Review Suggests that Rhodiola Plants Augment Immunity

Many immunomodulators, which regulate or maintain a person’s immunity, are derived from plants. Rhodiola (golden root; Rhodiola rosea, Crassulaceae), native to the high-altitude regions of Asia, Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere, has been used historically to boost immunity, increase energy, and improve mental capacity. Other species from the genus Rhodiola are used for medicinal purposes. These authors conducted a review of the therapeutic and prophylactic effects of Rhodiola spp. on various experimental models.

Constituents of the rhizome, considered the plant’s most important part, include salidroside, which has shown anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic activities, and rhodionin and rhodiosin, which decrease lipids in the blood. Rhodiola‘s potent anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic effects seen in a sepsis mice model were attributed to its compound salidroside. Mishra et al.1 identified adjuvant activity of Rhodiola rhizome with strong antigen tetanus toxoid and weak antigen ovalbumin in rats, reporting an increase in antigen-specific antibodies stimulating the humoral immune response.

The authors cite several studies reporting Rhodiola‘s protective effects on gut immunity. In an animal study, a group of broiler chickens fed the highest amount of da hua hong jing tian (R. crenulata) experienced significantly greater body weight loss and decreased food intake compared with a control group and a low-intake group.2

Aqueous and hydroalcoholic extracts of R. rosea have slowed the growth of tumors and improved the microenvironment of tumors. In a study of 130 patients with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy who had chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis, the white blood cell counts in patients receiving R. algida orally for 14 days returned to normal levels faster than those in the control patients. The investigators further reported that R. algida increased immunity and decreased the number of oral ulcers in those patients. Other studies report anticancer effects of other Rhodiola species, including red brush (R. quadrifida) and arctic root (R. imbricata).

In vitro, the aqueous extract of Rhodiola rhizome has shown antiviral immune response against the Dengue virus in human monocytes, and salidroside from R. rosea has exhibited potent antiviral effects against the virus that causes viral myocarditis. In a study conducted in marathon athletes, the investigators report that the intake of R. rosea extract 30 days before the race, on the day of the race, and seven days after the race protected against virus replication by inducing antiviral activity.

Da hua hong jing tian has been shown to protect the nervous system from oxidative damage induced by free radicals. Antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antifibrotic activities of salidroside (in various doses for 28 days) were reported in rats with bleomycin-induced lung fibrotic injuries, “proving Rhodiola as [a] potent anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory immunomodulator,” conclude this review’s authors.

With aging comes deterioration of a person’s immune system. Results of a study on male Wistar rats revealed that salidroside increases immunity with aging when given for 45 days continuously, “suggesting the role of salidroside in rejuvenation and as an anti-aging agent,” write the authors.

The development of depression may be caused by inflammation in the brain where innate and adaptive immune systems interact with neurotransmitters. In a study of 57 humans with mild to moderate depression, the odds of improvement were lower in the patients who took Rhodiola for 12 weeks compared with those who were treated with the conventional therapy drug sertraline, but significantly fewer adverse effects and better tolerability were reported with the Rhodiola intervention.

Investigators who fed the R. rosea compounds rhodionin and rhodiosin to mice reported suppressed blood triglyceride levels and concluded that the compounds might be used to treat lifestyle-related disease such as hyperlipidemia.

Antifatigue properties of R. rosea extract were reported in 56 healthy, young physicians working regular night shifts3 and in mice through improved treadmill-running times.4

The mechanism behind the actions of Rhodiola species has not been clearly established and should be investigated further, say the authors.

The authors conclude that “golden root augments immunity in various ways” and “can be considered as a wonder extract, which can beneficially affect all the parts of [the] body.”

The study received financial support from the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.


1Mishra KP, Chanda S, Shukla K, Ganju L. Adjuvant effect of aqueous extract of Rhodiola imbricata rhizome on the immune responses to tetanus toxoid and ovalbumin in rats. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2010;32(1):141-146.

2Li L, Wang H, Zhao X. Effects of Rhodiola on production, health and gut development of broilers reared at high altitude in Tibet. Sci Rep. 2014;4:7166. doi: 10.1038/srep07166.

3Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue — a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(5):365-371.

4Kang DZ, Hong HD, Kim KI, Choi SY. Anti-fatigue effects of fermented Rhodiola rosea extract in mice. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2015;20(1):38-42. 

Khanna K, Mishra KP, Ganju L, Singh SB. Golden root: a wholesome treat of immunity. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;87:496-502.

One comment

  • Rhodiola? I think of crassulaceous plants as merely ornamental. (I do happen to like jade plant, even if it is old fashioned.) I don’t know why that name sounds familiar. Maybe it just sounds like Rhody.

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