Ergogenic adaptogen helps maintain T against the depleting effects of physical stress and oxidative stress.
From ancient Siberian herbalism to the labs of Cold War Russia, Rhodiola has been a plant of extreme adaptogenic value for its reliable resistance against high-altitude stress & its anti-fatigue effects on physical activity. While both men & women from all altitudes can benefit from Rhodiola, its potential actions on testosterone make it a particularly interesting adaptogen for the hairier sex. Key bio-activities include:
- Maintaining post-exercise T levels. Gym rats & workhorses often fall victim to their own zealotry. Rhodiola helps protect T against too much exercise.
- Increasing antioxidant capacity. Oxidative stress can be a killer to both T & muscle, making Rhodiola an qualified ergogenic aid for reducing it.
- Reducing estradiol levels. Demonstrated on female rats, Rhodiola’s antiestrogenic effects may help male sex hormones as well.
Traditional Siberian farmers say drinking Rhodiola as tea will make you live longer. Dr. Oz claims Rhodiola will “unleash female brainpower” by optimizing your brain and “increasing your overall health.” We say: Rhodiola will increase your testosterone.
Or, rather, Rhodiola will prevent your testosterone from dropping during challenging conditions.
This concept of “prevention” qualifies Rhodiola as an adaptogen—essentially any herb or compound that helps the body adapt to stress (Other adaptogens include Ashwagandha, Ginseng, & Bacopa). According to Soviet pharmacologists Dr. Brekham & Dardymov, adaptogens are defined by 3 qualifying criteria:
- An adaptogen should cause minimal harm to the body.
- The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific in its range of anti-stress benefits.
- An adaptogen normalizes bodily parameters against pathological conditions.1
In early adaptogen research cerca 1960s, Rhodiola was one of the first herbs explored by Soviet scientists for its strong reputation as an energizing “stress reliever.” For centuries it helped high-altitude Siberian farmers deal with the stresses of day-to-day low-temp living and soldiers with the stress of, well… being soldiers.
Naturally, other positions of high physical & mental demand jumped on board the Rhodiola train when it was conceptually labelled as an “adaptogen”–if it’s believed to be “non-specific in its range of anti-stress benefits”, then everyone should be able to benefit from it.
Yet, while Rhodiola doesn’t seem to discriminate on who can or cannot take it, there do seem to be a few specific bio-actions it provides to help men sustain healthy testosterone levels.
How Rhodiola Rosea Might Help T
Protects HPG axis during stress
The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonad (HPG) axis is one of the primary mechanisms of T-production (more accuratly described as a convolution of mechanisms). During conditions of low serum T levels, the hypothalamus is alerted to release a signaling hormone, which induces a domino cascade of hormone secretions, ultimately alerting the testes to produce more T. Conversely, when T is high, the hypothalamus turns the system off.
This is an important consideration for men, because stress engages the hypothalamus as well–and if that engagement becomes chronic, then the stress system can essentially override & disrupt the HPG sex system. However, supplementing Rhodiola has been shown to protect the HPG axis from the negative effects of stress–particularly physical stress (i.e exercise, manual labor, etc.)–in effect, indirectly protecting T levels from stress.2
Resists oxidative stress
Another negative aspect of physical stress is the increase of serum level oxidation. While the hormone cortisol is more commonly associated with the negative effects of stress & over-training/-working, high levels of oxidative stress resulting from chronic physical activity also plays a major role in the deterioration of muscle tissue, strength, energy, & sexual function.
Similar to Rhodiola’s protection of the HPG axis, the adaptogen has been shown to keep serum oxidative biomarkers down to normal levels under conditions that would otherwise increase them to an excessive, harmful degree.3
Increases estrogen metabolism
Due to Rhodiola’s profound benefits on menopausal female health with regards to energy & cognition, researchers analyzed the herb’s interaction with estrogen receptors in a preliminary, preclinical study on female rats. Interestingly, Rhodiola didn’t possess estrogenic activity, but rather antiestrogenicity given the significant denaturation of estradiol (potent T-killing estrogen) to weaker estrogens following Rhodiola supplementation.
This may illustrate one of Rhodiola’s pro-T mechanisms that helps not only athletic men, but men & women in their later years who are at-risk of excessive estradiol levels.
While animal research on the subject of Rhodiola’s T-boosting potential is somewhat lacking, there are a two studies that may help us understand how Rhodiola helps T (especially in relation to stress & stress-related hormones):
Study #1 – The first study observed the effects of salidroside, one of the Rhodiola’s primary active constituents, on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis during exercise-induced stress. Blood samples of HPG-related hormones (T, corticosterone, ACTH, LH, & GnRH) were compared between the salidroside group & 2 control groups (non-stress control & training control) over a 10-day training period.
- The results found that, while the salidroside group didn’t increase T or decrease corticosterone (stress hormone), it maintained the HPG hormones to a healthy level comparable to the non-stress control group–whereas the training control group showed decreases in HPG health. This led to the conclusion that, under conditions of stress, “Salidroside therapy has protective effect on the HPG axis.”4
Study #2 – Observing female rats this time around, researchers in this study explored Rhodiola’s estrogenic potential by documenting the plant’s potential interactions with estrogen receptors in ovariectomized (surgical ovary removal) subjects. The intent was to find the mechanism underlying Rhodiola’s benefits on fatigue, depression, & cognition in menopausal women. However, Rhodiola showed to not only fail as a pro-estrogenic herb, but to work as a potential antiestrogen for its demonstrated ability to help increase metabolism of estradiol into weaker estrogens.5
While this last study doesn’t entirely translate to male health, considering the female sample, it illustrates anti-estrogen potential, which is an important aspect of boosting healthy testosterone levels–especially in the later years of life. At the least, Rhodiola seems to protect T levels, especially under conditions of physical & mental stress, but let’s see if this holds true in humans.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 26 healthy male students were distributed either 600 mg/day Rhodiola Std. Extract (3 daily servings of 200 mg tablets) or placebo for 4 weeks to assess Rhodiola’s effects on mental & physical performance, hormonal biomarkers (cortisol, testosterone, growth hormone), oxidative stress, and muscle damage.
