Rhodiola: Stress, Fatigue, Memory, Mood, Reproductive Health
Fatigue, stress, depression and poor memory are some of the most common problems seen by practitioners. A little known herb, rhodiola (R. rosea) could be an excellent solution for these common problems of modern life.
Also known as “golden root”, rhodiola has enjoyed centuries of use in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia, even though it remained largely unknown in the West until recently. Traditionally, this herb was used in folk medicine to increase physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, resistance to high altitude sickness, fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections and disorders of the nervous system.
It was thought that rhodiola could enhance fertility, and young Siberian couples carried rhodiola roots in bouquets prior to marriage. A tea of Rhodiola was recommended for colds and flu during the harsh Asian winters. Highly coveted in trade, this herb was exchanged for fine wines, fruits, and honey. The famous physical strength and endurance of the Vikings was attributed to rhodiola.
The tradition and folklore surrounding rhodiola led to the first investigations in its phytochemistry in the early 1960s, when scientists identified adaptogenic compounds in its roots. These adaptogens, (believed to help the body adapt to stress by supporting the adrenal glands and endocrine system), as well as the antioxidant and stimulating compounds that were later discovered in rhodiola, are responsible for its medicinal properties.
The root of R. rosea has six distinct groups of chemical compounds, but most would agree that the most important are the rosavins which include rosavin, rosin and rosarin. These compounds are specific to the root from the species, Rhodiola rosaea.
The rosavins are the constituents currently most often selected as the marker compounds for standardization of extracts, although they are not necessarily the only pharmacologically active ingredients for its medicinal properties.
Mechanism of Action
This herb helps the body adapt to stress by affecting the levels and activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters found in different structures in the brain and influencing the central nervous system. It appears that rhodiola inhibits the breakdown of these chemicals and facilitates the neurotransmitter transport within the brain. In addition to its impact on the central nervous system, rhodiola can increase the chemicals that provide energy to the muscle of the heart and prevent the depletion of adrenal hormones induced by acute stress.
While much of the scientific research on this herb has yet to be translated into English, a number of laboratory, animal, and human studies suggest important activities in a variety of bodily systems including the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the endocrine/reproductive system.
Central Nervous System Effects
Historically, Rhodiola was observed to act as a tonic, increase attention span, memory and work performance. Two human studies were able to show that individuals with fatigue, irritability, insomnia and decline in work capacity responded favorably to a Rhodiola dose of 50 mg three times a day.
In another human study of 128 patients aged 17-55, Rhodiola alleviated fatigue, irritability, distractibility, headache and weakness in 64 percent of the cases. In a study of students, physicians and scientists, Rhodiola was given for 2-3 weeks beginning several days before intense intellectual work such as final exams. The extract improved the amount and quality of work and prevented decrease performance due to fatigue. Using Rhodiola during final exams appears to be beneficial as well. Medical students took a Rhodiola extract for 20 days and had significant improvements in mental fatigue, general well-being, final exam grades and physical fitness.
Case studies have repoted that Rhodioa rosea can help with depressive syndromes, memory loss, anxiety, cognitive dysfunction and menopause related symptoms.
Cardioprotective Effects & Effects Of Work Capacity
Several studies have shown that Rhodiola increased physical work capacity and significantly shortened the recovery time between bouts of intense exercise. In one study, work capacity was increased by 9 percent and the pulse slowed to normal much more quickly. Biathlon athletes given Rhodiola also have shown statistically significant increased shooting accuracy, less arm tremor and better coordination. Improved recovery time, strength, endurance and cardiovascular measures were also significantly better in those who took Rhodiola. Weâ€™re not really sure what is responsible for these effects, but animal studies suggest that Rhodiola increases essential energy metabolites in the muscle and brain cells. It may also increase metabolism of fats.
Animals studies looking at the effect of rhodiola on thyroid function, adrenal function and ovarian egg maturation has raised interest in Rhodiola for endocrine problems in humans. Forty women suffering from amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycles) were given 100 mg of Rhodiola twice daily for 2 weeks or an injection for 10 days. In some women, the regimen was repeated 2-4 times. Remarkably, normal menses were restored in 25 women, 11 of whom became pregnant. Physicians have reported cases of women who had failed to conceive with standard fertility drugs, who then became pregnant within several months of beginning Rhodiola rosea extract. This would be truly a remarkable contribution to womenâ€™s health, if follow-up controlled clinical trials confirmed these findings.
Rhodiola has a very low level of toxicity in animal studies. The toxic dose for humans is calculated to be about 235,000 mg while the typical daily dose for chronic problems is 360-600 mg per day when standardized for 1% rosavin, 180-300 mg when standardized for 2% rosavin, or 100-170 mg when standardized for 2.6% rosavin. This provides a large margin of safety. Overall, very few side effects have been reported. Some anxious individuals may be over activated and become agitated with rhodiola. It may also interfere with sleep in some individuals, so is best taken early in the day. Rhodiola is not recommended for individuals with bipolar disorder.
