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A Few of My Favorite Adaptogens: Rhodiola 
Rhodiola, Rhodiola rosea

Plant Family: Crassulaceae (Orpine or Stonecrop family)

Part Used: Root and rhizome (You can buy seeds of Rhodiola from: Horizon Herbs)


Tissue state/Energetics: Very astringent and Dry (Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism recommends rhodiola is best used in a formula with other adaptogens with rhodiola in the range of 10 to 20% of the overall formula), Sweet, Slightly bitter or sour, Spicy, Cool - Brigitte Mars in The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine considers the herb moist. The conflict between Yance's "Very astringent and dry" and Mars' "moist" could merely be a reflection that most astringent herbs help the body retain moisture rather than cause dryness, a common misconception until you understand how astringents work in the body.

Active Constituents: Rosavins: rosavin, rosin, rosarin, and tyrosol; Salidroside (rhodioloside); p-Tyrosal; Flavonoids (rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, acetylrodalgin, and tricin); Monoterpenes (rosiridol, rosaridin); triterpenes (daucosterol, beta-sitosterol); and phenolic acids (chlorogenic, hydroxycinnamic, gallic); Essential oil (n-Decanol, geraniol, 1,4-p-menthadien-7-ol, linalool and its oxides, geraniol; amino acids; vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. It is important to harvest rhodiola in the right season following the right number of growth years (minimum of 4 years’ growth before harvesting) from a climate suitable to the plant (Russion Rhodiola rosea is twice as potent as Chinese Rhodiola rosea), and avoid overdrying the plant or using inferior extraction methods.

Biochemical Actions: Adaptogen, antidepressant, antioxidant, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antimetastatic, antiviral, immune system stimulant, nervine/antidepressant, mild central nervous system stimulant, antiarrythmic (protects against irregular heartbeats), cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, and neuroprotective.

Medicinal Use: The root of rhodiola is used in mainstream Russian medicine for fatigue and infectious illnesses and in psychiatric and neurological conditions. Small doses have a stimulating effect on laboratory animals while larger doses have more of a sedative effect. The root's double whammy of cognitive stimulation and emotional calming enhances learning and memory while delivering beneficial antioxidant effects to the brain. Rhodiola is a cooling adaptogen and, though improving mental performance and symptoms of fatigue, it is not likely to cause overstimulation, which is sometimes seen in those taking Asian or Panax ginseng. Rhodiola is very appropriate for folks with asthenic depression, altitude sickness (particularly when combined with cordyceps, reishi, and holy basil), ADHD, and helping folks recover from traumatic brain injury. The herb has positive effects on the endocrine glands, helping to balance blood sugar levels, decreasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, relieving muscle stiffness and spasms, and enhancing male and female reproductive function in that it improves erectile dysfunction in men and relieves amenorrhea and infertility caused by mild hormonal imbalances and stress in women.

Research Findings:
An open study of 53 healthy subjects and 412 patients with a mixed bag of neuroses and debilities (such as recovering from illness and infection) showed rhodiola to improve symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, irritability, weakness and headaches. In another open study, 21 docs took rhodiola before embarking on intense intellectual work – every last one had an improvement in quality of work, and their fatigue was diminished.

At 300 mg/day (a relatively high dose), proofreaders’ accuracy improved , though it did not increase the number of errors caught. Moral: You may produce more and be more accurate, but you may still miss your boo-boo’s!

At 170 mg/day (lower dose), 56 physicians’ functioning was improved on prolonged night duty during a 2-week period but was not as effective in the last 2 weeks of a 6-week period, suggesting the herb is helpful in coping with physical and emotional stressors but we still need to alter our lifestyle for better health in long-term and also may address the issue of rhodiola being best used in a formula for long-term use.

A double-blind study of 60 med students studying for finals, their well-being, physical fitness, mental fatigue, and exam grades improved with a relatively low dose of rhodiola.

High school students’ psychic fatigue and situation anxiety were reduced using rhodiola.

