Rhodiola Rosea as antioxidant in red blood cells: ultrastructural and hemolytic behaviour

Rhodiola rosea L. (Crassulaceae) is a plant that lives at high altitude in Europe and Asia, usually used for its high capacity to increase the organism resistance to different stress conditions. Although a few international literature supports these effects, today R. rosea has become a common component of many dietary supplements also in the Western world. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of the R. rosea roots aqueous extract on in vitro human erythrocytes exposed to hypochlorous acid (HOCl)-oxidative stress. Several damages occur in human erythrocytes exposed in vitro to HOCl, among these membrane protein and lipid modifications, shifting from the discocyte shape to the echinocyte one, and determining lysis ultimately. Therefore, in the present work, the evaluation of the antioxidant capacity of the Rhodiola extract has been carried out by means of scanning electron microscopy and of hemolytic behaviour on human erythrocytes exposed to HOCl in the presence of increasing doses of the aqueous extract in different experimental environments (co-incubation and subsequent incubations). The results obtained are consistent with a significative protection of the extract in presence of the oxidative agent, but a cautionary note emerges from the analysis of the data related to the cell exposition to the plant extract in the absence of any induced oxidative stress. In fact, the addition to erythrocyte of high doses of R. rosea extract always determines severe alterations of the cell shape.