Since no research has been conducted during pregnancy and lactation, it is not recommended during those times.
Rhodiola is surprising in its versatility within the nervous system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and musculskeletal system. At a time of increasing emotional stress thanks to political, economic and social pressures as well as heavier workloads and greater exposure to environmental stressors such as an increasingly toxic environment and rising health care costs, itâ€™s worth considering such a multipurpose, inexpensive herb.
Also published in: Taste for Life, October 2003
Dec 14th, 2006 by Tori Hudson, N.D.
by Tori Hudson, N.D.
- Petkov V, Yonkov D, Mosharoff A, et al. Effects of Alcohol Aqueous Extract from Rhodiola rosea L. roots on Learning and Memory. Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg 1986;12:3-16.
- Boon-Niermeijer E, van den Berg A, Wikman G, Wiegant F. Phyto-adaptogens protect against environmental stress-induced death of embryos from the freshwater snail Lymnaea stagnalis. Phytomedicine 2000;7:389-399.
- Stancheva S, Mosharrof A. Effect of the extract of Rhodiola rosea L. on the content of the brain biogenic monamines. Med Physiol 1987;40:85-87.
- Maslova L, Kondratâ€™ev B, Maslov L, Lishmanov I. The cardioprotective and antiadrenergic activity of an extract of Rhodiola rosea in strss. Eksp Klin Farmakol 1994;57:61-63. (Article in Russian).
- Krasik E, Morozova E, Petrova K, et al. Therapy of asthenic conditions: clinical perspectives of application of Rhodiola rosea extract. In. Proceedings Modern problems in psycho-pharmacology. Kemerovo-city, Russia: Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences: 1970.p. 298-330.
- Krasik E, Petrova K, Rogulina G, et al. New data on the therapy of asthenic conditions(clinical prospects for the use of Rhodiola extract). Proceedings of All-Russia Conference: Urgent Problems in Psychopharmacology 1970 May 26-29. Sverdlovsk, Russia: Sverdlovsk Press; 1970.p. 215-7.
- Spasov A, Wikman G, Mandrikov V, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-% extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine 2000;7(2):85-89.
- Gerasimova H. Effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on ovarian functional activity. Proc of Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology. Sverdlovsk, Russia. 1970 Sept 15-16. Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. P. 46-48.
Used by the ancient Greeks, Vikings and Chinese emperors to increase vitality, endurance and mental acuity -- rhodiola has a colorful history dating back thousands of years. In more modern times, it is known as a potent tonic for depression, heart arrhythmia and even cancer. With very few side-effects, rhodiola is a remarkable herb that just may activate superhuman powers for those who use it.
As a powerful adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea helps the body to resist stress. Take for example 64-year-old Juliette Bergman who worked in New York at the World Trade Center. In Chris Kilham's article, Rhodiola rosea: Nature's antidepressant, Juliette explains how rhodiola turned her life around. After suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), triggered by the trade center bombing and attack on September 11, Juliette was on anti-depressant drugs for over eight years. Wrestling with a 35 pound weight gain and severe depression that was not alleviated by the antidepressants, she was introduced to rhodiola by Dr. Patrica Gerbarg and Dr. Richard Brown. Her depression cleared and she felt energized for the first time in years.
Coveted by emperors, valued by Vikings
Countless studies confirm what Chinese emperors and Vikings knew: rhodiola is an extraordinary herb that boosts sexual vigor, stamina and clarity. When the body is under stress, adrenaline and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) become elevated. These substances impair glandular function and promote a feeling of fatigue -- especially mental exhaustion. Rhodiola lowers CRF levels and helps to revive the libido, heal the glandular system and improve mental acuity. A clinical study in Russia found that among 35 men with erectile dysfunction, 26 showed improvement in sexual function after taking rhodiola for three months. Physical performance is also enhanced by this herb. Researchers discovered that out of 112 athletes supplementing with Rhodiola rosea, 89 percent showed rapid improvement and heightened endurance in sports.
Calming the heart and healing cancer
For those struggling with cardiovascular disease or cancer, rhodiola may provide welcome relief. Since cardiac problems are linked with stress, rhodiola protects against anxiety-induced hormones. These stress biochemicals raise blood pressure and can cause the heart to contract so severely that lesions are formed. By helping the body adapt to stress, rhodiola minimizes strain and damage to the cardiovascular system. It also assists in regulating heart arrhythmia.
As a mighty antioxidant, rhodiola helps to prevent and heal cancer by scavenging health harming free radicals -- reducing the risk of cellular mutations. It also hampers tumor growth. Russian researchers found that rhodiola curbed tumor growth by 39 percent while it lowered metastasis by 50 percent. Overall, rhodiola increased cancer survival rates.
As observed by Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham:
"Rhodiola rosea offers a dynamic health experience for the herbal user. If take it, you will feel it. Rhodiola is in my estimation the broadest, most remarkable feel-good botanical in nature's pharmacy."
