1) Rhodiola rosea is a herb that has a wide and varied history of uses. 2) Rhodiola is native to the arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska. 3) Rhodiola grows and thrives in dry, sandy ground at high altitudes. 4) It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant.
5) It is thought to strengthen the nervous system, fight depression, enhance immunity, elevate the capacity for exercise, enhance memory, aid weight reduction, increase sexual function and improve energy levels. It has long been known as a potent adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances that increase the body’s overall resistance and help to normalise bodily functions.
Rhodiola is used for increasing energy, stamina, strength and mental capacity; and as a so-called “adaptogen” to help the body adapt to and resist physical, chemical, and environmental stress. It is also used for improving athletic performance, shortening recovery time after long workouts, improving sexual function; for depression; and for heart disorders such as irregular heartbeat and high cholesterol.
How Does Work?
Rhodiola rosea is a potent natural adaptogen, meaning that it helps the mind and body adapt to stress and other proverbial hurdles. Research has identified five active biological compounds in the roots of the plant — rosin, rhodioloside, rosarin, salidroside, and tyrosol. Although the compounds all work together in synergy, analysis suggests that tyrosol, rhodioloside, and salidroside are among the most active. Salidroside specifically offers antioxidant action to fight the effects of aging.
Stress (Rhodiola Rosea)
Stress is an inevitable fact of life, but it can have serious consequences on our mental and physical health. Effective strategies for managing stress are therefore essential to thrive in a fast-paced world. Research suggests that rhodiola may offer a practical, natural solution for overcoming many stress-related complaints.
Rhodiola rosea relieves stress by balancing the body’s stress-response system. This consists of the sympathetic nervous system (which prepares the body to expend energy during crises, often described as the “fight or flight response”) and the counterbalancing parasympathetic nervous system (which recharges and heals the body, returning it to a relaxed state). With constant stress, the system becomes unbalanced, making us feel edgy, tired, or depressed. Rhodiola rosea helps re-establish balance by acting as an adaptogen—an agent that strengthens the body’s response to physical, mental, and emotional stressors.
Rhodiola rosea has long been known as a potent adaptogen. Adaptogens are natural plant substances that increase the body’s non-specific resistance and normalise the functions of the body. When a stressful situation occurs, consuming adaptogens generates a degree of generalised adaptation (or non-specific resistance) that allows our physiology to handle the stressful situation in a more resourceful manner. It is believed that adaptogens work by increasing the ability of cells to manufacture and use cell fuel more efficiently.
Nervous System Health
Rhodiola’s effects are particularly remarkable in the nervous system. According to Dr. Richard Brown of Columbia University, rhodiola is exceptionally beneficial because it “enhances the healing properties of one’s own nervous system.” He notes that the herb provides both “cognitive stimulation” and “emotional calming,” which lead to improvement in cognitive and memory function, as well as contributing to the long-term upkeep of brain function.
Studies using proofreading tests have demonstrated that Rhodiola rosea enhances memorisation and concentration ability over prolonged periods. It increases the bioelectrical activity of the brain which improves memory and brain energy.
In one study, forty students were randomised to receive either 50 mg standardised Rhodiola extract or placebo twice daily for a period of 20 days. The students receiving the standardised extract demonstrated significant improvements in physical fitness, psychomotor function, mental performance, and general wellbeing. Subjects receiving the Rhodiola rosea extract also reported statistically significant reductions in mental fatigue, improved sleep patterns, a reduced need for sleep, greater mood stability, and a greater motivation to study.
Boosting Physical Endurance
As well as enhancing memory, rhodiola also helps strengthen the body, making it more resilient to challenges such as exercise and fatiguing tasks.
In one study, the energy-boosting effect of small and medium doses of rhodiola was observed in animals that demonstrated greater strength to endure the “swim test”—a physically and mentally stressful test in which a rodent is put into a beaker of water and observed to see how long it can keep its head above water.
These findings were verified in another study in which rhodiola-treated rats were able to swim for 25% longer before becoming exhausted, compared with animals that did not receive rhodiola. As adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy currency of the body, the researchers concluded that rhodiola enhances exercise capacity by activating the synthesis or re-synthesis of this vital energy source and stimulating energy-repair processes after intense exercise.
As well as liberating more energy for exercise, rhodiola also helps protect muscle tissue during exercise. This effect was seen in a study of healthy untrained volunteers after exhausting exercise, in whom rhodiola extract reduced levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, and creatinine kinase, a marker of muscle damage.
Rhodiola rosea has been shown to shorten recovery time after prolonged workouts, to increase attention span, memory, strength, and anti-toxic action. Rhodiola rosea extract increases the level of enzymes, RNA, and proteins important to muscle recovery after exhaustive exercise. It also stimulates muscle energy status; glycogen synthesis in muscles and liver; muscle protein synthesis and anabolic activity.
Rhodiola has also been shown to be effective for cardiac problems caused or aggravated by stress. Its action for these conditions is in its ability to decrease the amount of catecholamines and corticosteroids released by the adrenal glands during stress. The abnormal presence of these stress hormones will subsequently raise blood pressure, cholesterol, potassium levels and increase risk factors for heart disease. Rhodiola has been found to decrease harmful blood lipids and thus decrease the risk of heart disease.
It also decreases the amount of cyclic-AMP (c-AMP) released into cardiac cells. Cyclic AMP is related to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the body’s primary energy molecule. C-AMP acts as a ‘second messenger’ or liaison between the outer and inner environments of the cell. It assists in the uptake of more intracellular calcium into the heart thus promoting a greater potential for heart muscle contraction. Rhodiola thus regulates the heartbeat and counteracts heart arrhythmias.
Rhodiola has been shown to increase antitumor activity by increasing the body’s resistance to toxins. A range of antioxidant compounds have been identified in Rhodiola rosea and related species and significant free-radical scavenging activity has been demonstrated for alcohol and water extracts of Rhodiola. Rhodiola rosea might be useful in conjunction with some pharmaceutical anti-tumour agents. While research into the range of cancers that can be impacted remains ongoing, the early results are very encouraging, primarily with bladder cancer.
Rhodiola rosea has also been found to have a positive relationship with thyroid health. One study examined patients with differentiated thyroid cancer, all of whom required hormone withdrawal as part of their treatment. Hormone withdrawal is nasty and can cause fatigue and indications of hypothyroidism. In an effort to counteract these effects, the test subjects were given Rhodiola rosea. The result? An ease in the short-term indications of thyroid impairment.