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Rev Up With Rhodiola
Rev Up With Rhodiola
As a garden designer and mother of two toddlers, my sister Amy was justifiably tired. But when low energy turned into exhaustion and foggy thinking with a touch of the blues, she knew it was time to do something about it. “Within days of starting Rhodiola extract, I noticed a big difference,” she says. “I just felt like I had more energy reserves—I could do everything I needed to do, and I felt happier.”
Rhodiola rosea, an herb that has been used for centuries in eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Asia, has only recently become popular in the West. “Interestingly, the herb is not even in the mainstream Chinese Materia Medica,” says Mark Goldby, LAc, an acupuncturist in Portland, Ore., who frequently recommends a highly potent, powdered extract of the herb in his practice. “I have found Rhodiola to be very helpful in treating much of what plagues the average American—exhaustion and stress.”
Rhodiola’s ability to help the body deal with stressful conditions such as sleep deprivation and depression may be attributed to its high polyphenol content. Specifically, Rhodiola contains adaptogenic compounds, known collectively as rosavins and salidrosides, which appear to affect the brain’s neurotransmitter levels, as well as prevent the depletion of adrenal hormones.
Rhodiola also contains compounds that stimulate antioxidant activity, which have been shown to boost memory and performance. “It has the ability to sustain one’s energy without creating agitation,” says Goldby.
Increasing energy and stamina is the most common traditional use for Rhodiola; however, recent studies have revealed a variety of other benefits:
Fights fatigue: More than simply increasing energy, Rhodiola appears to buffer the body against the physical repercussions of stress. A study published in Planta Medica in 2009 showed that a daily dose of 576 mg of Rhodiola extract can exert an antifatigue effect that increases concentration abilities while also decreasing cortisol (“stress hormone”) levels in those with fatigue syndrome.
Improves performance: Some evidence suggests Rhodiola has the ability to increase energy metabolites in brain and muscle cells. A number of studies, including one in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2004, have shown the herb shortens recovery time between bouts of exercise and improves endurance during exercise.
Boosts memory: Rhodiola may also offer benefits for cognitive function. A 2007 study in the journal Photomedicine revealed that medical students who took Rhodiola extract for 20 days showed significant improvements in mental fatigue, final exam grades and physical fitness.
Calms anxiety: A pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2008 showed that Rhodiola can help individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. Ten study participants who were given a daily dose of 340 mg of Rhodiola for 10 weeks experienced significant improvements in anxiety and depression.
Fights oxidation: Rhodiola also has antioxidant effects. In one small study of 14 trained male athletes published in 2010 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, four weeks of supplementation with the herb showed a significant reduction in lactate levels and skeletal muscle damage after exercise.
Eases depression: Several studies have shown Rhodiola reduces symptoms of depression. For example, a 2007 study in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry showed that daily doses of the herb significantly improved insomnia, emotional stability and overall depression in mildly to moderately depressed men and women.
Rhodiola has a very low level of toxicity and appears to be well tolerated over the long term. The typical dose ranges from 200 mg to 600 mg of standardized extract per day. “Look for a product that is standardized to 3:1, rosavins to salidrosides,” Goldby advises.
Of course it’s always best to work with a health practitioner before experimenting with herbs, especially when dealing with issues of anxiety and depression.
“I am so grateful this herb has come onto the scene. It’s amazing at breaking the common cycle of fatigue, depression and anxiety that plagues our society,” Goldby says.
Linda is a nutritional anthropologist and freelance writer in Portland, Ore. Her work has been featured in Body & Soul, Fitness, Glamour, Natural Health, Yoga Journal and many other national magazines. She is also the author of the User's Guide to Natural Remedies for Depression (Basic Health Publications, 2003).
June 6th, 2012