Ashwagandha vs. Rhodiola: Is There Evidence Behind the Hype? was written by Laura Ugwuoke and reviewed/edited by Rivah Goldstein MScFN, RD and Jackie Silver MHSc, RD
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be personalized medical or nutrition advice. For a plan tailored to your needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or qualified healthcare professional.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links with which I may earn a small commission but at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help bloggers like me to provide you with free content. All opinions expressed here are genuine.
Last updated: June 20, 2023
Both Ashwagandha and Rhodiola are categorized as adaptogenic herbs. Before considering the benefits of Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola and the evidence behind them, we first need to understand what an adaptogen is.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are active ingredients found in certain herbal plants and mushrooms. People take them to better adapt to stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
These adaptogens work by targeting certain elements in our body that make us more stressed, anxious, or tired. They’ve been used in traditional medicine like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.
Interest in herbal medicine has increased in recent years, with Ashwagandha and Rhodiola gaining significant media attention for their potential health benefits. However, when it comes to Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola, is there true evidence behind the hype?
To decide, let’s dive into the evidence behind the qualities and benefits of Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola. Let’s start with Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is also known as “Indian winter cherry, Indian ginseng, or Withania somnifera” and is a popular herb in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Ayurvedic medicine is a traditional holistic healing system that originated in ancient India, and it is considered one of the oldest medical systems in the world. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
Ashwagandha gained interest for its reported effects on the following symptoms:
Ashwagandha vs. Rhodiola: The Evidence on Ashwagandha
How can Ashwagandha help, according to the research?
The evidence from non-human studies (i.e. rat studies) suggest that Ashwagandha may have a wide range of health benefits, but the evidence from human studies is variable and more long term research is needed before we can make firm conclusions.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: Main benefits of Ashwagandha
- Anxiety and stress relief (here is a high quality study)
- Reduction in cortisol (the hormone our bodies release when we are stressed).
- May improve total sleep time and sleep quality in people with and without insomnia.
- May improve testosterone levels and sexual performance in men but more research is needed to confirm this.
Drawbacks of these studies
When we talk about low-quality studies, it means that the findings may not apply well to humans in general. For instance, when experiments are conducted on rats, it’s harder to apply those results to humans. Likewise, if there are only a few subjects involved in a study, it’s also challenging to make broad conclusions for the entire population.
Although there is some reliable evidence from human studies, having more studies to validate the results would be even better.
Health Canada has approved Ashwagandha for the following uses:
- For traditional uses in Ayurvedic medicine
- As an adaptogen to increase energy and reduce stress
- As a sleep aid
- Note: A healthcare provider should be consulted if sleeplessness persists for longer than 4 weeks while taking Ashwagandha.
- Avoid taking Ashwagandha with alcohol or products that cause drowsiness.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: Are there any negative side effects of Ashwagandha?
While Ashwagandha is generally considered safe in small to moderate doses, people should proceed with caution when taking Ashwagandha.
It is best to have a conversation with your healthcare professional on the best course of action when taking any new natural supplements.
Ashwagandha supplementation may lead to the following side effects:
- Upset stomach
- Negative interaction with certain drugs
- May be unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women
There is not enough current research that fully examines the possible side effects of Ashwagandha, so it is best to proceed with caution.
For Ashwagandha supplements:
The most common dosage for Ashwagandha is 600 mg daily, divided into two doses, with one taken in the morning and the other taken in the evening.
There is currently not enough evidence to show a greater benefit with a dosage higher than 600 mg per day.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: What is Rhodiola?
What is Rhodiola?
It is also called arctic root, golden root, or Rhodiola rosea (its scientific name).
Similar to Ashwagandha, Rhodiola is an adaptogen as it may help the body respond better to stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: How can Rhodiola help?
Rhodiola has gained interest for its reported effects on the following:
- Reduced stress and fatigue
- Increased mental performance under stressful conditions
- May have antidepressant effects
- Potential anti-inflammatory effects
- Possible antioxidant properties
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: The evidence on Rhodiola
Similar to Ashwagandha, most studies done on Rhodiola have been limited to non-human populations (i.e. rats, fruit flies, worms, yeast).
Recent studies have found Rhodiola to have the following effects on human populations:
- Reduced stress and fatigue
- Increased mental performance and energy
- Slight improvement in anxiety and depressive symptoms
Drawbacks of these studies
One problem with these studies is that they had a small number of participants (only 12-60 participants per study). This small study size makes it harder to apply the findings to a larger group of people.
For the studies related to anxiety and depression, there were more participants (198-235), but there weren’t many studies conducted on this topic. It would be better if there were more studies done to confirm these results.
More research is needed to confirm whether Rhodiola can have these same effects in humans.
Health Canada has approved Rhodiola for adults over the age of 18 in a dosage no greater than 680 mg per day and 200 mg per single dose for the following uses:
- As an adaptogen to relieve symptoms of stress
- To support cognitive function (such as to increase focus)
- As a source of antioxidants
Contraindications: Rhodiola should not be used if you have bipolar disorder or bipolar spectrum disorder.
