The medicinal herb rhodiola, also known as golden root, originates in the high-altitude regions of Northern Europe and Asia. Herbalists commonly regard rhodiola as an adaptogen. Herbs in this class, which may include ginseng, ashwagandha and eleuthero, enable the body to adapt to stress with fewer changes in appetite, sleep, mood or sexual health. Although rhodiola is generally regarded as safe, it may cause side effects in some individuals. Consult your health care provider before using rhodiola, especially if you have a medical condition.
A 2008 pilot study at the University of California suggested that rhodiola can ease the symptoms of anxiety in people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Although the results of the study are encouraging, naturopathic physician Ray Sahelian warns against rhodiola's use as a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders. Dr. Sahelian states that rhodiola can have stimulant-like effects and may worsen the symptoms of anxiety for some individuals. Use rhodiola with caution if you are prone to "jitters" from stimulants such as caffeine and ephedrine.
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Participants in the University of California study reported dry mouth as the primary side effect associated with rhodiola supplements. This symptom, clinically known as xerostomia, is ultimately harmless. However, it can be very uncomfortable and may impede a rhodiola user's quality of life. The Mayo Clinic recommends using humidifiers, chewing gum and alcohol-free mouthwash to ease dry mouth. Tell your health care provider if this side effect persists.
The authors of the 2008 University of California study listed dizziness as a common side effect associated with rhodiola. This side effect is usually mild and may relate to the stimulant effects of the herb. Consult a health care provider promptly if you experience dizziness accompanied by nausea, chest pain or mental dysfunction.
High doses of rhodiola can trigger episodes of restlessness and insomnia, according to Dr. Sahelian. To avoid this side effect, take rhodiola only in the morning or early afternoon, when it is least likely to interfere with your sleep cycle. This side effect may be more significant for people who use other stimulants, including caffeine and nicotine.
Dr. Sahelian acknowledges rhodiola's potential as a treatment option for cardiovascular conditions, but he does not recommend it because no studies have confirmed its safety and efficacy. Sahelian reports that very high doses of rhodiola may trigger heart palpitations. Use rhodiola with extreme caution, and only under the supervision of a health care provider, if you have a cardiovascular condition or a history of tachycardia.