Adaptogens – Rhodiola rosea – The “Gold-Standard” Adaptogen

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each week, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Rhodiola rosea – The “Gold-Standard” Adaptogen

Also known as golden root and Arctic root, Rhodiola rosea has been shown to have superior adaptogenic properties that support the various phases of the body’s stress response. Extracts of Rhodiola rosea root contain a variety of active phytonutrients (flavonoids); the best known are salidroside (also called rhodioloside or rhodosin), rodiolin, rosin, rosavin, rosarin, rosaridin and p-tyrosol.

Rhodiola rosea Enhances Physical Performance

Scandinavian and Russian professional and Olympic athletes have supplemented with Rhodiola rosea root extract for years to maximize endurance and accelerate muscle cell recovery after exercise. According to a detailed summary of research conducted within the former Soviet Union on Rhodiola rosea root extract, daily consumption of 200 to 600 mg of this herbal preparation has been relied upon for its abilities to 1) sustain a high level of conversion of energy to work during strenuous exercise; 2) reduce the recovery time immediately after a strenuous event; and 3) stimulate protein deposition and muscle growth.2 Although it is not possible to confirm this author’s evaluation of the research (available only in the original Russian), there is some independent scientific evidence that supports the ability of Rhodiola rosea root extract to support performance under stress.

In experiments in animals, Rhodiola rosea root extract has been found to improve physical working capacity by increasing the efficiency of conversion of nutrients into energy in muscle cells during exhaustive work. This effect of Rhodiola rosea root extract on muscle cells can explain at least in part the demonstration, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, that compared to the lack of effects of placebo, the consumption of 200 mg of Rhodiola rosea root extract (standardized to 3% rosavin + 1% salidroside) one hour before testing produced increased endurance (time to exhaustion) and maximum oxygen delivery during exercise without an increase in work by the lungs.3 In another experiment, untrained volunteers who consumed Rhodiola rosea root extract prior to beginning controlled exercise experienced faster recovery of muscle function and less soreness when they became exhausted.

Together, this body of science suggests that the capacity to perform any activity, even the activities of daily work, can be sustained and supported by appropriately timed dietary supplementation with Rhodiola rosea root extract.

Rhodiola rosea Promotes Mental Performance

Rhodiola rosea root flavonoids enjoy a reputation for stimulating the nervous system, increasing the ability to concentrate, enhancing the quality of work performance, enhancing healthy sleep and eliminating tiredness. For example, the flavonoids in these roots were shown to decrease mental fatigue and increase physical fitness, associative thinking and short-term memory, ability to perform mathematical calculations, ability to concentrate and ability to perform on standardized tests in studies of students during “exam week” and young physicians during generally stressful night shifts. It is likely that, as with muscular work, Rhodiola rosea root extract enhances the efficiency of physiological energy generation, and thus supports efficient mental function even during periods of energy-draining physical and mental stress.

Rhodiola rosea Strengthens Immune System Performance

According to recently published research, the flavonoids in Rhodiola rosea roots are effective promoters of the innate response of the immune system.4 Further studies suggest that Rhodiola enhances the production of several chemical messengers of the immune system that function as proliferators of a highly vigilant immune response.5 Chinese researchers studying the immune modulating effects of Rhodiola have also concluded that the herb has modulatory effects on both the Th1 and Th2 response of the human immune system, thus showing an ability to beneficially balance the immune response.6 Through its influence on cytokine and immune protein expression, Rhodiola may promote an active, healthy immune response.

Rhodiola rosea may be an ideal adaptogenic herb that is able to support the human stress response by relieving feelings of tiredness and lethargy, by tonifying the body to increase work capacity and physical endurance, by enhancing cognitive function through its ability to support concentration and memory, and by modulating immune function to promote an enhanced immune response.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Liver Health: Support the Body’s Detox System

2. Abidoff M, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola Rosea. The Herbal Heavyweight from Russia. National Bioscience Corp., Chester, NY, 2005, 6 pages.
3. 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;14:298-307.
4. Ming DS, Hillhouse BJ, Guns ES, Eberding A, Xie S, Vimalanathan S, Towers GH. Bioactive compounds from Rhodiola rosea (Crassulaceae). Phytother Res 2005;19:740-743.
5. Mishra KP, Ganju L, Chanda S, Karan D, Sawhney RC. Aqueous extract of Rhodiola imbricata rhizome stimulates Toll-like receptor 4, granzyme-B and Th1 cytokines in vitro.Immunobiology. 2009;214(1):27-31.
6. Li HX, Sze SC, Tong Y, Ng TB. Production of Th1- and Th2-dependent cytokines induced by the Chinese medicine herb, Rhodiola algida, on human peripheral blood monocytes. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;22;123(2):257-66.

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