Benefits of the Adaptogen Rhodiola as a Vitality Tonic

Benefits of the Adaptogen Rhodiola as a Vitality Tonic

Looking for increased energy levels, vitality, and enhanced mood?

Rhodiola Rosea, also known as the golden root, is a perennial plant that grows in colder regions of the world. It has a long and heralded history of use dating back thousands of years across continents and cultures. Documented use goes back to the Greek physician Dioscorides, who wrote about the benefits of rodia riza (as he called it) in his De Materia Medica. Although still not well known in much of the west, it is one of the most popular phytomedicines throughout Asia, Europe, and Russia.

Chinese emperors sent teams to procure it from Siberia where it is so commonly used, it is given to young couples on their marriage to help them with fertility, and they even have a saying that those who drink rhodiola tea will live beyond 100. It was recorded that Vikings regularly consumed the plant to increase their strength and endurance. Mongols used it to prevent and cure coughs, colds, and even tuberculosis. It was embraced by the Soviet army, Olympic athletes, and in western Europe it continues to be one of the most widely used and lauded natural supplements. It has been utilized for a whole range of benefits, most notably, stimulating and strengthening the nervous system, enhancing mood, improving physical performance, preventing fatigue, supporting immune function, improving mental function, sexual function, and assisting with overall homeostasis.

So what makes this unassuming plant so powerful a health tonic?

The potency of rhodiola stems from its being an adaptogen. Because it grows at high elevations and in cold climates, it is subject to a high degree of physical stress from its environment. The plant adapts a mechanism to defend against external influences (from climate to toxins to fungi) using chemical compounds (i,e. rosavin, salidroside) that protect and boost strength and resistance. These compounds ensure that the plant is able to withstand often extreme levels of stress from the world around and still flourish.

Traditional herbalists discovered long ago that the benefits of these adaptogenic compounds were readily bio-available to people, and rhodiola is considered by many as the king of adaptogens. In human terms, adaptogens enhance non-specific resistance and normalize the functions of the body, providing resources to bring the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance, thereby creating homeostasis (the ideal state in a human's biology.)

Ultimately, rhodiola is providing resistance to stress in any form, but its influences are broad reaching in the body's systems. It seems to have some level of positive benefits in virtually every physiological arena.

Rhodiola has been well-studied in Russia for decades and research released after the Cold War has shown plenty of support for its traditional claims and popularity. Plenty of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of standardized rhodiola rosea root extract (SHR-5) provide evidence for its adaptogenic properties. One study in which students were either given 50 mg of Rhodiola extract or placebo twice daily for 20 days, showed significant improvements in energy, physical fitness, motor function, mental performance, mood, sleep and overall health, and statistically significant reductions in mental and physical fatigue.

It is believed that adaptogens work by increasing the ability of cells to manufacture and utilize fuel more efficiently, which is why rhodiola is prized as an energy booster. It boosts performance by activating the synthesis or re-synthesis of ATP, central to energy production (Abidov M, Grachev S, Seifulla RD, Ziegenfuss TN. Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2004 Jul.) It also increases levels of certain enzymes, RNA, and proteins, improving glycogen and muscle synthesis, thereby helping boost performance, endurance, and subsequent recovery. Animal studies using the swim test (how long a subject can keep its head above water) found that subjects given rhodiola would last 25% longer.

Not just energy and endurance but a host of other health benefits!

There also seems to be an effect on monoamine levels, which is why it is used as an anti-depressant. Evidence from animal trials suggests that it enhances the transport of serotonin precursors, tryptophan and 5-htp, into the brain. Research done at the University of Camerino in Italy in which mice were given rhodiola, found that the extract “significantly, but not dose dependently, induced antidepressant-like, adaptogenic, anti-anxiety-like, and stimulating effects in mice.” (Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan.)

Another preliminary study at Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine found that rhodiola had a significant synergistic effect on sedatives, producing an hypnotic-type response, which also enhanced sleep and reduced tension. Again we see the remarkable combination of heightened stimulation with a concomitant sense of well-being.

It improves bio-electric activity in the brain, which is why it is used for boosting memory and mental acuity.

There is a significant impact on glandular function, particularly adrenal, thymus, and thyroid, which is likely responsible for its invigorating effects. Remarkably, at the same time as the body is energized, rhodiola is operating as a protectant, for example by decreasing the production of corticosteroids and catecholamines that are produced by adrenal stress. When high levels of these stress hormones occur, the body experiences negative effects like elevated blood pressure, cholestrol, etc. It is little wonder rhodiola has been so highly prized.

It improves blood flow, decreases harmful blood lipids, increases calcium absorption efficiency, and reduces cyclic-AMP being released into heart cells, hence its use as both a heart tonic and also a sexual tonic.

It has been shown to activate lipolytic processes (fat breakdown) and fat burning system, which is why it is used for weight loss.

It has been studied for effects on the aging system, for anti-oxidant, and even neuro-protective benefits against degenerative diseases. Scientists believe that by boosting immune function and resistance to toxins (increases natural killer cell numbers), rhodiola enhances anti-tumor activity, making it highly useful for cancer patients. Russian research found that rhodiola inhibited tumor growths in rats by 39%, decreased metastasis by 50%, and resulted in significantly increased survival rate.

As rhodiola becomes more widely utilized in the west, we are learning more and more about its effectiveness. Supplements containing rhodiola are especially beneficial for people looking for increased energy levels, enhanced endurance, and improved mood. It is so potent that we use rhodiola in a third of our supplements! It is particularly potent in concert with other stimulants, allowing the body to benefit from increased energy without deleterious effects. I highly recommend that no matter what you use to get a boost in energy levels, make sure to include rhodiola in the mix for optimal results.

Related Posts: 
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References:
Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue—a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine. 2000 Oct.

Kelly GS. Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Jun.
Brown RP, Gerbarg PL. The Rhodiola Revolution: Transform Your Health with the Herbal Breakthrough of the 21st Century. Emmaus, PA: Rodale; 2004.
De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun.
Li T, Xu G, Wu L, Sun C. Pharmacological studies on the sedative and hypnotic effect of salidroside from the Chinese medicinal plant Rhodiola sachalinensis. Phytomedicine. 2007 Sep.
Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan.
Abidov M, Grachev S, Seifulla RD, Ziegenfuss TN. Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2004 Jul.
Zhang L, Yu H, Sun Y, et al. Protective effects of salidroside on hydrogen peroxide-induced apoptosis in SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Jun.



The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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