Life Extension Magazine®

Woman relaxing supplementing with rhodiola for aging thymus gland

Age-Defying Effects of Rhodiola

As humans age past puberty, their thymus gland gradually shrinks to the point that activated T-cells are no longer produced in sufficient quantities. As the thymus shrivels, we also lose the ability to filter out damaging pro-inflammatory cells. Life Extension® is helping to fund research aimed at regenerating aged thymus glands. In the meantime, an ultra-low-cost nutrient called rhodiola is demonstrating thymic-protecting properties in laboratory models.

Scientifically reviewed by: Juanita Enogieru, MS, RD/N, in August 2023. Written by: Kris Massey.

For almost a decade, researchers at the University of California, Irvine have studied the impact of an extract from Rhodiola rosea on the lifespan of fruit flies. The team discovered that rhodiola decelerated aging and extended fruit fly lifespan by up to 25%.1-4

While studies in fruit flies don’t necessarily translate directly into human benefits, this is an important step in the right direction for unraveling the longevity effects of the adaptogen rhodiola, which has been part of traditional medical practices in Asia and Europe for centuries.

Intrigued by this increase in lifespan, scientists decided to take a deeper look at rhodiola’s various therapeutic properties to find out how it systemically enhances vibrant activity in the body. They found that rhodiola works in numerous pathways to optimize health and longevity. Some of the benefits include rhodiola’s ability to delay immune senescence, enhance endothelial function, prevent neurological disease, lower stress, help fight fatigue, and improve physical endurance.

Rhodiola has been shown to help protect against several factors involved in normal aging. Research conducted on rhodiola establishes that the root extract confers systemic improvements in biological and physical function. Some of rhodiola’s benefits overlap with other nutrients which indicates how well rhodiola works to help restore more youthful cell functions.

As research continues, published studies are validating that this ancient herb can be a vital component of a health and longevity program.

Longevity Compounds

Longevity Compounds  

The root extract of rhodiola contains over 140 different bioactive compounds.5 Studies suggest that its key active constituents, salidroside and several rosavin compounds,4,6 are responsible for rhodiola’s longevity effect.

Researchers found that the salidroside component of rhodiola protects human cells from premature aging when exposed to oxidative stress. In this study, the extract preserved aging skin cells’ ability to divide, thereby maintaining healthier, more vital skin.7 And, in a human study, rhodiola extract (containing rosavins and salidroside) was shown to improve endurance exercise capacity of all participants.8

Rhodiola works through various pathways to “tune up” the body to resist the factors of aging. The first of these is rhodiola’s ability to delay the onslaught of immune senescence.

Postpone Age-Related Immune Senescence

As we age, our immune function declines in a process known as immune senescence.9 Over time, we gradually lose the ability to mount a robust immune response to infection10 and physiological challenges.11-13

Immune senescence pokes holes in the body’s defenses that pathogens can exploit. As our immune system becomes less vigilant, we become more susceptible to autoimmune diseases,14 less able to produce a healthy immune response to vaccinations,15,16 and more prone to the reactivation of latent viruses17 and to cancer.18

Animal studies have shown that rhodiola can enhance immune function,19-23 provide antiviral and antibacterial activities that can reduce the risk of serious infections, including influenza,24,25 and inhibit the growth and invasiveness of a variety of human cancer cell lines.26-28

A complete understanding of rhodiola’s ability to boost immunity remained elusive until recently, when an animal study found that it could inhibit the death of thymic T cells, which is particularly important as thymus function decreases with age and this decrease contributes to immune senescence.29,30 T cells are immune cells (lymphocytes) and some behave as “smart bombs,” essentially homing in on new pathogenic threats, including bacteria and viruses. By inhibiting the death of thymic T cells, rhodiola helps deter immune senescence.

Let’s look at some of the different areas of the body positively impacted by rhodiola that can lead to life extension and a reduction in deadly diseases.

