March 5, 2011

039 Rhodiola rosea [23 Nov 2009]

Rhodiola is a medicinal herb that is growing in popularity in North America but has centuries of traditional use in Siberia, Scandinavia and Iceland, from the Vikings to KGB agents and modern Russian athletes. There is even an old saying in Siberia that “those who drink Rhodiola tea will live more than 100 years”. While science has not yet proven this claim, modern research is finding very interesting properties for this herb.

First, Rhodiola is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body to deal with stress by balancing hormones and neurotransmitters. It is particularly supportive of the adrenal glands and has been shown to increase production of the relaxing neurotransmitter serotonin and the excitatory neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. At the same time, it reduces the levels of cortisol which increases muscle breakdown.

Secondly, Rhodiola can increase energy and endurance. It has been clinically shown to increase ATP and creatine phosphate, both energy sources for muscles. Animal studies showed more efficient use of glycogen stores under prolonged exercise.

Thirdly, Rhodiola helps with mental performance under conditions of fatigue and stress. A double blind study in Armenia of 56 physicians on two weeks of night duty found those using Rhodiola experienced 50% less mental fatigue. Another Russian double blind study of 40 medical students during exam time found the Rhodiola users reported less mental fatigue and actually scored 8% higher in their exams.

In addition to promoting longevity, reducing stress, increasing energy, reducing fatigue, and increasing mental alertness, Rhodiola is also used to improve sleep, improve mild depression, enhance sexual function in both men and women, and prevent high altitude sickness.

Another unique property of Rhodiola among adaptogens is the rapidity of its effect. Users may notice benefits as early as the first dose, compared with several weeks for other adaptogens such as Siberian ginseng.

Rhodiola has an exceptionally low toxicity. No serious adverse effects have been reported in clinical trials. Safety of Rhodiola for pregnant or breastfeeding women has not been established. People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are advised to use it with caution because of its stimulating effects. It may cause drowsiness in people taking SSRIs and SNRIs; and should not be used by people taking MAOIs.

Of the 200 species of Rhodiola, only R. rosea is known to have the active phytochemicals rosavin, rosin and rosarin. Best results have been found with 100-300 mg of a 3% standardized extract taken prior to periods of activity.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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