Rhodiola rosea is a plant that we have used since ancient times due to its adaptogen properties. In other words, it helps our body to adapt to situations that cause mental or physical stress.
What is rhodiola rosea
The rhodiola rosea extract is popularly known as golden root, a perennial plant used in natural medicine. It is an adaptogen herb that helps to cope with stress. Although it is used more against fatigue, mild depression and to enhance the cognitive performance. Moreover, it is said that it can help to regulate the dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. All these are chemical substances from that brain that affect our mood, appetite and general well-being.
For more than three thousand years, it has been used to:
- Increase our energy
- Enhance our vitality
- Deal with stress
- Cope with anxiety
- Increase the virility
- Shorten the recovery processes
Our current lifestyle is quite hectic and probably the main factor that triggers chronic diseases and premature aging.
Adaptogens are natural substances that enhance our defenses and support our body functions. Even if we undergo situations that cause physical or mental stress. Adaptogens help to keep the body healthy by a process known as auto-regulation or homeostasis.
This simply means that even though if you are experiencing a lot of stress, you will be able to remain healthy and active. Rhodiola rosea prevents the stress hormones from breaking the homeostasis. Consequently, we are able to avoid the negative effects of pathogens on the body and mind.
The main benefits of adaptogens involve providing more energy during the day and reducing the feeling of stress. Consequently, this results in an increase of resistance, more concentration, as well as a more restful sleep. Moreover, adaptogens shorten the recovery after being sick.
Origin of rhodiola rosea
The rhodiola rosea is a quite robust plant that grows in the polar climate. More specifically, it grows in Altai Mountains from Siberia, at 3000 meters over sea-level. The plant can grow up to 30-76 cm and it has yellow flowers. It is also known as golden root, rose root, rhodiola or Arctic root.
In Russia, people have used rhodiola rosea for centuries in order to cope with the cold Siberian and daily stress.
Rhodiola rosea belongs to the family of the Crassulaceae. It is important to know that there are more than two hundred species of the rhodiola plants. However, only the rhodiola rosea has shown benefits for our health. The name of the plant comes from the fact that, when we cut its root, it smells like a rose.
Properties of rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea inhibits the A and B subtypes of the enzyme monoamine oxidase, also known as MAO-A and MAO-B. Their function consists of metabolizing serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HTP) and dopamine (DA).
Rhodiola rosea can also affect the opioid peptides. These are amino acids that work like neurotransmitters in the central and peripheral nervous system. One of them is beta-endorphin, for example. There is evidence that rhodiola produces this effect because it regulates the production of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in the adrenal glands during stressful situations.
Theoretically, the cortisol regulation prevents the stress hormones from causing tiredness. Otherwise, an excess of cortisol affects the immune system and counter the insulin increase.
Benefits of rhodiola rosea
The benefits of rhodiola have several uses that have been proven in more than a hundred and ninety clinical trials.
- It helps to deal with physical and mental stress, reducing the stress and anxiety.
- Moreover, it helps to regulate the neurotransmitter balance. In fact, it preserves the balance of our body against stress by limiting the release of cortisol or the stress hormone.
- People use it to treat depression and neurosis too.
- Rhodiola also increases the energy, resistance and perseverance.
- It improves the focus and concentration, producing a state of mental clarity.
- In addition, it improves the memory ad cognitive performance.
- This plant helps to deal with depression and psychological stress.
- Moreover, it improves the sexual activity.
- Also, it improves the sport performance, since it enhances the physical resistance. In fact, it shortens the physical recovery after exhausting workouts.
- In addition, it prevents seasonal diseases, like common colds. By stimulating the production of natural defensive cells, it protects against infections.
- The rhodiola rosea also increases the cell energy through the ATP and CP production.
- Thanks to its antioxidant properties, it helps to fight against the free radicals and prevents oxidative damage.
- The elderly can benefit from its toning properties against aging.
- After suffering a disease, it will support the recovery.
- In order to obtain energy, it stimulates the fat metabolism.
- Those professions that require more attention will benefit from this plant. For example, truck drivers, air traffic controllers and pilots.
