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Wellness

10 Health Benefits of Rhodiola

December 15 2017

by Eric Madrid MD

In this article:

Rhodiola (R. rosea) is an adaptogen, an herb that helps protect cells from oxidative damage caused by environmental and chemical stressors. Because adaptogens grow under harsh climate conditions and must protect themselves against such environmental extremes, they’re very strong plants.  Rhodiola, for instance, grows at altitudes 10,000 feet ( 3 km) above sea level, where  the oxygen concentration is low and temperatures are cold.

For an herb to be classified as an adaptogen, it must have the following three properties according to Life Extension’s Book, Disease Prevention.   

  • They are to be non-toxic
  • They have a physiologic normalizing ability (they help restore balance)
  • The herb must have must have more than one mechanism of action

Rhodiola,  also known as “arctic root” and “golden root”, has many apparent health benefits.  It has been used by herbalists in Russia, Asia and parts of Europe for hundreds of years. Rhodiola is believed to help protect the cardiovascular system while also possessing anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, energy and memory-enhancement properties. This hardy herb, which takes between five to eight years to mature, is rich in rosavins, salidrosides and flavonoids.

 Rhodiola’s mechanism of the action includes normalizing levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and enhancing nitric oxide (NO), an artery-relaxing chemical that the body makes naturally.  

Benefits

Rhodiola has been shown to provide many benefits.  It can be helpful to those with chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.  Here are 10 benefits.

1. Helps fatigue

Feeling fatigued is a common reason for physician visits. There are many possible causes, including anemia, a thyroid disorder, depression to name just a few.  If no specific reason is found, Rhodiola may be an option.  A 2009 study in Planta Medica concluded that use of Rhodiola has an anti-fatigue effect.

2. Improves physical endurance

Athletes at all levels of competition frequently search for ways to improve their endurance. Rhodiola may be beneficial. A 2009 study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine concluded, “The combined herbal supplement of Rhodiola and Gingko could improve the endurance performance by increasing oxygen consumption and protecting against fatigue”.  A 2013 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also supported Rhodiola’s ability to improve exercise endurance.

3. Reduce anxiety and depression

Millions of people worldwide are affected by symptoms of anxiety and depression. For many, it can be life-altering. Consulting with a counselor or psychologist can be beneficial, but sometimes it is not enough. Medications are frequently prescribed, but many worry about side effects and desire a more natural approach.

A 2016 study in Phytomedicine showed Rhodiola could be an effective treatment for those suffering from depression.  A 2015 study by Dr. Cropley concluded, “Relative to the controls, the experimental group demonstrated a significant reduction in self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression at 14 days and significant improvements in total mood”.

4. Improves memory

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that generally affects older adults and the most common form of dementia. Most forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, usually affects those 60 years of age and older. Less than one percent of the cases occur prior to this age. Up to one in 10 people after age 80 are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Rhodiola can help protect the brain against oxidative damage and can play an important part in the prevention and treatment of dementia.  This vital adaptogen plays a role in the Natural  Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease taken by UCLA Neurologist  Dr. Dale Bredesen while numerous studies have shown its benefit, including a 2016 study by Dr. Bei Zhang and a 2015 study, which included Rhodiola as a promising treatment in  Traditional Chinese Medicine.

5. Lowers Blood Pressure

High blood pressure affects one in four adults. Worldwide, 1 billion people have high blood pressure,  a leading risk factor for heart attack, congestive heart failure and stroke. High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. Most doctors will diagnose hypertension in a person when the systolic blood pressure (top number) is greater than 140 mm/Hg and the diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) is greater than 90 mm/Hg when measured, or greater than 140/90.   In the United States,  November  2017 recommendations by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology propose values greater than 130/80 need treatment.

In either case, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and participating in routine exercise help control blood pressure. Medications are frequently required when lifestyle changes are not sufficient, and studies suggest Rhodiola may also be helpful.

