Herbs & Health

herbs in profile
Energise your day with Rhodiola

If you're lacking in energy, mentally or physically exhausted, or simply running on empty, then the herb Rhodiola may give you the boost your need.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a yellow-flowered perennial plant that grows in cold, mountainous regions of the world, such as Central Asia, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, Scandinavia and Russia. The therapeutic part of the plant is the root system, or rhizome, which grows to 35cm. When the roots are freshly cut, they give off a rose-like odour, which is why the plant is sometimes also referred to as rose root.

Traditional use
Traditionally used in Russia, Scandinavia and Middle Asia, Rhodiola was regarded as a tonic and stimulant, and was used to increase physical endurance, attention span, memory, work productivity and resistance to high-altitude sickness. It is said that the Vikings depended on this herb to enhance their physical strength and endurance, while Russian cosmonauts and athletes used it to help them adapt to physical stress.

Forty years and more than 180 research studies later, a growing body of Western scientists and physicians are beginning to study, and consequently prescribe, Rhodiola as an adaptogen. Chris Kilham, a botanical specialist best known as the “Medicine Hunter” and author of Hot Plants, has even described the herb as the “single most beneficial plant in the world.”

Herbal actions
Adaptogens have a unique value, in that they specifically help the body adapt to stress by supporting the adrenal glands. Unlike stimulants such as caffeine, which have short-lived effects and often leave you feeling more drained with prolonged use; adaptogens have the effect of increasing energy, endurance and greater mental alertness, while encouraging deep and restful sleep.

Just like applying your car brakes to slow things down, Rhodiola acts as your body’s circuit breaker. By slowing down your body’s stress response system, it prevents the excessive release of stress hormones (such as cortisol), thus inducing a calmer, more stable state of mind and allowing your body to replenish its energy supply. 

Rhodiola is also thought to influence key brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, and natural feel-good opioids, such as beta-endorphins. According to Dr Richard Brown from Columbia University in New York, Rhodiola is exceptionally beneficial because it “enhances the healing properties of one’s own nervous system.” He believes the unique feature of Rhodiola is its ability to increase mental alertness and mental comprehension while also calming the emotions.

Other health benefits
Most of the recent research appears to indicate that Rhodiola is a herb without equal in its ability to improve physical and mental performance under stress.

Currently, reasonable indications for its use include:

• Enhancing physical and mental performance.
• Improving ability to perform under stressful conditions.
• Improving physical and mental “coping” mechanisms.
• Promoting deep and restful sleep.
• Improving brain function, particularly memory.
• Accelerating recovery from exercise.
• Improving low mood.
• Supporting healthy heart and immune function.

A recent, double-blind placebo controlled trial (Nordic Jrn Psych, 2007) found that an extract of Rhodiola rosea root demonstrated beneficial anti-depressive activity in patients with mild-to-moderate anxiety. After six weeks patients taking 680mg daily of the Rhodiola extract showed significant improvements in mood, insomnia and emotional balance, compared to insignificant changes in the placebo group. No adverse health effects were detected in the group given the Rhodiola extract.

Cautions
Rhodiola supplements should be taken before midday, as some individuals may experience insomnia and vivid dreams, which usually subside within two weeks.  Rhodiola appears to have sedative effects, so be sensible, check with your doctor and use with caution when taking central nervous system (CNS) medications due to a possible additive effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proven results

A recent double-blind placebo controlled trial (Nordic Jrn Psych. 2007) found that an extract of Rhodiola rosea root demonstrated beneficial anti-depressive activity in patients with mild-to-moderate anxiety. After six years patients taking 680mg daily of the Rhodiola extract showed significant improvements in mood, insomnia and emotional balance, compared to insignificant changes in the placebo group. No adverse health effects were detected in the group given the Rhodiola extract.