A Happy Pill That Energizes? Where Can I Get Some?

A Happy Pill That Energizes? Where Can I Get Some?
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One of my favorite supplements of all time is…Rhodiola rosea. Why is it one of my favorites? Well…my patients call it the ‘happy pill’ and it gives my patients energy. So, at the end of the day, energy and good mood pretty much transcends a lot of capabilities of other supplements. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great supplements out there…I don’t really have a favorite child per se but this one…this one is pretty amazing.

Here’s why…

When my patients come into my integrative medicine in San Jose, CA asking for energy, a lot of the energy boosting supplements like ginseng or licorice require more monitoring including lab work and possibly daily blood pressure and heart rate monitoring. For rhodiola, the most important thing to watch out for as far as daily monitoring goes for a non-medical person, is really just don’t take it if it’s making you anxious and jittery or if it’s causing insomnia or palpitations. But that’s true of even caffeine found in coffee. So, in general, it’s pretty benign.

One thing that is truly important to know about rhodiola though is that if you are on an anti-depressant medication or any psychiatric medications, you should clear with your doctor first before using since it can have some serotonin effects and so you don’t want too much and you don’t want it to interact with your psychiatric medications. If you are on any psychiatric medications, err on not taking it unless your doctor approves. Also, for those of you with bipolar disorder or have mania or major anxiety issues, be careful with rhodiola, it can worsen symptoms so talk to your doctor before you try it.

Now that we’ve gotten the safety discussion over with, let’s get to the fun stuff…

There have been human studies done that have demonstrated the benefits of rhodiola in getting us more energy and for helping with mild to moderate depression. Obviously, if your depression is severe, this won’t be enough, so please talk to your doctor about your symptoms instead of just randomly starting supplements on your own. But for those of you who want more energy or just a little bit of a mood pick-me-up…let me introduce you to the happy pill friend that many of my patients love…

Let me start off with a few studies about the positive impact rhodiola has on energy.

In a study of 56 doctors working the night shift, they were given 2 weeks of rhodiola or placebo therapy and then given 2 weeks of washout period to see how their energy was without the placebo or rhodiola and then another 2-week period of placebo or rhodiola therapy. What they saw in the study was that those given 2 weeks of rhodiola therapy had statistically significant improvement in fatigue and cognitive function abilities (2). There were no major side effects reported in this study (2). In another study with 60 participants, they were randomized to 576mg/day of rhodiola or placebo. They were treated for 28 days and the outcome showed statistical significance in adrenal function via cortisol measurement and also with symptom/energy improvement (3).

So, let’s say your energy is pretty good…who wouldn’t want better mood?

In a study that lasted over 6 weeks, patients showed significant improvement in mild to moderate depression when given 340-680mg/day of rhodiola. They saw improvement in overall depression, insomnia, emotional instability and somatization, but not self-esteem.

These are just three examples of how great rhodiola is…not to mention what I see in my patients as far as positive outcome goes in my clinic.

At the end of the day, working on lifestyle habits like meditation, getting enough sleep, avoiding processed foods/alcohol/sugars, exercising and spending time with loved ones will keep your energy and mood up. But if you go through periods where you can’t get it quite perfect on these factors (and we all know sometimes that just happens), check out rhodiola if your doctor says it’s fine…it might just end up being your “happy pill best friend” as well.


1. Darbinyan V, et al. Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 61 (5). 2007. 343-348.

2. Darbinyan V, et al. 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. 7(5). 2000. 365-371.

3. Olsson, EMG, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardized extract SHR-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 75(2). 2009. 105-112.

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