Rhodiola Rosea – Adaptogen that lives up to the hype?

You might be asking just what is Rhodiola Rosea or, for that matter, what is an adaptogen exactly. In short order, Rhodiola Rosea is a cold weather plant which has been harvested and used for its alleged medicinal properties by tribes in Scandinavia and Russia for its purported anti-stress effects. The usage in these countries goes back centuries. No doubt we will see some unscrupulous supplement company marketing this herb now as the hidden force behind the Vikings!

As far an adaptogen, it is a compound which is reputed to have a harmonising effect on the body, bringing balance when there is an excessive production of a particular hormone or too little. In theory, if your cortisol levels, to use one example, were too low, an adaptogen could increase the levels to a normal amount. Conversely, if cortisol levels were too high, use of an adaptogen would bring them down, restoring balance once more. The concept of adaptogens is somewhat controversial when it comes to the way modern western medicine works so for now we will stay with this definition rather than going into too much detail.

 

Rhodiola Rosea

 

How then does Rhodiola Rosea stack up? Given its increasing usage in supplements such as Chain’d Out and Assault, one would hope for some justification for its inclusion.

 

Cognitive Effects

Rhodiola Rosea is included within formulations such as Chain’d Out for its ability to help combat stress and combat fatigue. It has been shown in studies to produce anti-fatigue effects (1,2), enhance sleep patterns (3), as well as demonstrate potential to combat signs of physical and mental stress (4) and combat depression (5). There remains a clear need for further research especially for longer time periods but the evidence that Rhodiola Rosea has some cognitive benefit for users does consist of improvements across a range of markers which would be consistent with adaptogenic properties.

 

Performance and Body Composition

Of course here at Predator Nutrition we are primarily concerned with improving body composition and performance in the gym, field or track.

Ma Li (6) studied the effect of Salidroside, which is an active principle of Rhodiola Rosea, on mice and found it had a significant effect in the form of improved swimming times, reduced blood lactate levels and also enhanced muscle and liver glycogen levels while increasing haemoglobin levels.

More recently, Rhodiola Rosea was examined for its effects on curbing binge eating, something which can plague many a bodybuilder given their extreme black and white views of life. If you are the type of person who once he has one cookie, demolishes the entire box, then the first study conducted by Cifani (7) is very interesting. They investigated the effect on food intake of stress and found, not unusually, that caloric deprivation followed by subsequent access to food induced binge eating patterns in female rats. This is something easily recognisable to anyone who has come off a long diet. Cifani’s group found that Rhodiola Rosea administration led to a significant reduction in binge eating and also reduced stress induced cortisol. Cortisol as we all know is associated with elevated fat storage in the abdominal area and can lead to muscle loss when dieting so it is definitely interesting that not only was binge eating curbed, which a good appetite suppressant can replicate, but it also reduced cortisol which, many stimulant based appetite suppressants cannot do, and in fact, stimulant ingestion can lead to elevated cortisol.

How about the effect of Rhodiola in human trials? A recent study (8) provided a combination of Rhodiola Rosea and L-Carnitine on exercise performance which tracked exercise performance, cognitive performance and cortisol levels after acute ingestion of Rhodiola Rosea before exercise. The group found no effect of Rhodiola Rosea after dosing before a workout. This is not really surprising as no-one would expect it to work so fast. It is not a preworkout supplement feature for this very reason.

In spite of this though another study (9) showed that acute Rhodiola Rosea did in fact increase a number of performance markers including VO2 Max, as well as time to exhaustion compared to placebo but the effects of chronic Rhodiola Rosea made no difference on these measurements indicating it does have utility as a potential preworkout aid.

 

Meta-Analysis of studies

Given such inconclusive data in human subjects, a welcome addition to the body of work conducted on Rhodiola Rosea was a recent meta-analysis (10) which critically assessed evidence for or against Rhodiola Rosea’s benefits.