A 2017 study showed Rhodiola had blood pressure lowering benefits. A 2012 study in Phytotherapy Research also demonstrated Rhodiola’s blood pressure lowering properties when consumed regularly.  A 2006 study using rabbits showed Rhodiola could lower an enzyme called ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme).  This is similar to a class of drugs doctors used called ACE- inhibitors. It is important to never stop taking blood pressure medications unless directed to do so by your physician,  and some medications need to be weaned off slowly.

6. Protects arteries

Atherosclerosis is the process by which our blood vessels, specifically our arteries, become hardened with calcium deposits. This is a common finding in people, and it progresses through the aging process. Atherosclerosis is a leading reason for heart attacks and stroke. Also, certain choices accelerate the aging process, such as tobacco use and consumption of a poor diet.  A 2017 study in  The American Journal of Chinese Medicine showed that Rhodiola protects arteries from oxidative damage and atherosclerosis damage.

7. Helps control blood sugar

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes as it is commonly known, is a common condition which affects millions worldwide.  Those with diabetes suffer from elevated sugar (glucose) levels in the blood.  When elevated, glucose can cause oxidative damage to blood vessels, nerves, and organs, such as kidneys and eyes.  Diabetes increases one’s risk of having a heart attack, stroke, foot amputation, and kidney failure.

Ninety-five percent of those with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, and 5 percent have call type 1.  Type 2 diabetes is primarily a disease of lifestyle while type 1 is due to an autoimmune destruction of the pancreas.  Rhodiola may be helpful in those who are afflicted with type 2 diabetes.

A 2016 study by Dr. Chen using an animal model showed Rhodiola made the diabetes hormone insulin more efficient.  This is crucial in controlling blood sugar.  In addition, a 2017 study in Frontiers of Pharmacology showed that the active ingredient in Rhodiola could help protect the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas known as beta cells.  

A  2015 study by Dr. Tao Zheng confirmed Rhodiola’s anti-diabetic benefit while a separate  2017 study showed the blood sugar benefits of Rhodiola, using animal studies. More studies, however, are needed in human subjects.  Rhodiola should not be used in place of diabetic medications but is used as an adjunct by many who want to improve overall diabetic control. Diet and exercise are also key.

8. Protects liver

The liver is primarily responsible for filtering toxins that enter into our body. Sometimes,  it becomes overwhelmed.  A diet with excessive fatty foods, junk food, and alcohol can lead to liver damage and compromise one’s health.  Medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol, Tylenol), when taken in excess of 4 grams per day, can also cause liver damage.  As a matter of fact, acetaminophen represents 37 percent of all prescription-medication-induced liver failure cases.

A 2014 study using an animal model showed that Rhodiola could be protective against drug-induced liver damage while a 2016 study in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology  demonstrated that salidroside, the active ingredient in Rhodiola, could protect the liver from oxidative damage which occurs from a fatty liver.

9. Integrative Approach to Cancer

Breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer are some of the most common cancers seen worldwide, killing millions of people each year.  In total, more than 15 million new cases occur worldwide of these three (and other) types of cancer. Preventing cancer is important and should be the goal for all.  Once diagnosed, many patients undergo conventional treatment relying on surgery and chemotherapy.  Others, however,  seek an integrative approach. Rhodiola may play a role in the future.

Breast cancer is the leading type of cancer in women and a leading cause of cancer-related death. A mammogram does not prevent cancer but simply finds cancer in early stages. Maintaining a healthy body weight and consuming a healthy, primarily plant-based diet is important for the prevention of cancer.

A 2015 study in Oncology Reports concluded: “…salidroside may be a promising candidate target for the prevention and treatment of human breast cancer.

Other studies have shown that the active ingredient in Rhodiola can also help reduce the risk of colon cancer and lung cancer. A healthy diet and routine exercise are also very important in the prevention of cancer.  Eliminating toxins from the body is also important.

10. Radiation Therapy Support

During times of radiation therapy for cancer, healthy cells are damaged.  A 2017 study in Oncology Reports showed the active ingredient salidroside helps protect the healthy cells from radiation damage.

Suggested  Dosage

Rhodiola capsule – 500 mg once or twice per day or as directed on the label

Rhodiola liquid extract – as directed on the label

Summary

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that has been used by people worldwide for centuries. Its ability to grow under harsh conditions provides it with unique properties which can also benefit humans when taken as an herbal supplement.  It should be considered by those wanting to optimize their health.

