Of the many ways and means for managing your stress levels, one has been in use for centuries in Europe and Asia – Rhodiola rosea (also known as golden root, rose wort, arctic root or roseroot). It’s a hardy herbal plant that grows in mountainous zones of northern Europe, Asia and parts of North America. Its root is where the goodies are found – antioxidants, tannens, flavenoids and rosavins – the latter a compound believed to have an anti-anxiety effect. Indeed rhodiola’s original use is thought to have been for stress relief. After all, chronically anxious members of early civilizations didn’t always know where their next meal was coming from or if in fact they might end up as a meal themselves.
Rhodiola is an “adaptogen” herb, meaning it doesn’t act on anything in the body, rather it aids the body’s response to physical or mental stressors and restores normal functions. The herb helps one to “adapt” and balance out negative stressors of anxiety along with mental and physical fatigue, including the much unwelcomed “brain fog”. In addition to rhodiola, other adaptogens such as licorice root, ginseng and holy basil have the benefit of being non addictive and generally safe. With rhodiola, it’s nevertheless wise to start with small dosages of 100 mg per day and to take periodic breaks from consumption. Maximum daily dosage is about 600 mg. Keep in mind that rhodiola can act as a stimulant in low doses (for handling fatigue), yet can have an opposite relaxing effect in high doses when treating stress.
Rhodiola Health Benefits
Some practitioners have recommended a rhodiola supplement for depression as an alternative to traditional antidepressants, although in cases of bipolar disorder the rhodiola herb should be avoided. It’s not clearly understood how the herbal compounds in rhodiola actually work, but there appears to be an increase in dopamine sensitivity resulting in improved mood, and a few small clinical trials have shown promise in alleviating depression.
Perhaps because of its centuries old usage, a lengthy list of extra health benefits are ascribed to rhodiola, including but not limited to (draw a deep breath here) – anemia, infections, weight loss, cancer, sexual function, irregular heartbeat, headaches, high cholesterol, lyme disease, anti-aging and immunity. In Russia, rhodiola has long been used to enhance sports performance (legally!), specifically endurance and muscle recovery. But in my view the #1 advantage is rhodiola’s ability to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Excess cortisol levels can aggravate the thyroid, leading to weight gain, fatigue and impaired memory.
I have measured saliva levels of my hormones over the years (using third party testing such as Rocky Mountain Analytical and the Dutch Hormone Test) and results have shown that my cortisol is too high throughout most of the day. On blood tests, my cortisol AM figure was in the 800’s a couple years ago (normal is under 550) – and at last testing, I was around 550. Of course when we look to correct imbalances in our body, we often change more than one thing. I have been taking rhodiola drops every morning (sometimes twice daily) for 6 months now and in addition to that I have reduced heavy exercise focusing more on gentle exercises such as yoga and also occasional interval training, I have focused on regular stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and walks in nature. As always, correcting imbalances within our bodies is a process that can take time, but with perseverance we can be successful.