Mood and Performance Optimization with Rhodiola and Saffron
Share this post
Rhodiola and/or saffron may be just what you need to enhance mood, energy, and sexual function
As the summer dwindles and darkness approaches, many of us are looking for things to help sustain us through the darker days and cooler weather. Whether we struggle with energy, mood, or simply just a lack of outdoor activities and motivation when darkness exceeds daylight, it tends to be a time where we are looking for something “more.” Often, there are nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to a wide array of symptoms such as these that we far too quickly deem “the winter doldrums,” or clinically, as seasonal affective disorder. In addition to vitamin D, magnesium and the B vitamins B12, B6, and folate are essential nutrients that many individuals experience a deficiency of that also can contribute to symptoms of fatigue, depression, or anxiety. ,,,,,,,,
In addition to addressing nutritional deficiencies that may lead to dysfunction, botanical medicine is often “where it’s at” when addressing a larger scope of problems that have related underpinnings. Botanicals have numerous active constituents leading to the wide array of applications we find when we study their traditional use. Nowadays, botanical extracts are standardized to certain constituents that have been shown to mediate these effects, such that we can better research and apply them clinically. However, despite this standardization, they still contain substantial amounts of other bioactive principles, phytonutrients, and antioxidants which lead to their broad scope of action. Two botanicals that offer an array of benefits with regards to mood and physical function are rhodiola and saffron, discussed at length herein.
Rhodiola: the golden root
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), commonly known as golden or artic root, is an adaptogenic herb with a long history of use in Russia and Eastern Europe, where it grows in high mountainous regions. Rhodiola is revered for its ability to increase the resistance to physical, chemical, and biological stressors. It was reviewed in the Annual Review of Pharmacology as early as 1969, and now has an abundance of data that supports its reputation of improving physical and mental capabilities with acute or prolonged administration.
Rhodiola has been shown in clinical studies to positively impact mental health in settings ranging from “burnout,” which we all experience from time to time, to major depression, which some of us unfortunately also encounter.
Improved endurance exercise performance,, reduced lactate levels and markers of skeletal muscle damage after exhaustive exercise, and increased antioxidant capacity have all been seen in clinical studies investigating rhodiola’s impact on physical performance. Because rhodiola is an herb found at high altitude, it is perhaps not surprising that some of its demonstrated benefits are also related to this setting, with improvements in sleep quality at altitude in humans and improved altitude adaptation in animals being additional observations of scientific studies. A reduction of psychic and physical fatigue and enhanced mental performance in stress-related settings have also been demonstrated in humans with standardized extracts of rhodiola.,,
Rhodiola has been shown in clinical studies to positively impact mental health in settings ranging from “burnout,” which we all experience from time to time, to major depression, which some of us unfortunately also encounter. The active constituents found in rhodiola have been shown to impact the levels and transport of neurotransmitters in the brain, in part by acting as an inhibitor of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO)-A which breaks down serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.,,,
In mildly anxious individuals, 200 mg of a rhodiola extract taken twice daily was shown to significantly reduce self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion, and depression compared to placebo after supplementation for two weeks. Similar results were observed in a pilot study of individuals with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, where supplementation of 340 mg of a standardized rhodiola extract daily for 10 weeks significantly decreased anxiety scores. In depressed individuals, the same amount taken once or twice daily decreased overall depressive symptoms, emotional instability, insomnia, and somatization., In a study comparing rhodiola to placebo as well as a common antidepressant medication, although the odds of improvement with the medication were slightly greater, there was approximately twice as many adverse events in those treated with the medication. Adverse events experienced with rhodiola were generally mild and included nervousness and dizziness, while individuals taking the medication reported sexual dysfunction, nausea, palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Because of its effects on neurotransmitter balance, and its observed action as a mild stimulant, rhodiola should be used with caution with medications that impact serotonin and in those with bipolar disorder, as manic episodes may be triggered with the use of antidepressants or stimulants., Additionally, rhodiola should not be taken later in the day due to possible adverse effects it may have on sleep.
Saffron: red gold for mood and sexual health?
Saffron (Crocus sativus) has long been a revered and expensive botanical. Known as “red gold,” this valuable spice and medicinal botanical is from the stigma of the plant, hand-harvested from the flower, primarily in Iran and surrounding regions. With approximately 200,000 strands of saffron per pound, it shouldn’t be surprising that a small volume of the herb obtained from such a labor-intensive process would be quite expensive – reputedly costing somewhere between $11 to $35 per gram at local markets in regions where it is harvested.
Daily supplementation of a saffron extract also has been observed to significantly improve mood and overall symptoms in women with premenstrual syndrome.