- When compared to other adaptogens, it produces its effects sooner and for a longer period of time.
To treat asthenic disorders
Rhodiola rosea is used to relieve asthenic disorders caused by an intense physical or mental effort or due to the flu or other diseases.
For instance, some of these disorders are insomnia, performance deterioration, lack of appetite, irritability, fatigue, hypertension and headaches.
For the physical and cognitive performance
The studies with rhodiola rosea have proven that it shortens the recovery after exhausting workouts. Moreover, it improves our focus and memory. In fact, the studies have proven that rhodiola rosea improves these capacities for a long period of time.
To deal with stress
Stress can show itself in many ways. All of us have dealt with emotional stress and we know how it feels. Anyone who does physical exercise knows how stress physically affects the body. Using our muscles excessively can have positive results, but physical stress will have negative consequences.
Let’s not forget either about daily environmental stress. In other words, pollution, smoke, contaminants from food and water, as well as the toxins from plastic bottles. All in all, our body experiences stress in many different ways.
Any type of stress has negative effects for the body. Our body releases cortisol when we are stressed. However, an excess of cortisol can trigger many problems for the organism.
When we are stressed, our body activates a complex sequence in our chemical and neurological system. Our body answers to stress in order to deal immediately with the situation that is causing stress.
We can compare it to the red area of the tachometer from our car. When we have to dodge another car quickly, we increase the pressure on the accelerator and tachometer and it reaches the red area to avoid an accident.
However, it is bad to drive always on the red area. In the same way, it is harmful for our body to be always dealing with stress. That is why rhodiola rosea calms our organism and supports the parasympathetic nervous system.
Stress can damage our mitochondria and reduce the energy from our cells. In fact, rhodiola rosea can help to increase said cell energy.
We all know that stress also has a serious psychological impact on our organism. Stress can lead us to depression and unhappiness. Rhodiola rosea stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy and active.
This study was conducted on a hundred and fifty people who suffered depression. They took rhodiola rosea for a month. In the end, the clinical symptoms of depression have completely disappeared in two thirds of the participants. Moreover, they have become more active and social. The general weakness that they experienced before disappeared too.
Effect on heart research
Some studies show how rhodiola can be used to treat heart diseases which tend to be caused by stress. This is due to its ability to reduce the corticosteroids and catecholamines. The adrenal glands release these substances when we suffer stress.
A series of placebo controlled double blind studies by both Swedish and Russian researchers showed the positive effects of rhodiola on the heart.
It has been proven how rhodiola can have a positive effect against tumors. In fact, it strengthens the body when facing toxins. This is due to the variety of antioxidant compounds from rhodiola rosea.
Rhodiola extracts have been quite successful against the free radicals. For now, there are several studies that are trying to asses if rhodiola rosea could be used against cancer. Or at least, to see if it could help patients during chemotherapy.
To strengthen the immune system
Rhodiola rosea stimulates the immune system in two different ways:
- Through the specific and direct stimulation of the immune defenses: They stimulate one of the most important types of immune cells, the NK or natural killers. Above all, they are in charge of destroying the infected cells of our body. Rhodiola rosea improves the immune system by increasing the resistance of the T cells. Moreover, it also increases our resistance against toxins that are accumulated during an infection.
- By making a person less prone to stress: The scientists have found out that stress suppresses the activity of the immune system. Consequently, it destroys our resistance against bacterial and viral attacks. Due to the effects of the NK cells against tumors, rhodiola rosea can increase our immunity by preventing the inhibition of B cells. This tends to happen when we are suffering stress and our body also wastes a lot of energy. If we are exposed to chronic stress, our body will lose energy constantly, resulting in a hindered immune response and deterioration of our health. The rhodiola rosea extract protects and stimulates the immune system through the auto-regulation or metabolic balance of our organism.
Thre three stages of stress
When there is a stress factor, the body triggers a sudden release of internal hormones: corticosteroids and catecholamines. If the stress is very intense, it can damage the regulation mechanisms of our own body. But, if we take adaptogens, we may become used to the situation without any issues.
