been shown to reduce exercise fatigue, boost stamina and endurance and also elevate levels of cognitive ability. This is why you’ll find it in high-quality pre workout supplements.


Herbal tea in cup with Rhodiola rosea and napkin on wooden board
  • Key Point: Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen herb that has been shown to have a direct effect on your adrenal glands.

Rhodiola Rosea and Anxiety – What’s the Connection?

Anxiety is a disorder characterized by feelings of threat and fear.

It can cause dis-empowerment, negative thoughts and shame as well as severely affecting your health and confidence. Panic attacks are the same.

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the US and effects nearly 20% of the population – that’s 40 million people.

It causes inner turmoil and nervousness that is both irrational and uncontrollable and can cause a number of symptoms:

  • Restlessness and lack of concentration
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness and heart palpatations
  • Worry

The science behind anxiety – what’s happening to your body?

It’s completely normal to worry about life events. If you have a job interview tomorrow or you’re concerned that you can’t pay this month’s bill you have every right to fret.

Where anxiety differs though is that the feelings of worry can be irrational. It is characterized by the same feelings of concern, but with no specific cause.

When our ancestors lived in caves and on the planes of the Savannah they were often met with situations that were life threatening. For example, a saber-toothed tiger may wander into a cave looking for its next meal… and you were possibly it.

We needed a physiological reaction to the threat that allowed us to react quickly – and this was the fight or flight response.

This automatic reaction geared your body into safety mode – to either run away quickly or to stand and fight.

  • Epinephrine was quickly released from your adrenal glands to speed up your body’s responses
  • Your heart rate increased immediately so you could pump more blood to your muscles
  • Your eyes dilated so you could see better and your hearing became more sensitive

From there you could deal with the tiger and get on with your day.

And of course once the threat had passed (you’d either run to safety or killed the tiger) your autonomic response could relax and recover. Your heart rate would reduce and blood flow would normalize.

Everything calmed down and returned to normal.

As humans evolved we learned to trigger the fight or flight not just at the site of a threat but at the thought of a threat too. And this became psychological stress.

Humans can now trigger the exact same response at the thought of mortgage payments, a college exam or the date you have tomorrow night.

We stress about the thought of stress.

The exact same thing happens when you’re anxious – only there doesn’t have to be a physical or psychological trigger; it can just happen.

You get the same increase in heart rate, the same wired feelings – but for no apparent reason.


Anxious young man looking out of his window on a rainy,grey day
  • Key Point: Anxiety results in triggering the fight or flight mechanism without any rational cause.

How Can Rhodiola Rosea Help Anxiety?

As an adaptogen herb, rhodiola has been seen to effectively treat tiredness, stress and cognitive fatigue, as well as improve attention, reaction time and general well-being.

It’s also been shown to have a beneficial effect on feelings of anxiety too.

Rhodiola has therapeutic effects over men and women suffering life-stress symptoms

In this Phytotherapy Research study [2], a group of over 80 volunteers with significant life-and work-related stress were given 200 mg of rhodiola rosea over a 4-week period.

The supplement was seen to improve mood, productivity and also reduce tiredness and fatigue too. This was in as little as 1 week in some volunteers.

No side effects or adverse reactions were reported either.

Pilot study shows that rhodiola supplement decreases effects of general anxiety disorder

In a 2008 study based at the University of California, Los Angeles [3] researchers wanted to test the effects of a golden root supplement on symptoms of anxiety disorder.

They recruited a sample of participants that had been diagnosed with anxiety and asked each of them to take a 340 mg dose of the plant extract for 10 weeks – long enough to see any effects.

Each of the volunteers saw their anxiety improve when measured using various questionnaires.

The results of the study were reported with a probability value of p=0.01 which means that the research team were extremely confident that the improvements were down to the supplement and not anything else.

And the only side effects reported throughout the whole treatment period were in a couple of participants who experienced dry mouth.

Rhodiola supplement has positive effect on stress and fatigue

This study found that administering 288 mg of a the golden root supplement to 30 healthy volunteers helped to significantly reduce feelings of fatigue and tiredness caused by stress and anxiety [4]. 

Some of the group were given a rhodiola rosea supplement for their anxiety and some were given a placebo that contained no biological ingredients. A few others were given a different supplement altogether.

The study was well designed, separating volunteers into different groups at random to reduce any confounding effects. This was done in a double blind way, meaning that neither the researchers or the volunteers knew whether or not they were getting the supplement or placebo – a very effective way of increasing the reliability of a study.


  • Key Point: Rhodiola rosea has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and fatigue in a number of studies.

Summary

When it comes to general anxiety, rhodiola rosea may provide an effective treatment.

There are currently a number of studies showing that a medium dose of the herb can have a positive effect on symptoms of fear, stress and anxiety.


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References

  1. Saratikov, AS et al. Rhodiola rosea is a valuable medicinal plant (Golden root). Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk State Univeristy Press; 1987
  2. Edwards, D et al. Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms–results of an open-label study. Phytother Res. 2012; 26(8): 1220-5
  3. Bystritsky, A et al. A Pilot Study of Rhodiola rosea for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). J Alt Complem Med. 2008; 14(2): 175-180
  4. Schutgens, FW et al. The influence of adaptogens on ultraweak biophoton emission: a pilot-experiment. Phytother Res. 2009; 23(8): 1103-8

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