Rhodiola: The Suprising Benefits of Adaptogens
Rhodiola Rosea is a cold weather plant native to Russia and East Asia with strong medicinal qualities
In Sweden and Iceland its healing qualities are essentially embedded into lore and people have been using the plant to fight fatigue since the 1700s.
Obviously a lot has changed in the last 300 years – most of us spend much less time trekking through arctic snow than we used to – but rhodiola’s reputation has persevered.
Nowadays rhodiola is also touted as an effective tonic for concentration, memory, social anxiety and mood. A one-size-fits-all solution to the most common problems of the modern condition that has lead some to brand this humble plant the ‘miracle root’.
At Vegavero we don’t believe in miracles; we believe in science. So let’s explore these claims.
What do we know about Rhodiola?
Rhodiola is an arctic root, and with bad soil, freezing temperatures and high UV levels to contend with – the denizens of the bleak and unforgiving tundra must be flexible enough to take advantage of every opportunity that they possibly can.
Life here is hard. The few varieties of flora and fauna that do populate the region must constantly adapt to survive. Yet, against all odds rhodiola does not simply survive – it thrives.
What’s better, the studies actually show that the resilience of rhodiola is passed on to humans when ingested. In fact, in its native Russia, the Pharmacological Committee of the Ministry of Health has officially recognised the benefits of rhodiola for:
- Physical endurance
- Work productivity
Not bad… but how does this work?
Known colloquially as the ‘golden root’ – rhodiola rosea has emerged as one of the most popular adaptogens in Europe.
Put simply, adaptogens are things that helps the body to resist stressors. These are the adverse influences that wear our bodies down.
- Physical stressors – simple overexertion
- Emotional stressors – anxiety, depression, mood
And now, more than ever, are bodies are also exposed to toxins on a daily basis. Simple household chemicals, pesticides in foods, and air pollution are a few everyday examples.
Adaptogens are able to battle this because they control the adrenal and pituitary glands which are responsible for releasing stress hormones. Marchev’s study shows that this elicits a state of overall resistance in humans; as a result, we are able to counteract and adapt to conditions of extreme stress.
Now that’s all well and good and makes perfect sense for fighting fatigue. But how do we explain the benefits of rhodiola for depression or mood? You may think that adaptogens simply mask symptoms rather than solve problems.
And when one single plant boasts so many incredible active effects we naturally become a little skeptical.
Let’s try to deconstruct these effects.
Why Rhodiola Works
Like all adaptogens, the benefits of Rhodiola must follow the four Ns:
- Nourish – bring strength
- Normalise – raise what is low and lower what is high (e.g. energy, stress)
- Non-specific – act on multiple parts of the body at once
- Non-toxic – be completely safe when used over extended periods of time.
If we split the benefits of Rhodiola into two groups it’s easier to see how each relates to stressors.
The first group deals with stamina and longevity and can be characterized in terms of energy, while the second, dealing with mood and anxiety, may be characterised in terms damage prevention.
The first comes from Rhodiola’s ability to combat oxidative stress. This is what causes our body tissues to tell our brain that we are tired and can be caused by physical activity, or a build up of toxins in our system.
Picture a plastic ruler. You can bend and unbend it to a certain point, and this places stress on the plastic. After a certain point the ruler will snap. It has reached the end of its stamina. To extend the analogy, Rhodiola rebalances the oxidation in our tissue and may allow us to bend and unbend the ruler for longer before we burn out.
The second may be the result of Rhodiola’s ability to help us concentrate. The anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory effects help increase blood flow and metabolise the extra energy from the first set.
As a result, we gain better focus and this helps us complete the tasks we have at hand. In essence, leaving us with less space for distraction through frustration. As such Rhodiola induces the sense of satisfaction we derive from effective work and helps combat the lack of productivity that is so regularly associated with depressive moods.
Rhodiola has amazing, positive applications across the body. As we can see, it is not that rhodiola is a miracle root but rather that it’s simple qualities are well tuned to ease common problems in our day to day lives that were less obvious in times gone by.