References:

  1. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2009 Jun;15(3):177-83. doi: 10.1007/s11655-009-0177-x. Epub 2009 Jul 2.
  2. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. 2013 Mar;27(3):839-47. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825d9799.
  3. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):770-83. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2016.02.009. Epub 2016 Feb 24.
  4. Phytotherapy Research. 2015 Dec;29(12):1934-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5486. Epub 2015 Oct 27.
  5. Zhang B, Wang Y, Li H, et al. Neuroprotective effects of salidroside through PI3K/Akt pathway activation in Alzheimer’s disease models. Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 2016;10:1335-1343. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S99958.
  6. Sun Z-K, Yang H-Q, Chen S-D. Traditional Chinese medicine: a promising candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Translational Neurodegeneration. 2013;2:6. doi:10.1186/2047-9158-2-6.
  7. Ma Y-G, Wang J-W, Bai Y-G, Liu M, Xie M-J, Dai Z-J. Salidroside contributes to reducing blood pressure and alleviating cerebrovascular contractile activity in diabetic Goto-Kakizaki Rats by inhibition of L-type calcium channel in smooth muscle cells. BMC Pharmacology & Toxicology. 2017;18:30. doi:10.1186/s40360-017-0135-8.
  8. Rhodiola crenulata Attenuates High Glucose Induced Endothelial Dysfunction in Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells Li-Yen Huang, I-Chuan Yen, Wei-Cheng Tsai, Blerina Ahmetaj-Shala, Tsu-Chung Chang, Chien-Sung Tsai, and Shih-Yu Le  The American Journal of Chinese Medicine 2017 45:06, 1201-1216
  9. Winston, David and Steven Maimes, Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Copyright  2007
  10. Chen T, Yao L, Ke D, et al. Treatment with Rhodiola crenulata root extract ameliorates insulin resistance in fructose-fed rats by modulating sarcolemmal and intracellular fatty acid translocase/CD36 redistribution in skeletal muscle. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016;16:209. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1176-z.
  11. Front Pharmacol. 2017; 8: 749.
  12. Zheng T, Yang X, Wu D, et al. Salidroside ameliorates insulin resistance through activation of a mitochondria-associated AMPK/PI3K/Akt/GSK3β pathway. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2015;172(13):3284-3301. doi:10.1111/bph.13120.
  13. Accessed November 11, 2017. https://www.goodrx.com/blog/the-ten-worst-medications-for-your-liver/
  14. Senthilkumar R, Chandran R, Parimelazhagan T. Hepatoprotective effect of Rhodiola imbricata rhizome against paracetamol-induced liver toxicity in rats. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2014;21(5):409-416. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2014.04.001.
  15. Yang Z, Wang H, Zuo T, Guan L, Dai N. Salidroside alleviates oxidative stress in the liver with non- alcoholic steatohepatitis in rats. BMC Pharmacology & Toxicology. 2016;17:16. doi:10.1186/s40360-016-0059-8.
  16. Zhao, G., Shi, A., Fan, Z., Du, Y."Salidroside inhibits the growth of human breast cancer in vitro and in vivo". Oncology Reports 33.5 (2015): 2553-2560. MLA
  17. Fan, X., Wang, Y., Wang, L., Zhu, M."Salidroside induces apoptosis and autophagy in human colorectal cancer cells through inhibition of PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway". Oncology Reports 36.6 (2016): 3559-3567.
  18. Wang, J., Li, J., Lu, A., Zhang, K., Li, B."Anticancer effect of salidroside on A549 lung cancer cells through inhibition of oxidative stress and phosphop38 expression". Oncology Letters 7.4 (2014): 1159-1164.
  19. Feng, T., Wang, L., Zhou, N., Liu, C., Cui, J., Wu, R., Jing, J., Zhang, S., Chen, H., Wang, S."Salidroside, a scavenger of ROS, enhances the radioprotective effect of Ex-RAD® via a p53-dependent apoptotic pathway". Oncology Reports 38.5 (2017): 3094-3102.

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