As a botanical supplement, roseroot (Rhodiola rosea) already has a lot going for it. Traditional healers in Scandinavian countries, Russia, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia use the root of this succulent plant to fight fatigue and enhance mood—and clinical studies back that up, finding that roseroot supplements…

  • Improve physical and mental performance.
  • Reduce fatigue caused by stress.
  • Relieve anxiety.
  • Treat mild-to-moderate depression.

Now a new study suggests a new benefit—helping a weary body fight off infection.


At Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, researchers tested roseroot on runners before and after a marathon. They chose marathoners because the body’s immune system is weakened for up to 72 hours after a high-intensity workout such as a marathon, so marathoners are more susceptible to the viruses that cause colds and flu.

Researchers randomly divided 48 runners, both men and women, into two groups. One group received a placebo…the other 600 mg of rhodiola. Each group took their pills daily for one month before, the day of and one week after the race. The researchers drew blood the day before the marathon and then 15 and 90 minutes after the race was run. They exposed the blood samples to large amounts of a particularly virulent strain of virus.

Results: The blood of the rhodiola-taking marathoners, compared with the blood of placebo-popping runners, was much better at fighting off the virus.


This study doesn’t prove that taking rhodiola wards off colds or flu. But it does suggest that in people who are run down and thereby susceptible to infections, the botanical supplement may provide an antiviral boost. And it might indirectly help our bodies stave off infection by improving our ability to handle stress and fatigue, which also lower immunity.

That’s because rhodiola is an adaptogen, according naturopathic physician Andrew L. Rubman, ND, Health Insider’s contributing medical editor. Adaptogens work at the cellular level to moderate the body’s response to stress, enhancing the immune response and smoothing the release of stress hormones. “Rhodiola helps you adapt to physical, psychological and emotional stressors, regulating your body’s responses to prevent stress from turning into distress.”


If you’re interested in trying rhodiola, says Dr. Rubman, work with a health-care provider who can consult your medical history. One reason: It could interact with medications as well as other botanical supplements that you may be taking for diabetes, high blood pressure or depression. On the plus side, the supplement may be a replacement for some pharmaceutical medications. It’s commonly prescribed as a natural alternative for sertraline (Zoloft)—especially for patients bothered by sertraline side effects such nausea and loss of sex drive. That’s a big plus. Rhodiola is generally safe, with mild, and infrequent, side effects such as dizziness and dry mouth. Even if you aren’t taking other medications or supplements, he says, it’s always a good idea to work with your health-care provider when you start a new supplement.

People take either whole rhodiola rosea root or rhodiola rosea extract. Dr. Rubman recommends the whole root, which is more likely to contain all the beneficial elements of the plant—plus, in his experience, the concentrated extract can sometimes cause digestive discomfort. But no matter which you take, be sure the product is called “rhodiola rosea” and not just “rhodiola,” since that’s the form that’s been studied.

Some research suggests that rhodiola’s effectiveness wears off eventually, so you don’t want to take it indefinitely for chronic stress. It’s better to use it for a relatively short period of time when you’re under particular stress and strain. Dr. Rubman generally prescribes 340 mg of whole-root rhodiola extract on an empty stomach, twice a day, for up to 10 weeks. You can also try it out on and off for two-week increments, he says. It’s fine to take it along with other supplements you may be taking to ward off colds and flu, such as Echinacea and vitamin C.

If you do try it, leave a comment below and let us know how it goes!