What is Rhodiola rosea? Rhodiola rosea (sometimes called “Arctic root” or “golden root”) is a popular plant that is traditionally used medicinally in Eastern Europe and Asia. It is widely distributed in the Arctic and mountainous regions throughout Europe and Asia. It is classified as an adaptogen, which means that it enhances are body’s ability to cope with external stresses (both physical and mental). It has been widely studied in Russia and Scandanavia for over 35 years and is reputed to stimulate the nervous system, decrease depression, enhance work performance, and eliminate, or reduce, fatigue (Petkov et al., 1986).
Who might benefit from Rhodiola rosea supplements? Rhodiola rosea may be beneficial to anyone who undergoes intense periods of stress either through heavy training volumes or intensities. It would therefore be of benefit to hard training endurance athletes (Long distance runners, swimmers, cyclists, triathletes etc.), team sports competitors (football, rugby, hockey etc.), and strength power athletes (body builders, weightlifters, sprinters etc.).
What does research say about Rhodiola rosea supplements? Rhodiola rosea has been demonstrated to greatly enhance are ability to cope with physical and mental stress (Kelly, 2001). When we are exposed to stresses, either through heavy training, or through pressures at work, or at home, our bodies respond by adjusting the levels of certain key hormones within the central nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). These changes lead to an increase in the levels of cortisol and a depletion of the key neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. High levels of cortisol leads to increased muscle breakdown, lower muscle glycogen levels, and reduced immune function. Whereas, depletion of norepinephrine and dopamine will leave you feeling low, fatigued, and will reduce your exercise performance capacity. Therefore, it is clear that prolonged exposure to either physical or mental stress will have a negative impact on exercise performance. The adaptogenic properties of Rodiola rosea allow you to adapt more effectively to the stresses being placed upon you and therefore will mean that the stress – whether it is physical or mental – will have less of a negative impact on you both physically and mentally.
The most critical constituents, found within Rhodiola rosea, that enhance physical and mental fatigue resistance, are salidroside (rhodioloside), salidroside-like glycoside compounds (rhodiolin, rosin, rosavin, rosarin, and rosiridin), and p-tyrosol (Petkov et al., 1986). As well as reducing the effect of physical and mental stresses some of these compounds appear to have strong anti-oxidant properties (Bonanome et al., 2000). Anti-oxidants protect against the damaging effects of free radicals – chemicals that cause havoc within cells by damaging key structures within cells.
Research has shown that the consumption of Rhodiola rosea for 20 days significantly improved physical fitness, and significantly reduced mental fatigue (Spasov et al., 2000). The subjects in this study were students who were in the middle of an exam period, so obviously they were under a higher than usual level of stress. The Rhodiola rosea therefore helped their body to adapt and cope with the increased levels of stress.
Further research, looking at the effect of supplementation, with a low-dose of Rhodiola rosea, on the mental fatigue of 56 young healthy medical physicians on night duty (Darbinyan et al., 2000), found that mental fatigue was significantly reduced following supplementation. This indicates that the Rhodiola rosea supplement allowed them to better adapt to the increased stress of the situation, and reduced their level of physical and mental fatigue.
Rhodiola rosea also looks to be a promising endurance supplement that may enhance fatigue resistance. Following 4 weeks of supplementation subjects significantly increased their time to exhaustion, from 16.8 to 17.2 minutes, and significantly improved their aerobic capacity (VO2max), from 50.9 to 52.9ml.kg.min-1 (De Bock et al., 2004). Research, using animals, demonstrated that the swim time to exhaustion in rats increased by 139-159% following supplementation (Azizov and Seifulla, 1998).
Other positive effects of Rhodiola rosea supplementation include: protection against stress induced damage to the heart muscle (Afanas’ev et al., 1993; Kelly, 2001), have a protective effect against cancers (Udinstev and Schakhov, 1991a; Udinstev and Schakhov, 1991b) and may reduce liver toxicity (Udinstev and Schakhov, 1991b).
How should I take Rhodiola rosea? For best results take Rhodiola rosea about 1-2 weeks before a period of increased stress (planned increase in training volume/intensity, examination etc.). You can take between 300 and 1000mg daily, ideally in 2-3 divided doses. When taken at this dosage it can be taken for up to 4 months with no adverse effects (Kelly, 2001). For best results cycle this supplement (i.e. take for 1-2months at a time with a 2-4 week lay off period).
There is some evidence that consumption of more than 1.5-2g of Rhodiola rosea, per day, may experience an increased level of irritability, and insomnia following several days of supplementation at this dose (Kelly, 2001).
Afanas’ev S. A., Alekseeva, E. D., Bardamova, I. B., et al., (1993) Cardiac contractile function following acute cooling of the body and the adaptogenic correction of its disorders. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 116, 480-483.
Azizov, A. P. and Seifulla, R. D. (1998) the effect of Elton, leveton, fitoton and adapton on the work capacity of experimental animals. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 61, 61-63.
Bonanome, A., Pagnan, A., Caruso, D., et al. (2000) Evidence of postprandial absorption of olive oil phenols in human. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 10, 111-120.
Darbinyan, V., Kteyan, A., Panossian, A., Gabrielian, E., Wikman, G. and Wagner, H. (2000) Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue – a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine. 7 (5), 365-371.
De Bock, K., Eijinde, B. O., Ramaekers, M. and Hespel, P. (2004) Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 14 (3), 298-307.
Kelly, G. S. (2001) Rhodiola rosea: A Possible Plant Adaptogen. Alternative Medicine Review. 6, 293-302.
Petkov, V. D., Yonkov, D., Mosharoff, et al., (1986) Effects of alcohol aqueous extract from Rhodiola rosea L. roots on learning and memory. Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg. 12, 3-16.
Spasov, A. A., Wikman, G. K., Mandrikov, V. B., Mironova, I. A. and Neumoin, V. V. (2000) A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine. 7 (2), 85-89.
Udinstev, S. N. and Schakov, V. P. (1991a) The role of humoral factors of regenerating liver in the development of experimental tumors and the effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on this process. Neoplasma. 38, 323-331.
Udinstev, S. N. and Schakov, V. P. (1991b) decrease of cyclophosphamide haematotoxicity by Rhodiola rosea root extract in mise with Ehrlich and Lewis transplantable tumours. Eur J Cancer. 27, 1182.
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