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General Health Article

Rhodiola - A Powerful Adaptogen and Energy Booster from the Artic

Rhodiola rosea, also called Rose root, Arctic root, Golden root, Hong Jing Tian, and Aaron's rod, grows at high altitudes in arctic and subarctic regions including the Alps and the Rockies, and on mountains in Scandinavia and Great Britain. It has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years for its health-giving qualities. Rhodiola has an important place in Scandinavian and Russian, as well as Chinese, traditional medicines. It is best known as an antidepressant. In addition it also has antioxidative properties, like all adaptogens, which naturally help the body resist anxiety, stress, fatigue, and trauma but without affecting the body's normal functions.

Rhodiola was known and studied by the Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscorides in the 1st century AD. His principal work, De Materia Medica, was essentially the first pharmacopeia. It is thought that he renamed the plant rosea because of the rose-like smell of its fresh root when cut, but it is not related to the rose.

Exactly what rhodiola contains that makes it such an effective herb is still being studied. Some people believe that there are as many as 86 biochemical compounds in rhodiola. It is known that rhodiola somehow influences dopamine, nor-epinephrine and seratonin levels, but exactly how is unclear because experiments are still being carried out. Glycosides such as rosavin, rosarin, rhodiolin, rosviridin, and rosin are the most important compounds and are thought to be directly responsible for rhodiola's healthful properties. Rhodiola also contains flavonoids, such as catechins and proanthocyanidins, gallic, chlorogenic and caffeic acids, the antioxidant p-Tyrosol, and tannins.

The studies done in Russia were kept secret because the Soviet military intended to use rhodiola for its troops. With the fall of the Iron Curtain much more information on these tests, done on human subjects, is coming out. An extract of rhodiola is registered in Russia as a medicine for human use.

It is usually prepared in capsules, but tinctures and infusions can be made as well - mostly by people nearer to the source. The recommended dosage is between 200 and 500 mg per day, but this varies from person to person, and you should cut back or discontinue use if you become too jittery. You can start again at a lower dosage and gradually work up if you need to.

Rhodiola is very unusual because it is able to calm the emotions and reduce stress, and at the same time provide energy and stimulation for mental and physical activity.

It should be noted that there are many other species of rhodiola, but only R. rosea has been shown to have all the qualities claimed for the medicinal herb. Also, rhodiola extract is only effective when it contains rosavin and salidroside, both types of cinnamol alcohol glycosides, in concentrations of at least 3% and around 1% or less, respectively. You must make sure to find a rhodiola extract or preparation that is high in rosavins because many varieties contain mostly salidrosides which are much less effective. Remember that many factors can interfere with a supplement's quality, and some have no value at all because of poor harvesting techniques or bad processing.

Health conditions that may be improved with the use of rhodiola

• Anxiety

• Anti-aging

• Adult attention deficit disorder

• Altitude sickness and other types of oxygen deprivation

• Cardio-protective and cardio-vascular disease

• Energy booster

• Fatigue

• Fibromyalgia

• Impotence

• Immune system stimulant

• Depression

• Memory loss

• Mental and physical effects of chemotherapy

• Menopause

• Mood stabilizer

• Recovery from operations or illness

• Stress resistance

• Symptoms of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases

• Possible suppression of tumors

Uses as a natural herbal remedy

• The root (rhizome) of the plant is used to make an infusion, but can also be ground into a powder which is usually used in capsules

Rosavin, one of the compounds, is thought to help in the treatment of anxiety as well as working as an antidepressant, but other researchers suggest salidroside (rhodioloside) is the most active compound

• Rhodiola contains flavonoids, which give it strong antioxidant properties

•It is used for altitude sickness and other types of oxygen deprivation in its native mountainous regions

• It is thought to influence the balance of monoamines like dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters associated with mood disorders

• An article published in 2007 in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry noted that rhodiola extract lessened the effects of depression, and is also known to elevate mood

• It is used to treat fatigue, and is often used to treat patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

• It effectively boosts energy

• The immune system benefits from rhodiola because it seems to directly stimulate the NK cells, the body's initial defense against invading bacteria and viruses, and by reducing the effects of stress, which suppresses the immune system itself

• The NK cells are also involved in attacking tumors, so it is thought that rhodiola may help them suppress tumors, but no studies have been done on this yet

• Studies published in Russia suggest that rhodiola also has anti-carcinogenic properties

• It stimulates the brain's production of neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin, which increase cognitive ability

• It acts as an antimutagen, which means it interferes with or stops cells from mutating. This could be beneficial as part of a cancer protocol

• The Russians have used it for its anti-aging properties, which are chiefly the general characteristics of cognitive improvement, improved immune system health, and antimutagenic factors

• It has been suggested as a treatment for Parkinson's disease because of its ability to increase dopamine

• Its cardio-protective qualities include making the heart rate regular

• It activates lipase, which helps break down fat and, when combined with exercise, helps you lose weight faster

• Russian studies have shown a positive effect on sex drive

• Some studies done on humans claim that it improves powers of concentration and enhances memory

• Studies on humans, mostly done in Russia, also show a positive effect on physical performance

• It has been used as an antidepressant, a quality found in the Russian studies conducted during the Cold War

• Studies have begun in sports medicine to see if it can boost athletic performance because of its effect on mitochondria, the source of chemical energy in cells

Dosage, Types of Preparations and Side Effects

Smaller amounts should be tried first to see what sort of reaction each individual has to specific preparations. Usually supplements containing 2 to 3% rosavin and 0.8 to 1% salidroside are standard.

Although no side effects are known, you should not take rhodiola during pregnancy or while breast feeding. However some people report irritability and insomnia, while others claim rhodiola cures these symptoms. It has also been claimed that rhodiola thins the blood, but there is no published study referred to.

It is interesting to note that Russian researchers think that rhodiola is more of a stimulant in lower doses, and more of a sedative in higher doses.

• 200 to 600 mg of the powdered root extract can be used, 2 to 3 times a day

• As an alcohol-based extract, between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon per day should be uses

• It should be taken during the day because it can interfere with sleep

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