This ain’t my First Rhodio(la)

As user testimonials go, it’s a pretty tough one to top: as used by Vikings to bolster strength and endurance! (And we’re talking the real big gnarly Vikings with axes and longboats here, not the ones from Minnesota.)

Or how about: as taken by the Himalayan Sherpa to help them climb Mount Everest? As traditionally gifted to Siberian couples on their wedding night as an aphrodisiac? Or even as prescribed for cancer and tuberculosis in far flung Mongolia?

Used for centuries to instil physical and mental wellbeing, Rhodiola Rosea is a flowering herb that grows in mountainous regions around the northern hemisphere. With marauding Vikings a tad thin on the ground these days, a common modern application is as a component of pre-workout boosters and supplements.

So is it all old (Viking) hat, or were the ancients really onto something good with R. Rosea?

Everything’s coming up Roseas

Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits that Rhodiola Rosea has to offer:

Increased Energy

Also known as ‘Arctic’ or ‘Golden’ Root, Rhodiola Rosea is considered by some to be an indirect ergogenic aid. These substances boost physical performance, and reduce the symptoms of fatigue.

It’s thought that Rosea extract promotes a glycoprotein that increases red blood cells. Carrying oxygen to the working muscles, a healthy red blood cell count is vital to athletic endurance and recovery.

Researchers at Moscow University found that laboratory rats were able to swim for almost 25% longer than usual after consuming extract of Rhodiola Rosea. {1} They also reported that the animals displayed a higher ATP count – ATP is a complex organic chemical vital to cellular energy transfer.

Reduced Physical and Mental Fatigue

Many nutritionists believe that R. Rosea is what is known as an adaptogen. Put simply, this means that it reduces sensitivity to both physical and chemical stress.

A study undertaken at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium concluded that Rosea intake delayed the onset of fatigue during physical activity. The researchers noted that the effects were instantaneous, and long term usage prior to exercise was deemed unnecessary. {2}

And it isn’t only physical fatigue that the substance seems to combat. A four week commercial trial in the UK, for instance, reported that Rhodiola extract produced ‘clinically relevant improvements with regard to stress symptoms’ in as little as three days. Better still, these improvements were said to expand as the trial wore on. {3}

In addition, the extract appears to diminish feelings of mental tiredness and associated ‘brain fog,’ and can help to alleviate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Fat Burning

Rhodiola Rosea contains a unique compound called rosavin that helps us lose weight. It does this by triggering an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase, which breaks down fat stored in tissue around the abdomen.

But that’s not the only way the herb could contribute to weight loss. A paper published via the University of New Jersey in 2014 reported that R. Rosea eliminated stress-related binge eating amongst test rats. {4} They also reported that it’s use alongside a citrus extract could actually reduce overall appetite by up to 10%.

Chemical Regulation

Part of what makes R. Rosea effective at tackling weight loss could be its role as a cortisol inhibitor.

The body’s ‘fight or flight’ hormone, cortisol spikes when we are feeling under acute mental of physical stress. Naturally, too much cortisol over an extended period of time isn’t desirable, and it can lead to abdominal weight gain, weakened immunity, thyroid issues – and a tendency to ‘binge eat.’

Rhodiola Rosea is thought to be a neuroprotector as well, combating bodily toxins.

Improved Mood and Focus

As well as regulating cortisol, Rhodiola Rosea is potentially effective at stimulating the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Both of these chemical messengers help to improve our mood and focus.

Many physicians have begun prescribing it for ADD and ADHD, and Rosea has even been considered an alternative to conventional antidepressant medication in recent times. This is because it can potentially garner positive results without the often marked downsides of many antidepressants.

In 2015, a multi department study at the University of Pennsylvania found that whilst R. Rosea’s antidepressant effects were less strong than the commonly prescribed drug Setraline, it produced less adverse reactions, and was better tolerated. {5}

When you consider that some of Setraline’s reported side effects include nausea, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction, it’s not hard to see why the team at U Penn concluded that Rosea: ‘may possess a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for individuals with mild to moderate depression.’

A Whole Lotta Rhosie

Until recently, many in the West might have been unfamiliar with Rhodiola Rosea, and that’s pretty understandable. For years, many of the clinical studies into the herb’s properties were largely conducted behind the Iron Curtain.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now almost seems like it was one of the Kremlin’s best kept secrets. It’s claimed that the Soviets even prescribed it to their cosmonauts, as well as to some of their insanely successful Olympic athletes!

(Think Ivan Drago training in his high-tech super gym for his bout with decadent capitalist Rocky Balboa on this one…)

But I digress. It feels like the more research that is done into this extract’s properties, the more its various uses in folk medicine and beyond appear to make sense.

And regardless of the veracity of those tales of seafaring warriors and weightlifters, one thing is undeniable – Rhodiola Rosea is a 100% natural extract that’s been in use for a long, long time. Which is rather more than can be said for many of the laboratory concocted additives found in some pre workouts or fat burners.

You can rest easy then, Ivan – Mother Russia, in the shape of Rhodiola Rosea, might just have your back…

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15500079
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256690
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3808124/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25837277

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One Comment

  • Harry McKay 14th March 2019
    Reply

    It’s not just supplements Rhodiola Rosea is in these days I see. I just bought an unusual bottle of gin for a special occasion. ‘Rock Rose’ gin distilled in the far north coast of Scotland. The text written on the back on the earthenware bottle also talks of the Vikings picking it and using it medicinally … presumably to get charged up and row round the coast brutally killing people with axes and swords.

    Rock Rose

    So really we should be adding an ‘Improved Killing Ability In Battle’ section to the list of benefits shown above.