Rhodiola and ginseng are herbal supplements obtained from the roots of plants, but from unrelated plant families. Both have a long history of use in traditional medicine and they provide a few of the same health benefits. Always talk to your health care provider before using herbal supplements because they may interact with other medications or cause side effects.
Rhodiola rosea, also called "golden root," belongs to the Crassulaceae family of plants that thrive in cool mountainous regions. Asian ginseng and American ginseng belong to the Panax family and have similar active ingredients, but should not be confused with other types of ginseng that have different effects; Siberian ginseng and American ginseng are not the same.
Rhodiola and ginseng function as antioxidants. They’re both associated with improved physical endurance, increased mental alertness and reduced fatigue. Rhodiola and ginseng are also used for cardiovascular benefits. Ginseng may decrease cholesterol, while rhodiola improves levels of substances called monoamines that keep blood pressure under control. rhodiola and ginseng are adaptogens — a generic term meaning that they help the body deal with stress.
Rhodiola exhibits antidepressant effects and may help reduce anxiety, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering. It assists the movement of neurotransmitters in the brain and functions as a central nervous stimulant. Rhodiola may cause irritability or insomnia, and may interfere with a variety of different medications, so if you take any prescription medications, talk to your doctor before using rhodiola.
The active ingredients in ginseng, called ginsenosides, stimulate the immune system and may help control blood glucose. They also help reduce inflammation following physical activity. Ginseng may reduce the risk of some cancers, but since it has an estrogenic effect, it should not be used if you have hormone-sensitive cancer. It may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, nervousness, dry mouth and an increased heart rate. If you take insulin, anticoagulants or monoamine oxidase inhibitors, do not use ginseng before consulting your physician.
Conflicting claims and less-than-definitive statements that rhodiola or ginseng may have an effect, can be confusing. These herbs contain biologically active substances that have beneficial effects. However, they also contain ingredients that demonstrate opposite effects in the body, according to the University of Chicago. These diverse effects can lead to contradictory information. Research continues to provide new information about how rhodiola and ginseng function.