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Adaptogens: From Surviving to Thriving

Adaptogens are a special group of herbs that do just as their name implies, help us to adapt. By definition, adaptogens must be non-toxic and restore balance to the body by working on all body systems. One of the largest uses today of adaptogens is to promote energy and vitality. Our energy reserves are constantly under attack, and in my opinion, virtually everyone could use more adaptogens in their daily routine.

Rhodiola to the Rescue

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that grows native in tundra-like areas of the world such as Northern Europe and Asia. Perhaps its ability to thrive in such harsh environments is a nice parallel to the benefits it bestows to us. While rhodiola has been used traditionally amongst the Vikings and Chinese emperors, it wasn’t until about fifty years ago that the mechanisms of action and scientific validation came to light.

The Science of Stress

We know that stress can have numerous effects on the body: pain, fatigue, weakened immune system, obesity, and even contribute to heart disease. Fortunately, rhodiola has been clinically studied to help alleviate many of the common stress symptoms we see today. In a clinical study on stress-related fatigue, participants received rhodiola extract or placebo for 28 days. At the end of the study, the rhodiola group experienced significant reductions in fatigue and increased mental performance.

Rhodiola Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation and stress go hand-in-hand, if you can reduce one, chances are you can reduce the other. Rhodiola’s effects were studied on a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP), which is associated with high levels of inflammation in the body. Rhodiola was shown to significantly decrease CRP in the study participants and this outcome lasted five days after the initial test period. 

Alleviating Anxiety

Traditional uses for rhodiola include anxiety, depression, and other emotional imbalances. In a ten week study on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), participants were given 340 mg of rhodiola per day. Participants were evaluated using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS) and significant reductions occurred, which indicated an improvement in overall GAD symptoms.

Enhance Exercise Performance

Rhodiola has been favored by athletes and was even used by Russian Olympic contenders. Whether you’re an aspiring Olympian, or just getting back into an exercise routine, rhodiola would be a great addition. Participants in a clinical study who took rhodiola for less than a week experienced significant increases in exercise ability, oxygen capacity, and elimination of carbon dioxide. Other studies have also confirmed rhodiola’s ability to enhance endurance and help facilitate repair post-exercise.

Natural Cancer Killer

As if rhodiola’s track record isn’t impressive enough already, add anticancer properties to the list. A study on human colorectal cancer cells demonstrated rhodiola’s ability to prevent cancer cell proliferation and promote cancer cell death. Similarly, a study on breast cancer cells also showed that rhodiola could prevent replication, cellular division, metastasis, and decrease certain inflammatory compounds. Rhodiola has also been shown to benefit a condition called cachexia, the muscle and weight loss, associated with many types of cancer.

Key Compounds

Whether you’re looking for emotional support, extra endurance, inflammation reduction, cancer protection, or improving your overall health, rhodiola is a safe and effective natural medicine. There are many varieties of rhodiola but I believe the most effective extracts come from Rhodiola rosea which is clinically studied and standardized to contain rosavins and salidrosides. Much of the published scientific literature has used rhodiola preparations that have consistent levels of these compounds.

Abidov M, Crendal F, Grachev S, Seifulla R, Ziegenfuss T. Effects of Extracts from Rhodiola Rosea and Rhodiola Crenulata (Crassulaceae) Roots on ATP Content in Mitochondria of Skeletal Muscles. Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2003;136(12):664-666.

Abidov M, Grachev S, Seifulla RD, Ziegenfuss TN. Extract of Rhodiola rosea Radix Reduces the Level of C-Reactive Protein and Creatinine Kinase in the Blood. Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2004;138(7):73-75.

Antonelli M, Kushner I. It’s time to redefines inflammation. FASEB J. 2017 Feb 8. Epub ahead of print.

Bystritsky A, Kerwin L, Feusner JD. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Mar;14(2):175-180.

Chex X, et al. Salidroside alleviates cachexia symptoms in mouse models of cancer cachexia via activation mTOR signaling. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2016 May;7(2):225-232.

Dallman MF, Pecoraro NC, la Fleur SE. Chronic stress and comfort foods: self-medication and abdominal obesity. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2005;19(40:275-280.

De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307.

Diwaker D, Mishra KP, Ganju L, Singh SB. Rhodiola inhibits dengue virus multiplication by inducing innate immune response genes RIG-I, MDA5 and ISG in human monocytes. Arch Virol. 2014 Aug;159(8):1975-1986.

Fan XJ, Wang Y, Wang L, Zhu M. Salidroside induces apoptosis and autophagy in human colorectal cancer cells through inhibition of PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway. Oncol Rep. 2016 Dec;36(6):3559-3567.

Fischer S, Doerr JM, Strahler J, Mewes R, Thieme K, Nater UM. Stress exacerbates pain in the everyday lives of women with fibromyalgia syndrome – The role of cortisol and alpha-amylase. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Jan;63:68-77.

Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress-associated immune modulation: relevance to viral infections and chronic fatigue syndrome. The American Journal of Medicine. 1998;105(3):35S-42S.

Olsson EM, von Scheele B, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the stardardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-112.

Orth-Gomer K, Wamala SP, Horsten M. Marital Stress Worsens Prognosis in Women With Coronary Heart Disease: The Stockholm Female Coronary Risk Study. JAMA. 2000;284(23):3008-3014.

Rosen RL, et al. Elevated C-reaction protein and posttraumatic stress pathology among survivors of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. J Psychiatr Res. 2017 Jan 16;89:14-21.

Zhao G, Shi A, Fan Z, Du Y. Salidroside inhibits the growth of human breast cancer in vitro and in vivo. Oncol Rep. 2015 May;33(5):2553-2560.

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Terry is happy to provide his opinion on diet and nutrition, supplements and lifestyle choices. This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your physician and is not to be considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Should you have any concerns please contact your physician directly.
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