Fortunately, very small amounts of this herb have been shown to be effective medicinally. In addition to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, digestive, cardioprotective, and anticarcinogenic properties of this botanical, it also has been shown to improve mood symptoms in adults and children and sexual function in both men and women. Saffron also boasts cognitive benefits with positive clinical findings in both attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.,, Daily supplementation of a saffron extract also has been observed to significantly improve mood and overall symptoms in women with premenstrual syndrome.
The primary bioactive compounds found in saffron are crocin, crocetin, safranal, and picrocrocin, although trace amounts of the carotenoids lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin also may exist., Studies suggest that the carotenoids safranal and crocin interact with GABA receptors, modulate levels of serotonin, and alter levels of dopamine and norepinephrine., Animal studies suggest that crocin mediates the aphrodisiac effects of saffron, while the whole herb or its extract also have been shown to promote healthy blood flow by activating nitric oxide synthase,, which may be another means by which it improves sexual response in both men and women.
In numerous human studies, treatment with saffron has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In numerous human studies, treatment with saffron has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. In a six-week study of 40 individuals with moderate depression, 30 mg/day of an extract of saffron was shown to significantly improve depression scores (as assessed by the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale for depression) compared to placebo, with scores decreasing more than 12 points in the group receiving saffron and only 5 points in the placebo group. In a study of adults having both anxiety and depression, 12 weeks of treatment with 50 mg of saffron twice daily had a significant effect on both anxiety and depression scores compared to placebo. A 2013 meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials in adults found a large effect size with supplementation of saffron compared to placebo, while when compared to various pharmaceutical antidepressants the effect size was null, indicating these treatments were similarly effective.
The use of saffron as a treatment for depression and anxiety also has been studied in adolescents. In an eight-week study of adolescents ages 12 to 16 with mild to moderate depression or anxiety, supplementation of 14 mg of a standardized extract of saffron twice daily was associated with greater improvements in self-reported scores of internalizing symptoms, separation anxiety, social phobia, and depression, while significantly greater improvements compared to placebo were seen at varying time points in scores of generalized anxiety and obsessions/compulsions in both the self-reported and parent-reported scores.
Clinical studies have also shown saffron improves male and female sexual dysfunction, including dysfunction related to the use of antidepressant medications.
Clinical studies have also assessed the effect of saffron on women and men with sexual dysfunction, including dysfunction related to the use of antidepressant medications, which commonly have sexual side effects. In women ages 18 to 39 with sexual dysfunction (not related to medication use), supplementation with 15 mg of a saffron extract twice daily significantly improved excitement and desire by four weeks, with all aspects of sexual dysfunction except lubrication and pain improved compared to those receiving the placebo by eight weeks. In healthy men ages 26 to 62 who had erectile dysfunction (not attributable to obvious causes including diabetes), higher doses of a saffron extract (200 mg a day) taken for 10 days was shown to improve various parameters of sexual function including erectile function, as assessed by a standard clinical assessment technique. Improvements in semen parameters have also been observed with regular saffron supplementation, making it worthy of consideration for infertility issues as well.
In women who experienced sexual dysfunction after beginning treatment with fluoxetine for major depression, supplementation with 15 mg of an extract of saffron twice daily for 4 weeks significantly improved total sexual function index scores compared to placebo. Significant improvements were observed in scores related to arousal, lubrication, and pain compared to placebo, although desire, satisfaction, and orgasm were not significantly improved. A similar study looked at the impact of the same therapeutic regime on male sexual dysfunction related to antidepressant treatment, also finding improvements in total scores compared to placebo, with the primary benefits attributed to improved erectile function. In both of these studies, subjects were age 18 to 45 and stabile on an antidepressant medication for 6 weeks with the onset (or significant worsening) of sexual symptoms associated with treatment initiation.
Saffron has been shown to be very safe and has no known drug-herb interactions. In each of these studies, the frequency of adverse effects was similar to placebo, and those experienced were mild in severity.
Clearly, the data suggests rhodiola and saffron may have substantial effects on mood as well as different aspects of physical performance. For those who experience dysfunction in these realms, these botanicals may be worthy of further investigation to see if they also may work for you. As always, when using a botanical with potential medication interaction effects, the use of such therapies should be under the guidance of a trained practitioner.
Click here to see References
 Autier P, et al. Vitamin D status and ill health: a systematic review. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014 Jan;2(1):76-89.
 Wallace TC, et al. Multivitamin/mineral supplement contribution to micronutrient intakes in the United States, 2007-2010. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):94-102.
 Bermond P. Therapy of side effects of oral contraceptive agents with vitamin B6. Acta Vitaminol Enzymol. 1982;4(1-2):45-54.
 Cox IM, et al. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet. 1991 Mar 30;337(8744):757-60.
 Regland B, et al. Increased concentrations of homocysteine in the cerebrospinal fluid in patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Scand J Rheumatol. 1997;26(4):301-7.