What You Need to Know
Rhodiola’s Life-Enhancing Benefits

Rhodiola’s Life-Enhancing Benefits

  • Rhodiola supplementation can help fight age-related immune decline, a process known as immune senescence.
  • Recent studies suggest that rhodiola prevents endothelial dysfunction, a primary cause of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
  • Rhodiola’s reported broad-spectrum health benefits include physical and cognitive improvement, as well as relief from mental and physical fatigue and depression.
  • Rhodiola mitigates stress and depression through its balancing effects on the pituitary and adrenal stress-related hormones and mood-related brain neurotransmitters.
  • Look for a Rhodiola rosea extract that has been standardized to contain 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside—which matches the concentrations used in human and animal studies.

Impede Endothelial Dysfunction

In addition to enhancing immune function, rhodiola has been shown to provide protection to the cardiovascular system. A recent animal study confirmed that salidroside protects arteries from endothelial dysfunction,31 an early pathological event that can lead to the development of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.32,33

Impaired mitochondrial production is an early sign of endothelial dysfunction, and it appears to be a key event in the development of pulmonary hypertension34 and other age-related vascular pathologies.35 Cell studies show that rhodiola can restore mitochondrial generation in stressed endothelial cells and thereby protect against endothelial dysfunction.36

Endothelial cells can self-destruct when exposed to elevated levels of homocysteine, a by-product of protein metabolism and an independent risk factor for heart attack and stroke.37 Homocysteine also causes endothelial dysfunction by increasing oxidative stress and by decreasing the activity of an enzyme essential for producing the endothelial relaxation molecule, nitric oxide.38 Rhodiola has been shown to inhibit oxidative stress and prevent apoptosis in endothelial cells exposed to homocysteine.39

Mitigate Mental Stress

It is widely acknowledged that psychological stress and mood disorders accelerate aging.40-43 The long-term Nurses’ Health Study uncovered a link between mental stress, anxiety and an elevated risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary artery disease.44

Rhodiola belongs to a class of botanicals called adaptogens, which strengthen the body’s resistance to mental and physical stress without disrupting normal bodily functions.45,46 Acting as an adaptogen, rhodiola helps balance the body’s stress response system.47,48 Studies have also shown that it modulates the body’s response to anxiety and depression by influencing the levels and activity of the mood-related neurotransmitters.6,49,50

Fight Fatigue and Boost Performance

Longevity Compounds  

Studies have confirmed the fatigue-fighting and performance-enhancing effects of rhodiola in laboratory animals51 and humans.52

Rhodiola can effectively prevent fatigue, thereby increasing mental performance. This was demonstrated in a study of 56 young, healthy physicians during nighttime clinic duty.53 Statistically significant improvements in mental performance tests were observed in the treatment group during the first 2-week period. At 6 weeks, the improvement diminished despite the continuous treatment. Investigators believe this was likely due to the low dose of rhodiola (170 mg per day) used in the study.

Another human study measured the effect of rhodiola intake on focus, strength, endurance, reaction time and limb speed and found that 200 mg of a rhodiola extract (containing 3% rosavins + 1% salidroside) improved endurance exercise capacity in all participants.8


The root extract of Rhodiola rosea has been used for centuries in traditional medical systems of Asia and Europe to increase resistance to mental and physical stress and relieve anxiety and depression.

Rhodiola can strengthen the body’s resistance to psychological and physical stress without interfering with normal bodily functions and can protect against many of the factors of aging, including the age-related decline of the immune system.

In addition, rhodiola has been shown to combat depression by normalizing the body’s stress hormone levels and modulating mood-elevating neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

With studies showing the multiple benefits of rhodiola on decelerating aging and increasing longevity through its multiple mechanisms, this ultra-low cost nutrient is likely to increase in popularity among health-conscious individuals.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

Editor's Note

Science continues to evolve, and new research is published daily. As such, we have a more recent article on this topic: RHODIOLA Combats “Burnout” Syndrome


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