- Consult a healthcare provider prior to use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Consult a healthcare provider prior to use if you are taking antidepressant medication or hormone replacement therapy.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: Does Rhodiola have any negative side effects?
Rhodiola is considered safe for consumption when taken for a short to moderate duration (months to one year).
In the current research, reports of adverse effects are rare, however in one study a small number of people experienced:
- Dry mouth
Another study showed that Rhodiola interacted with liver enzymes in the body. Liver enzymes help process drugs that enter the body. Therefore, if someone takes a certain drug and Rhodiola, there is a chance that Rhodiola can change the way the body processes the drug.
To prevent fatigue, Rhodiola has been beneficial at a 50 mg dose.
Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola: Is There Evidence Behind the Hype?
When it comes to comparing Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola, two popular adaptogens, people wonder if there is scientific evidence to support their claimed benefits.
Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine that can help relieve stress. Studies suggest that it may be good for managing anxiety, reducing stress hormone levels, and improving sleep. However, more research is needed to fully understand its effects on different health conditions.
Rhodiola, another herbal remedy, is known for increasing energy levels, improving focus, and potentially helping with depression and anxiety. It also may have antioxidant properties that protect the body. More research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.
When comparing Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola, they have different potential strengths. Rhodiola is favored for fighting fatigue while improving focus and boosting energy. People might prefer Rhodiola if they are looking to boost their energy levels while reducing tiredness.
On the other hand, Ashwagandha is known for its calming properties and its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. People might prefer Ashwagandha if they are looking for calmness and relaxation.
While there is excitement surrounding Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola, it is essential to approach their benefits with caution.
Although there is some evidence to support their potential benefits, further research is needed to understand how they work and how to best use these herbs. We recommend consulting a healthcare professional before taking Ashwagandha or Rhodiola.
Both Ashwagandha and Rhodiola come with their own set of complications and risks. As with any herbal supplement, it is important to consider health risks and other medical factors that might interfere with you incorporating either Ashwagandha or Rhodiola into your routine.
It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, are taking medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. They can guide you on the proper dosage, potential interactions, and address any specific concerns you may have.
Lifestyle Alternatives for Stress Management
Instead of relying on supplements, there are lifestyle choices that offer a lower risk alternative to managing stress. These choices can give us the benefits we seek without potential side effects.
This could include:
- Increasing exercise and movement: Regular physical activity like walking or playing sports can make us stronger, improve our mood, boost energy, and help us sleep better. It also releases chemicals in our brain called endorphins which make us feel good and reduce stress.
- Engaging in mindfulness and meditation: This involves doing activities that help us focus on the present moment, like deep breathing or guided meditation. Mindfulness activities help us become more self-aware, reduce stress, and can help us manage our emotions better.
- Improving sleep: Improving the quality of our sleep is important too! By having a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, we can sleep better and feel less stressed. Good sleep can also improve our mood and help us focus better during the day.
- Eating a balanced diet: When we eat nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats, we give our body the energy it needs to function properly. Stable energy levels can support our brain and mental health.
- Meaningful social connection: Building meaningful relationships can also be helpful for managing stress. Spending time with loved ones, participating in social events, and being part of a community can provide us with emotional support. These relationships can make us feel more connected and reduce stress, which can help us cope better.
In this blog, we have presented the available evidence on Ashwaghanda vs Rhodiola to help you make an informed decision. Choosing between Ashwagandha vs Rhodiola depends on what works best for you. While these supplements may help with stress, focus, and energy, more research is needed. Other lifestyle choices like exercise, mindfulness, and a balanced diet can also improve wellbeing.
Please talk to a healthcare professional for personalized advice. Remember, everyone’s body is different, so be mindful of how supplements affect you.
Looking for more evidence-based blog posts?
- Vitamins for picky eaters
- Protein for ADHD
- Nutrition for wound healing
- What to eat after surgery
- Nutrition for neurogenic bowel and bladder
Meet Laura Ugwuoke, a wellness advocate with a deep-rooted passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle. Armed with a BSc in Nutrition from UBC and actively working towards a degree in Dietetics and Nutrition, Laura possesses a wealth of knowledge to guide individuals on their path to wellness. Embracing the belief that wellness should be inclusive and available to all, Laura is committed to breaking down barriers and making healthy choices accessible. Beyond the world of nutrition, you’ll often find Laura unwinding and enjoying the latest binge-worthy series on Netflix, finding joy in a well-deserved moment of relaxation.
Jackie is a Toronto-based Registered Dietitian whose mission is to empower and support the neurodivergent and physically disabled communities through nutrition. Jackie runs a virtual private practice and blog which has simple recipes and health information tailored to these communities. She loves cooking, exercising, traveling, journaling, and spending time with family and friends.