Across the cold mountainous regions of Northern Asia and Europe, from Britain to Kamchatka, grows Rhodiola rosea, a nootropic with a strong medical background. Rhodiola is a tough plant and thrives at high altitudes and barren sea cliffs. Its nutritional value and pleasant flavor make it an important dietary staple in these regions and also a flavoring for vodka.1
History of Rhodiola Rosea
The medicinal history of this herb dates back to the times of Viking supremacy. These medicinally-minded marauders ate Rhodiola regularly to improve strength and virility. Additionally, newly-wed Siberian brides were given sprigs of Rhodiola to improve fertility.
Both Russians and Scandinavians living near the Arctic relied on Rhodiola to stave off depression and anxiety and increase physical capacity during the sub-zero winters. Some other names for Rhodiola include Aaron’s rod, king’s crown, golden root, orpin rose, and roseroot.
Today, scientists and researchers have turned their attention to this centuries-old herb and its therapeutic promise. Over 140 different organic compounds have been identified within Rhodiola, two of the most important being salidroside and rosavin.
However, Rhodiola is perhaps most famous for its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are fascinating organic compounds that can provide different effects depending on the needs of the body.
Adaptogens take their cue from homeostatic activity, which always seeks to balance physiological processes. The adaptogenic power of Rhodiola is an effective stress reliever, fatigue fighter, and cognitive booster.
Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea
Stress is a physiological reaction to a potential threat in the environment. A couple thousand years ago, stress allowed the body to escape predators and physically persevere against all odds. Today, stress is experienced at an alarming degree and proper balance is not fully restored before more stress is experienced soon afterward.
This leads to an assortment of conditions that can sap cognitive power, interrupt thought processes, and drain energy levels. Studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to burnout, emotional instability, and depression.
In clinical studies, Rhodiola has demonstrated the capacity to relieve stress and burnout symptoms with little to no side effects within the recommended doses, in this case, 400 mg. When an individual is free of stress, concentration and focus come more easily and the mind is capable of taking on a greater workload.2,3
Fights Stress-Related Fatigue
Stress may allow the body more energy at the moment, but this is not a sustainable energy solution. After prolonged periods of stress, the very processes and neurochemicals needed for efficient energy are compromised.
For example, dopamine and serotonin keep the mind focused and positive for hours on end and fight off tension and impulsiveness. Stress robs the body of these neurotransmitters essential to extended thought processing. It also interferes with the thyroid and its stimulating hormones and decreases the body’s metabolism. Try and be productive without the body’s energy assimilation process in proper function—you won’t last long.
When introduced to the stressed-out body, Rhodiola begins to relieve fatigue and exhaustion. Studies have found that Rhodiola is especially effective against mental fatigue and improves the capacity to concentrate.4,5
Enhances Cognitive Function
As any top-quality nootropic, Rhodiola will increase mental capacity, facilitate cognition, enhance memory, and protect the vital networks of the brain and nervous system. Two studies on mental endurance exhibited the efficacy of Rhodiola as a cognitive booster.
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Medical practitioners working the night shift at a hospital are kept under considerable mental strain almost permanently. One study chose a group of 56 such fatigued physicians to experience the cognitive support of Rhodiola. This was a placebo-controlled double-blind study, meaning only half of the night shift workers participated in the real study and only half of the patients received Rhodiola. This is important for comparisons and accurate results.
After 14 days of treatment, the study concluded that Rhodiola improved professional performance by a full 20 percent as compared to the placebo.6
Another study on Rhodiola was almost the same in structure, but the test subjects were military cadets. Here, Rhodiola improved the capacity for increased endurance in late-night mental work.7
You could have a sharp mind and retentive memory, but if you don’t have the energy for more than a few hours of work, your cognitive performance may fall well below your full capacity. Rhodiola interfaces directly with the energy processes. It optimizing them while stabilizing the rest of the physiological processes to make better use of more energy.
One of the ways it accomplishes this is by enhancing the output of the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell that transform nutrients and oxygen into energy. One study showed that Rhodiola increases the ATP content in the mitochondria of muscles. ATP is responsible for storing and transporting energy in cells. This allowed the study subjects to increase their energy, reduce fatigue, and stimulated reparative energy processes.8
Rhodiola further improves cellular energy by activating the enzyme AMPK, which is essential for cellular regulation, ridding the body of toxins, and improving metabolism. Studies show salidroside, an important constituent of Rhodiola, activates AMPK.9
Risks and Side Effects
While much is still being learned about the therapeutic benefits of this especially potent herb, the adverse side effects that have been found from excess Rhodiola consumption are mild and easily avoidable. These include sleep problems, dizziness, dry mouth, and jitteriness.
Since Rhodiola has stimulating effects, people with bipolar disorder should consult a physician before making any plans for supplementation. Rhodiola can also boost the effects of other stimulants, and this should be avoided when planning a nootropic stack. The supplement should be consumed earlier in the day around mealtime for best results. If eaten too close to bedtime, Rhodiola might interfere with sleep cycles.
Finally, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should consult a qualified physician before beginning any supplementation with Rhodiola rosea.10
Whether you’re looking to enhance your performance at school, optimize your productivity at work, or simply promote brain health, Rhodiola may be worth incorporating into your daily routine. Additionally, the adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola offer additional benefits that some other nootropic substances do not.
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