- By the end of the study, the researchers found improvements in mental, but not physical performance. Additionally, total antioxidant capacity was significantly higher in the Rhodiola group compared to placebo, but not T or the T:Cortisol ratio–leading to the conclusion that Rhodiola ingestion aided mental performance via unspecified mechanisms, while increasing total antioxidant capacity. T, on the other hand, was not affected.6
Similar to the previous study, this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study took healthy student-aged men (n = 70) and randomly assigned them to a Rhodiola-Ginkgo Capsule (270 mg extracts, 4 capsules daily) group or a placebo group for 7 weeks to determine to duo’s effects on endurance performance, serum T & cortisol levels. The results:
- In terms of endurance performance, the RGC group showed improvements in maximal oxygen uptake when compared to placebo. And while they didn’t show any improvements in T & cortisol levels after 7 weeks, they avoided the T drop & cortisol boost represented by the placebo group, indicating that “Rhodiola and Ginkgo could improve the endurance performance by increasing oxygen consumption and protecting against fatigue” (i.e. protecting against the endocrine markers of “overtraining”: low T, high cortisol).7
Rhodiola protects T and reduces oxidative stress during physical activity.
Taken naturally (i.e. as a powder or tea), Rhodiola Rosea dosages widely vary based on usage & intent. The same applies for Rhodiola supplements, as well, considering that different brands use different extracts, which require unique dosages. However, on average, if you’re supplementing Rhodiola for testosterone and/or athletic performance, dosages range from:
- 200 mg – 600 mg daily
Some manufacturers recommend starting with conservatively lower dosages (~100 mg/day), adding another daily serving every few days while keeping a close monitor on effects & side effects. Bear in mind that while Rhodiola can induce acute “stimulatory” effects, it may take a few weeks of supplementation before any noticeable enhancements in performance take effect.
In general, if dosaged correctly, Rhodiola does not seem to produce any significant side effects. Occasional reports of side effects are rare & mild, centering around “stimulant”-related conditions such as:
However, as we mentioned, starting with a conservative dosage and progressively increasing your daily intake over time seems the safest bet for avoiding any risk of side effect with Rhodiola.
Rhodiola can be naturally consumed as a tea or powder or supplemented as a capsule, tablet, or liquid–which typically come in the forms of:
- Plain Rhodiola. Plain, raw Rhodiola, dried & ground to a powder. Offers the least bioactivity.
- Rhodiola Standardized Extract. Often presented in the range of 3% rosavins, 1% salidroside.10, which features a standardized ratio of bioactive constituents shown to possess clinical effect.
Take note: Standalone adaptogens can do wonders for male health, but stacked with other T-booster ingredients and the bar’s raised even higher. Think of them as the ingredients to establish the homeostatic base with which to build on with other T-boosters. This is where the “boosting” angle really comes into play with herbs such as Rhodiola. Click here for more T-boosters.
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Rhodiola rosea, standardized to 3% rosavins, 1% salidroside, 200 mg – 600 mg daily.
Adaptogens “normalize,” not boost. Technically, this article should be titled “Rhodiola as a Testosterone Normalizer” considering that adaptogens don’t necessarily boost bodily parameters so much as they maintain them under harsh conditions. For that, don’t expect massive ergogenic increases simply from supplementation, but expect massive resistance to otherwise degrading health effects.
Standardized Rhodiola sits on the most positive research. Many users who jump into Rhodiola supplementation pull themselves out disappointed, unknowingly burning themselves with a weak-potency form. For best results, stick with standardized extract. It’s been used not only in T-boosting studies, but in various health-related research.
- Brekham II, Dardymov IV. New Substances of Plant Origin which Increase Nonspecific Resistance. Annual Review of Pharmacology. 1969 Apr; 9: 419-30. ↩
- Abascal K, Yarnell E. Increasing Vitality with Adaptogens: Multifacted Herbs for Treating Physical and Mental Stress. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2004 Jul; 9(2): 54-60. ↩
- Panossian A et al. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): Traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine. 2010 Jun; 17(7): 481-93. ↩
- Wang Q et al. Salidroside protects the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonad axis of male rats undergoing negative psychological stress in experimental navigation and intensive exercise. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2009 Apr; 15(4): 331-6. ↩
- Eagon PK et al. Evaluation of the medicinal botanical Rhodiola rosea for estrogenicity. Endocrinology. 2004 Apr; 64(7): 663. ↩
- Jówko E et al. Effects of Rhodiola rosea supplementation on mental performance, physical capacity, and oxidative stress biomarkers in healthy men. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2016 May 20. ↩
- Zhang ZJ et al. Dietary supplement with a combination of Rhodiola crenulata and Ginkgo biloba enhances the endurance performance in healthy volunteers. Chin J Integr Med. 2009 Jun; 15(3): 177-83. ↩
- Hung SK et al. The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 2011 Feb 15; 18(4): 235-44. ↩
- Booker A et al. The authenticity and quality of Rhodiola rosea products. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15; 23(7): 754-62. ↩
- Ross SM. Rhodiola rosea (SHR-5), Part I: a proprietary root extract of Rhodiola rosea is found to be effective in the treatment of stress-related fatigue. Holist Nurs Pract. 2014 Mar-Apr; 28(2): 149-54. ↩