If the stress factor continues (for example, an intense workout routine), our boy will learn to tolerate the stimulus. When it becomes used to it, its resistance increases. In general, this is a safe stage and, the longer we can stay on it, the better.
This happens when the body can no longer deal with stress and gives up. There are symptoms that can quickly worsen this exhaustion stage.
Stress-related diseases can occur during the alarm stage, but they tend to fully develop in the exhaustion stage. This is due to the fact that the body can no longer fight against stress. In general, they occur in the third phase, after some months or years. It all depends on the duration of the resistance stage.
Dealing with stress is much easier with rhodiola rosea
If you take rhodiola regularly, the alarm stage will easily pass to the resistance phase. Moreover, you will be able to remain in this phase for longer or even permanently. Consequently, you will prevent from dangerously slipping to a stage of extreme exhaustion.
The experts recommend taking rhodiola rosea supplements on an empty stomach or a while before one of the meals.
Depending on our purpose, we can take between 400 to 800mg.
As for the best time of day to take Rhodiola Rosea, it is best to take the supplement with your main meals.
As always, we suggest consult a physician or specialist before starting to take rhodiola supplements.
Side effects of rhodiola rosea
Unlike MAO inhibitors, you can combine Rhodiola rosea with most medicines.
The changes in the cognition and/or physical abilities occur by modulating the factors that stimulate the CNS. More specifically, it modulates the neurotransmitter system (increase of catecholamines, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors or adenosine receptors). Moreover, it also increases the brain perfusion during physical exercise.
It is also worth mentioning that the physical abilities can be of two types: thin (like dexterity or a drive in tennis, for instance) or think (like running).
Scientific evidence about rhodiola rosea
The objective of rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea is labelled as a supplement to improve the adaptation to fatigue. However, there are few studies that have assessed the effects of its intake on the cognitive performance for sports. Although there are a little bit more studies regarding its effects on the physical performance.
Studies about the effectiveness of rhodiola rosea
- DeBock et al. (2004) found out that 200mg of rhodiola rosea did not affect the visual reaction time or the ability to pay attention during a cycling test until exhaustion (≈17 minutes). This study was conducted in physically active male university students.
- Noreen et al. (2013) informed that there was no significant effect on the attention of physically active women, although not professionals. They took 3mg/kg (170mg approx.) for a 10km cycling endurance test.
On the contrary, its effects on the cognition when it is not related to any type of sport have been thoroughly proven.
- Aslanyan et al. (2010) conducted a study on healthy women between 20 and 68 years who have been diagnosed with psychological stress. They took a unique dose of 270mg of rhodiola rosea supplementation (combined with schisandra chinensis and eleutherococcus senticosus maxim). In the end, it improved the attention, speed and precision during stressful cognitive tasks when compared to the placebo.
- Shevtsov et al. (2003) compared the effects of a placebo and 370 – 555mg of rhodiola rosea on the cognitive performance. The study was conducted on 161 military men (19-21 years old). The subjects did a series of test to measure the visual perception, information processing, short-term memory, attention and change of attention.
Even though there are some interesting results, currently, there are no concluding evidence that rhodiola rosea is an ergogenic support to improve the sport performance.
However, there is more consensus regarding its use for situations of high psychological stress in order to improve cognitive aspects.
- Baker, L. B., Nuccio, R. P., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). Acute effects of dietary constituents on motor skill and cognitive performance in athletes. Nutrition reviews, 72(12), 790-802.
- Jówko E, Sadowski J, Długołęcka B, Gierczuk D, Opaszowski B, Cieśliński I. Effects of Rhodiola rosea supplementation on mental performance, physical capacity, and oxidative stress biomarkers in healthy men. J Sport Health Sci. 2018 Oct;7(4):473-480. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 May 20.
- Li Y, Pham V, Bui M, Song L, Wu C, Walia A, Uchio E, Smith-Liu F, Zi X. Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention. Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2017 Dec;3(6):384-395. doi: 10.1007/s40495-017-0106-1. Epub 2017 Sep 14.
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