 Wolffenbuttel BHR, et al. The many faces of cobalamin (Vitamin B12) deficiency. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2019 May 27;3(2):200-14.
 Hutto BR. Folate and cobalamin in psychiatric illness. Compr Psychiatry. 1997;38(6):305-14.
 Stewart JW, et al. Low B6 levels in depressed outpatients. Biol Psychiatry. 1984 Apr;19(4):613-6.
 Boyle NB, et al. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress- a systematic review. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 26;9(5):429.
 Kelly GS. Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Jun;6(3):293-302.
 Brekhman II, Dardymov IV. New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. Annu Rev Pharmacol. 1969;9:419-30.
 Noreen EE, et al. The effects of an acute dose of Rhodiola rosea on endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):839-47.
 De Bock K, et al. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307.
 Parisi A, et al. Effects of chronic Rhodiola rosea supplementation on sport performance and antioxidant capacity in trained male: preliminary results. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2010 Mar;50(1):57-63.
 Skarpanska-Stejnborn A, et al. The influence of supplementation with Rhodiola rosea L. extract on selected redox parameters in professional rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009 Apr;19(2):186-99.
 Ha Z, et al. [The effect of rhodiola and acetazolamide on the sleep architecture and blood oxygen saturation in men living at high altitude]. Zhonghua Jie He He Hu Xi Za Zhi. 2002 Sep;25(9):527-30.
 Bai MK, et al. [Integripetal rhodiola herb attenuates high altitude-induced pulmonary arterial remodeling and expression of vascular endothelial growth factor in rats]. Sheng Li Xue Bao. 2011 Apr 25;63(2):143-8.
 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. 2000 Oct;7(5):365-71.
 Spasov AA, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine. 2000 Apr;7(2):85-9.
 Spasov AA, et al. [The effect of the preparation rodakson on the psychophysiological and physical adaptation of students to an academic load]. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2000 Jan-Feb;63(1):76-8.
 Hung SK, et al. The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 2011 Feb 15;18(4):235-44.
 Chen Q, et al. The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats. Phytomedicine. 2009;16(9):830-8.
 Panossian A, et al. Comparative study of Rhodiola preparations on behavioral despair of rats. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(1-2):84-91.
 van Diermen D, et al. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;122(2):397-401.
 Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan;21(1):37-43.
 Cropley M, et al. The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. extract on anxiety, stress, cognition and other mood symptoms. Phytother Res. 2015 Dec;29(12):1934-9.
 Bystritsky A, et al. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):175-80.
 Darbinyan G, et al. Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nord J Psychiatry 2007;61:343-8.
 Ross M. Rhodiola rosea (SHR-5), Part 2: A standardized extract of Rhodiola rosea is shown to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Holist Nurs Pract. 2014 May-Jun;28(3):217-21.
 Mao JJ, et al. Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):394-9.
 Brown RP, et al. Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview. Herbal Gram. 2002;56:40-52.
 Maniscalco I, et al. [The interaction of Rhodiola rosea and antidepressants. A case report]. Neuropsychiatr. 2015;29(1):36-8.
 Deo B. Growing saffron—the world’s most expensive spice. Crop Food Res. 2003;20(1):1-4.
 Schneider D. Crocus Sativus [Internet]. Germany: Azafran; 2014 [cited 30 Jul 2019]. Available from: http://www.crocus-sativus.com/saffron-price.html.
 Rahaiee S, et al. Evaluation of antioxidant activities of bioactive compounds and various extracts obtained from saffron (Crocus sativus L.): a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Apr;52(4):1881-8.
 Poma A, et al. Anti-inflammatory properties of drugs from saffron crocus. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2012;11(1):37-51.
 Khorasany AR, Hosseinzadeh H. Therapeutic effects of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in digestive disorders: a review. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2016 May;19(5):455-69.
 Hatziagapiou K, Lambrou GI. The protective role of crocus sativus L. (saffron) against ischemia- reperfusion injury, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis: nature opposing cardiovascular ciseases. Curr Cardiol Rev. 2018;14(4):272-89.
 Abdullaev FI, Espinosa-Aguirre JJ. Biomedical properties of saffron and its potential use in cancer therapy and chemoprevention trials. Cancer Detect Prev. 2004;28(6):426-32.
 Baziar S, et al. Crocus sativus L. versus methylphenidate in treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a randomized, double-blind pilot study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2019 Apr;29(3):205-12.
 Akhondzadeh S, et al. Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010 Oct;35(5):581-8.
 Akhondzadeh S, et al. A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Psychopharmacology. 2010;207:637-43.
 Agha‐Hosseini M, et al. Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG. 2008 Mar;115(4):515-9.
 Sampathu SR, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus Linn.)—cultivation, processing, chemistry and standardization. Crit Rev Food Sci & Nutri. 1984 Jan 1;20(2):123-57.
