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Rhodiola, Golden Root
A nearly reverent awe of Golden Root goes back to ancient times in China where it was sought by only the wealthiest few, and by royalty, who could afford its rarest treasures of health and longevity. Finally, science has caught up by identifying a number of unique substances in this plant, which account for its antioxidant and adaptogenic properties – and by helping these gifts to be available to you in meaningful potencies and at an attainable price. It could well be called the king of adaptogens. Adaptogens are phytonutrients, which help your body adjust to every sort of stress, challenge or change. They lend stamina to endure and to persevere. They help your body adapt to extremes of temperature, work load and schedule.
A plant native to mountainous regions of Asia, parts of Europe, and the Arctic, Rhodiola rosea has long been used as a healing herb. Traditionally it is often recommended to help combat fatigue and restore energy. Although records show that the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides once prescribed this plant, it is primarily associated with Scandinavia and Russia. Swedish researchers, for instance, believe that the Vikings regularly used rhodiola. And even today, a bouquet of rhodiola may be presented to a bride and groom in Siberia to assure a rich and fruitful marriage. Given the plant’s origins, it’s not really surprising that most of the research on Rhodiola rosea has been published in Slavic and Scandinavian languages.
American and other Western researchers, however, have recently begun to explore rhodiola’s effect on the body and its capacity to aid in the healing process, building upon the clinical studies originally conducted in Scandinavian countries and the Soviet Union. Of particular interest is rhodiola’s well-documented qualities as an adaptogen (an endurance enhancer). In this capacity it appears to help the body stay healthy and perform in top-notch condition despite physical exhaustion or environmental stresses, such as high heat or pollutants in the air and water. Plant specialists have actually identified more than 200 different species of rhodiola. While a number of different ones are used in traditional healing, R. rosea appears to be the most clinically effective form. The root is the part of the plant used medicinally, and some sources refer to R. rosea as “golden root” and commercially as “Arctic root.”
In recent years, dozens of uses for Rhodiola rosea have been proposed, including treating depression and fatigue, enhancing memory and intellectual capacity, increasing work performance and endurance, and stimulating the nervous system. Many of these potential benefits relate to the herb’s adaptogenic qualities. One particularly interesting aspect of rhodiola is that it appears to work differently within the body than other adaptogens-the best known of which is the very popular herb Siberian ginseng. Rhodiola’s unique mechanism of action excites researchers because it means this herb may be able to provide a therapeutic alternative to established adaptogens.
Some of the current findings on rhodiola are still preliminary and relate to complex physiological interactions in the body’s chemistry. But put simply, rhodiola appears to work by influencing key central nervous system chemicals-neurotransmitters called monoamines (dopamine and serotonin are examples). An imbalance of monoamines is believed to be involved in several hard-to-treat illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD); some herbalists believe taking rhodiola to normalize monoamine levels may benefit these ailments.
In contrast, most other adaptogens, such as Siberian ginseng, seem to boost the body’s reserves by enhancing the output of stress-fighting hormones from the adrenal glands. Other studies on rhodiola have shown benefits in such varied areas as increased learning capacity and memory enhancement, regulation of menstrual periods and infertility, reduction of side effects from cancer chemotherapy, increased sexual libido and erectile dysfunction, enhancement of thyroid gland function, increased capacity for work and endurance, and protection from environmental toxins.
Specifically, Rhodiola rosea may help to:
- Improve performance capacity. A handful of studies have shown that rhodiola increases performance in individuals who are working under stressful conditions. For example, a small 2000 study published in the journal Phytomedicine examined the herb’s effect on mental fatigue in a group of 56 healthy young Armenian doctors doing night duty. In this double-blind study, measures of mental fatigue (such as impaired short-term memory, associative thinking, audio-visual perception) were very much improved after supplementation with a rhodiola extract as opposed to a placebo.
- Ease chronic fatigue syndrome. Rhodiola appears to have clinical benefits for chronic fatigue syndrome through a variety of mechanisms-including raising levels of neurotransmitters, improving metabolism of fatty acids, and enhancing energy molecules, such as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and CP (creatine phosphate).
- Fight fatigue and boost energy. Even for individuals who don’t have chronic fatigue syndrome, rhodiola is becoming increasingly popular to counter the exhaustion that occurs from working the body too hard, either physically or mentally. With rhodiola, problems of fatigue- or exhaustion-related sleep, appetite, and headache may lift. Those struggling to recover from an intense work schedule may also benefit from the herb’s apparent energy-boosting powers.
- Prevent stress-related illnesses. Because rhodiola is an adaptogen, it’s likely that this herb can help boost resistance to physical stresses-and the illnesses that commonly follow, from immune-system suppression to high blood pressure and heart disease. Acute stress in particular tends to shift the body’s levels of endorphins and monoamines, neurochemicals that rhodiola helps to rebalance. More clinical research is clearly needed to demonstrate this effect, but the hope is that rhodiola taken during times of acute stress may help to stabilize the body.