The researchers performed searches on six electronic databases and from these looked for studies using Rhodiola Rosea as a sole treatment with a placebo used as control to assess impact on humans only. These researchers found eleven trials which met the inclusion criteria of which six investigated the effects of Rhodiola Rosea on physical performance, four on mental performance and two on patients diagnosed with mental health conditions. The quality of the trials was considered moderate to good by independent researchers and very few adverse sides were reported in any of the studies reviewed.

The meta-analysis of the data on Rhodiola Rosea concluded that it may have beneficial effects on physical and mental performance as well as improving certain mental health conditions. The authors went on to say that the studies needed to be reproduced elsewhere and as such more research is warranted.
now foods rhodiola
Our Comments

As can be seen there is a sufficient amount of evidence supporting the benefits of Rhodiola Rosea in humans, be it from empirical feedback or based on research. However, there is a clear need to see more data conducted on resistance training populations which is currently entirely neglected. Given Rhodiola Rosea’s potential in enhancing mental performance as much as anything physical and the support for it inducing an anti-fatigue effect, we would suggest its most useful application is within a dieting phase or when intensive training cycles are conducted. The fact it is found in some intra and pre-workout supplements is supported by at least some research and plenty of empirical feedback. In all likelihood its effects could be enhanced by combining it with other nootropic compounds as seen in the products below although doing so would make it more difficult to distinguish the effects of Rhodiola Rosea in isolation.

For those interested in dosing it, we suggest finding a product standardised for rosavin content to ensure efficacy. You can buy Rhodiola Rosea caps from our online store.

 

Recommended Supplements

NOW Foods Rhodiola

LiveLong Nutrition

Muscle Pharm Assault

ALRI Chain’d Out

 

Author: Reggie Johal

 

References
1. Shevtsov VA et.al (2003): A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work.

2. Darbinyan V et.al (2000): Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue–a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty.

3. Ha Z et.al (2003): The effect of rhodiola and acetazolamide on the sleep architecture and blood oxygen saturation in men living at high altitude.

4. Kelly GS (2001): Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen.

5. Darbinyan V et.al (2007): Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

6. Ma Li et.al (2008): Anti-fatigue effects of salidroside in mice.

7. Cifani C et.al (2010): Effect of salidroside, active principle of Rhodiola rosea extract, on binge eating

8. Muniz-Pumares (2011): Effects of acute supplementation with Rhodiola rosea and L-carnitine on exercise performance, cognitive function and cortisol in healthy active volunteers

9. De Bock (2004): Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance.

10. Hung et.al (2010): The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials

© 2012 – 2014, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.

About Reggie Johal

Reggie Johal is a former Great Britain American Football player and the founder of Predator Nutrition. He has a strong background in strength and fitness coaching with articles published in Flex and other leading online and print magazines.

6 thoughts on “Rhodiola Rosea – Adaptogen that lives up to the hype?

  1. I have used Rhodiola Rosea on a number of occasions when I have felt a little down and fatigued. I can honestly say that it is one of the only supplements I have used (and I do like my supplements) that I can feel the positive effects within a few days of taking it. I suffer from SAD and during the winter months my energy levels and mood dip pretty badly. I find taking this along with St John’s Wort and vitamin D helps ward off those winter blues.

    • Good info Bill,

      Lee – I remember trying to describe the feeling I got from using ALRI’s Chain’d Out product which is a nice kind of refreshing feel and after taking other Rhodiola Rosea products I can concur with you that the Rhodiola is superb for stress management and enhancing cognitive processes in a subtle yet noticeable way.

  2. I used rhodiola from Energy Kare for 2 years now before exercising. I have always found it to work well, but maybe because I have taken it for so long. I will be sure to try it for the other reasons you mentioned as well – thanks for the tips!

  3. I agree with Lee; it’s one of the few supplements I’ve taken where I can notice a tangible difference. My mom feels the same way. She took it during a rough period when she was feeling pretty down. While it didn’t take away her depression, it provided enough relief to help her cope better and get through that rough period. I’m definitely a fan of it!

  4. Pingback: Should you train through stress? | Predator Nutrition Blog

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