Rhodiola rosea for burnout syndrome: an exploratory trial

Burnout Syndrome is a subjective condition with no clear definition and no established diagnostic criteria

Burnout syndrome is generally characterised by emotional exhaustion and decreased satisfaction in physical performance as a result of chronic stress.

Symptoms might include fatigue, lack of concentration or decreased sexual function. Risks might include subsequent depression, anxiety or other chronic disease.

Adaptogenic substances have a long history of use to increase resistance to stress, stabilise emotions and enhance performance.

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb with a tradition of use for reducing stress-related symptoms such as fatigue.

Clinical trials have shown R. rosea to stabilise emotions in moderate depression, improve physical and mental performance under stressful situations, and alleviate mental fatigue.

Researchers in Austria conducted an exploratory clinical trial to investigate clinical outcomes of R. rosea treatment in patients with burnout symptoms.

The open-label, uncontrolled trial included 118 patients from four medical centres in Vienna, Austria.

Patients were eligible for the study if they met predefined criteria on several screening questionnaires related to emotional and physical burnout symptoms.

Baseline and outcome measures were assessed by 10 questionnaires, including the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), Burnout Screening Scales (BOSS) I and II, Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ), and Numerical Analogue Scales (NAS) for stress symptoms.

All participants received the active intervention for 12 weeks: R. rosea root extract (WS 1375 Rosalin, manufactured by Dr Willmar Schwabe GmbH & Co., Germany) dosed at 200 mg twice a day.

The majority of all outcomes demonstrated improvements during 12 weeks, with the greatest changes seen during the first week.

All seven symptoms of subjective stress showed significant improvements on the NAS from baseline to 12 weeks, with the most dramatic improvements in symptoms of exhaustion, impaired concentration and somatic symptoms.

The greatest improvements in perceived stress (PSQ scores) were for lack of joy, tension and fatigue.

Results of the BOSS assessments showed clear improvements in the subjective perception of profession, own person, family and friends, as well as physical, cognitive and emotional complaints. Adverse events were minimal, with an incidence of 0.015 per observation day.

This exploratory trial provides preliminary data to justify future clinical trials on the use of R. rosea in patients with stress-related symptoms of emotional and physical exhaustion.