Research & Education

Rhodiola Rosea A Star Adaptogen

Recent trends in herbal therapies have demonstrated an escalation in the interest research and use of adaptogenic bontanicals that increase resilience and stamina to chronic stress. This should not come as a surprise since modern lifestyles often operate on time constraints that leave individuals feeling short on sleep healthy meals time alone time with family and of course … energy. Success is often measured by productivity and productivity is matched with speed. As society continues to move toward a George Jetson prototype rather than aspiring to move back to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ it will increasingly rely on tools that will provide support for the demands and stresses of a fast-paced life. 

Rhodiola rosea is becoming one of the most popular adaptogenic botanicals in North America. It has long been recognized and revered in Russia Europe and Asia as an herb that increased mental physical and emotional resiliency. Originally founded by a Greek physician and duly named because of its fragrant rose-scented roots rhodiola’s adaptogenic qualities were noted as early as 1755 in the Swedish pharmacopoeia. Rhodiola contains numerous antioxidants and flavonoids but its prized constituents include rosavins and salidrosides which are now used as the mark of standardization.

One of the most common uses of rhodiola is for improving mental and physical fatigue. Numerous studies have been conducted to this end. A recent systematic review of 11 of the most qualifying clinical studies on the adaptogenic effects of a mono-preparation of R. rosea concluded that it “may have beneficial effects on physical performance mental performance and certain mental health conditions.” In an open-label study investigating the therapeutic effects and safety of R. rosea on life-stress symptoms 101 subjects were given 200mg of a standardized dry extract of rhodiola roots twice daily for four weeks. Clinically relevant improvements were observed in all assessments of stress symptoms disability functional impairment and overall therapeutic effect within three days and gained efficacy throughout the study period. The safety of rhodiola has been consistently above reproach with only a few minor adverse effects such as headaches ever reported in clinical studies. 

As with other adaptogens rhodiola acts upon the central nervous system to enhance the actions of norepinephrine dopamine and serotonin by preventing the degradation of these monoamines. Additionally this effect is augmented by increasing the permeability of the blood brain barrier to neurotransmitter precursors. Various regions of the cerebral cortex selectively receive these neurotransmitters and respond by stimulating cognitive functions such as thinking analyzing evaluating calculating planning attention memory and learning functions. This gentle cognitive stimulation delivered by rhodiola can play an important role in appropriately managing chronic mental and physical stress.

Rhodiola also acts upon the limbic system in a parallel manner. The hippocampus amygdala and hypothalamus also respond to the healthy supply of norepinephrine serotonin and dopamine and consequently contribute to positive outcomes in emotion memory mood pleasure energy and drive. The hypothalamus also interacts with the adrenal glands via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. As rhodiola builds healthy levels of neurotransmitters and the hypothalamus responds the adrenal glands are able to better manage cortisol levels in response to stress. Mismanaged cortisol levels contribute heavily to fatigue exhaustion and a compromised immunity. Therefore rhodiola’s indirect influence on cortisol management can have a far-reaching positive impact on stamina health and resiliency. This relationship is further confirmed by recent studies that show how rhodiola positively modulates the immune response to stress through its actions upon the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis.

As a bonus rhodiola possesses numerous botanical antioxidants that act as neuroprotectants. Chronic stress has been well recognized as a causative factor in oxidative damage by promoting the generation of free radicals. Therefore rhodiola not only supports the function of the central nervous system during stress but also protects it from the damaging effects of long-term stress. 

In keeping with the three criteria that identify all adaptogens rhodiola has been shown to exert a safe non-specific normalizing action upon critical neurotransmitters and hormones strengthening and protecting various body systems targeted by physical and mental stress. These three roles have allowed rhodiola to become a gold nugget among botanicals assisting a large population of individuals in their efforts to continually cope with the various stressors of modern life.