In a 12-week study, rhodiola and a blend of vitamins and minerals improved symptoms such as exhaustion, forgetfulness, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and other similar complaints. More improvement was seen in those who took a full dose of rhodiola in the morning rather than a divided dose during the day.

In a 6-week study of depression (mild to moderate), a rhodiola dosage of 340 to 680mg/day improved symptoms of depression, insomnia, and emotional stability but not self esteem.

Rhodiola is considered superior to ginseng during acute stress, preventing stress-induced dysruptions to the nervous and endocrine systems, improving the HPA response and enhancing performance.

A recent study showed rhodiola did not affect muscle recovery time or time to exhaustion in 12 resistance-trained men taking 1500 mg/day for 4 days. Though a small study did show rhodiola did reduce levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory protein) and creatinine kinase in healthy untrained volunteers after exhaustive exercise – guess what I’m reaching for tomorrow so I can get the rest of my garden planted?

Rhodiola has antioxidant, cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, and strengthening effects, along with a very low toxicity level. The LD50 in rats equates to a 235,000mg dose for the average-sized man. Since the typical dose is 600 mg/day, I think safety is not a big issue.

Rhodiola normalizes thyroid function in mild hypothyroidism, enhances thymus gland function, and protects or delays age-related involution of organs, as well as improves adrenal gland reserves without causing hypertrophy.

The extract reduces the incidence of chromosomal damage and increases DNA repair in bone marrow cells after exposure to a mutagen such as radiation.

Additionally, rhodiola provides sexual enhancement, assists in weight reduction, is chemoprotective and chemopotentiating, as well as radiation protective, and is a cardioprotective adaptogen, it prevents stress-indcued catecholamine activity in cardiac tissue and reduces adrenaline-induced arrhythmias, as well as regulates blood pressure and heart rate, provides resistance to altitude sickness, improves sleep, breathing, and fatigue associated with altitude, provides protection against lethal heat shock, has profound antioxidant activities, is hepatoprotective, antidiabetic and enables better insulin sensitivity and signaling, prevents ischemic brain damage, prevents lung damage in pulmonary hypertension, and helps to normalize overall body functions, especially under stress conditions, both physical and psychological.

Rhodiola for Whom?
*Folks bogged down in the stress and fatigue of demanding intellectual work;
*Those who have trouble getting over minor illnesses: It’s just hanging on and on;
*Those unable to rest and can’t “afford to be sick;”
*Students of any age who are frazzled and fatigued from studying too hard;
*Those with trouble concentrating while awake and trouble sleeping at night;
*For enhancing fertility and improving libido;
*Those with low thyroid function and depleted adrenal function;
*Improving adaptation to high altitude;
*Treating GI infections and ailments.

Safety Issues: Winston & Kuhn in Herbal Therapy & Supplements states “There is no animal or human evidence of toxicity or teratogenicity for Use in Pregnancy/Lactation/Children.” Winston and Maimes, in Adaptogens, suggests avoiding rhodiola in patients who are bipolar, manic, or have paranoid mental states. Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism says “Taken within the [wild Russian grown] dosage range, rhodiola root extract has no side effects or toxicity. This herb is best used as part of an adaptogenic formulation because of its drying, astringent nature, and because it does not require high doses to produce a therapeutic effect.”

Dosage: 1 to 2 tsp dried root in 8 oz hot water decoction – 1 to 3 cups/day; 4 to 6 ml/three times/day of a 1:5 tincture (30% alcohol); 500 – 1,000mg standardized capsule providing 3% to 6% rosavins and 1% salidroside. The best rhodiola product will be wild Russian-grown 1:1 fluid extract: 2 to 5 ml daily as part of an adaptogenic formula that includes other adaptogens.

Shonda's Personal Dosage: As I said in the earlier blog post on American Ginseng, I take a blend that includes Rhodiola at 10 am and before 3 pm to avoid having any of the more stimulating adaptogens interfere with my already muddled sleep pattern, leaning heavily upon ashwaganda in the evening and bedtime to enhance sleep.


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