Burn More Belly Fat with Rhodiola
One of the many incredible characteristics of rhodiola is that it helps your body burn stored fat as fuel. Rhodiola contains an active compound called rosavin that has been proven to trigger a fat burning response in your body.
Rosavin works by stimulating an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase, which has the ability to break down fat that is stored in adipose tissue (belly area). Also, human clinical studies found that if you combine taking rhodiola extract with doing moderate exercise, the break down of belly fat increases even more.
A controlled placebo study done on 130 overweight patients at Georgia State Hospital showed that taking Rhodiola Rosea extract daily led to a mean weight loss of 19 pounds (11% reduction in body fat), compared to only 8 pounds of loss by the placebo group eating the exact same low calorie diet.
Rhodiola rosea is an Energy Enhancer
Eastern European researchers have conducted numerous investigations into the effects of Rhodiola rosea on physical and mental fatigue. Participants who took Rhodiola rosea reported having more energy and focus. Both animal and human experimental models have observed better endurance during physical activity while supplementing with Rhodiola rosea.
One twelve-week study evaluated Rhodiola rosea extract in combination with vitamin and mineral supplementation on 120 adults who were experiencing physical and cognitive deficiencies. Positive changes in their physical and cognitive responses were reported. Roughly 80% of the test subjects rated the supplementation as having good or very good effects. Additionally, 99% of physicians and patients believed the supplement to be safe.
Rhodiola rosea and Thyroid Health
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.
Other Health Benefits of Rhodiola rosea
Have you ever exercised and felt extremely sore afterward? A build up of lactic acid in your muscles was likely the reason. When Italian researchers evaluated 14 male athletes to determine the effect of Rhodiola rosea supplementation following intense workouts, they found it reduced lactic acid buildup and muscle damage. Just another testament to its potency as an all around adaptogen.
Past Herbal Uses of Rhodiola Rosea as a Treatment for Depression by Herbalist
Rhodiola rosea is classified as an adaptogen herb, which means it increase the body's ability to cope with internal and external stress factors, and normalize the functions of the organism. Adaptogen herbs help maintain the stable internal environment inside the organism known as homeostasis.
Russia has used Rhodiola rosea for years to enhance mental and physical performance. It has been widely used by Russian athletes and cosmonauts to increase energy. In addition, Russian medicine has also traditionally given Rhodiola rosea to its soldiers, sportsmen and aging political leaders as an effective anti-aging medicine. Rhodiola rosea helped them to improve cognitive functions and physical performance.
Rhodiola rosea also has extraordinary pharmacological properties as an anti-depressive agent. The anti-depressive and anti-stress activity of Rhodiola rosea is higher than that of St. John's Wort, Ginkgo biloba and Panax Ginseng.
In another clinical trial, 150 individuals suffering from depression took Rhodiola rosea extracts for a period of one month. At the end of that period, two-thirds of them had full remission of clinical manifestations of depression, and had become more active and more sociable. Daytime weakness and general weakness disappeared.
Rhodiola rosea has also been recommended for fatigue, catarrhal seasonal diseases, along with mental performance and to improve endurance. It increases bodily resistance to physical and mental overloads, and negative environmental effects.
Rhodiola is cardio-protective, normalizing the heart rate immediately after intense exercise. It improves the nervous system and mental functions such as memory, by increasing blood-supply to the muscles and brain, and it also increases protein synthesis.
Russian research has emphasized that Rhodiola rosea extracts have rejuvenative properties due to their ability to raise the efficiency of the intra-cell DNA repair mechanisms.
Consumption of a small amount of Rhodiola extract significantly improves a persons capacity to absorb and utilize oxygen.
For the obvious and above reasons, Rhodiola is up there at the VERY top of my all time favorite herbs! For anyone unwell or already well who wants to become even WELL, Rhodiola is for you! - Owen fox :)
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University of California - Irvine
Jeffrey Felgner, Irvin Bussel, Anthony Hutchili, Behnood Khodayari, Michael Rose and Laurence Mueller of UC Irvine participated in the study. Sun Ten Inc. provided the herbs.
RHODIOLA ROSEA (Russian Rhodiola, Golden root)
Anti-Aging Medicine of 21st Century
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/022568_rhodiola_adaptogens.html#ixzz3TbTVGKtP
Sources for this article include:
"Rhodiola" Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/rhodiola
"Rhodiola rosea: Nature's antidepressant" Chris Kilham, Fox News Health, September 10, 2012. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://www.foxnews.com
"Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)" Herb Wisdom. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-rhodiola.html
"Rhodiola Cures and Side Effects" Earth Clinic. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://www.earthclinic.com/Supplements/rhodiola.html
"Rhodiola Rosea" Medicine Hunter. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://medicinehunter.com/rhodiola
"Rhodiola Rosea: Russia's Best Kept Secret To Health and Longevity" Evolution Health. Retrieved on September 11, 2012 from: http://www.evolutionhealth.com/supplements/Rhodiola_Rosea.pdf
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/037345_rhodiola_vitality_endurance.html#ixzz3TbSFEGxs