 Melnyk JP, et al. Chemical and biological properties of the world’s most expensive spice: saffron. Food Res Int. 2010 Oct 1;43(8):1981-9.
 Marañón JA, et al. GABA receptors mediates the activity of safranal from IRIDAFRAN saffron extract. Int Soc Nutraceutical Func Foods Conference. 2012.
 Mazidi M, et al. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-9.
 Talaei A, et al. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6.
 Schmidt M, et al. Saffron in phytotherapy: pharmacology and clinical uses. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007;157(13-14):315-9.
 Hosseinzadeh H, et al. The effect of saffron, Crocus sativus stigma, extract and its constituents, safranal and crocin on sexual behaviors in normal male rats. Phytomedicine. 2008 Jun;15(6-7):491-5.
 Razavi BM, et al. Saffron induced relaxation in isolated rat aorta via endothelium dependent and independent mechanisms. Iran J Pharm Res. 2018 Summer;17(3):1018-25.
 Khori V, et al. Frequency-dependent electrophysiological remodeling of the AV node by hydroalcohol extract of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) during experimental atrial fibrillation: the role of endogenous nitric oxide. Phytother Res. 2012 Jun;26(6):826-32.
 Moshiri E, et al. Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):607-11.
 Mazidi M, et al. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-9.
 Hausenblas HA, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83.
 Lopresti AL, et al. Affron®, a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-57.
 Baldwin DS, et al. Impact of antidepressant drugs on sexual function and satisfaction. CNS Drugs. 2015 Nov;29(11):905-13.
 Rahmati M, et al. The effect of saffron on sexual dysfunction in women of reproductive age. Nursing Practice Today. 2017 Aug 13;4(3):154-63.
 Shamsa A, et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine. 2009 Aug;16(8):690-3.
 Maleki-Saghooni N, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2018 May-Jun;8(3):198-209.
 Kashani L, et al. Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jan;28(1):54-60.
 Modabbernia A, et al. Effect of saffron on fluoxetine-induced sexual impairment in men: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Oct;223(4):381-8.
 Stargrove MB, et al., eds. Herb, nutrient and drug interactions: clinical implications and therapeutic strategies. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2007.
Share this post
Dr. Carrie Decker
Pine Bark for Blood Vessels Big and Small, Part 2 of 2
A natural solution for erectile dysfunction, cold hands, and vision In Post 1 of 2, we explored the effects of maritime pine bark extract on blood pressure, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. In this post we’ll zoom in on the extract’s effects on smaller blood vessels. Let’s take a closer look at the vascular diseases…
The Broccoli Remedy: DIM for Hormone Health
Supporting female AND male hormonal health with 3,3′-diindolylmethane The healing power of Brassica vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale comes in large part from the phytochemical indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which naturally breaks down in the gut to a constituent known as 3,3′-diindolylmethane (DIM) (pronounced “dim”). Consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with…
Adaptogens for Stress Support
The stress-balancing action of adaptogens We’ve all been there at least once. Whether it be a list of deadlines, a high-stakes presentation the next day, early morning travel, or a crying infant keeping you awake all night, we’ve all had to pour that morning coffee, push through those frazzled nerves, and hope for the…
Whole Herb vs. Standardized Extracts vs. Isolated Bioactive Constituents
When using botanical medicine, which is best? It often seems that dietary supplements come with endless array of options, particularly in an online world where one can find hundreds of choices with a seemingly simple search term such as “probiotics.” Similarly, with vitamins and minerals, we are offered so many forms – not only…
Herbs to Help You Adapt During Times of Stress
Herbs from around the world to help with stress, fatigue, and the chaos of life “What doesn’t bend breaks,” as the saying goes, and the degree to which we are expected to “bend” is ever increasing. Our ability to stay focused, adaptable, and calm is of the essence in our fast-paced, outcome-oriented culture. Although…
Herbal Approaches to Low Libido in Menopause
Menopause is associated with many often-lamented symptoms that can have drastic effects on a woman’s comfort, happiness, and daily life activities. Hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings are commonly discussed because of their prevalence (up to 80% of women experience hot flashes during menopause[i]). Though less often discussed, low sexual desire is another…
Subscribe for Updates
- Botanicals (57)
- GI Health (53)
- Healthy Aging (122)
- Immune Support (41)
- In The News (42)
- Kids Health (21)
- Stress and Relaxation (50)
- Video (9)
- Vitamins & Minerals (52)
Latest Issue of FOCUS Newsletter Available Now!
About Nutrition In Focus
Subscribe for Updates
Contents of this website are for the purpose of information and education only,
and not a guide to diagnosis or treatment of a particular disorder or its symptoms.
Copyright©2018-2021 Allergy Research Group®. All Rights Reserved.