Arctic Root Energy

October 6, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

The world is currently suffering from an energy crisis. I’m not talking about the lack of oil reserves or alternative energy sources, but rather the number of coffee shops that have sprouted up everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a good cup of coffee. In fact, drinking coffee is often a healthful practice. But utilizing a natural stimulant, such as caffeine, isn’t always appropriate or advisable. So what can you do if you frequently find yourself feeling “wiped out”? One option is to consider using an adaptogen.

The term “adaptogen” generally refers to a plant-based remedy with long historical use that can help manage the physical and psychological stressors of life. As a rule, these tonics should be relatively non-toxic and help optimize body function without causing any sort of imbalance. Ginseng is perhaps the most popular supplement in this exclusive club. Ashwagandha, holy basil, licorice and schisandra are several other medicinal plants that are used alone or in combination to help the body and mind adapt.

Rhodiola is yet another member of this class of natural remedies. This particular “arctic root” has developed a rather impressive scientific resume over the last 10 years. The most recent study was in June 2009. It evaluated the effects of combining Rhodiola and Ginkgo biloba, an extract from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, typically used to support healthy brain function and circulation. The details of the study are as follows:

  • 70 healthy male athletes (18-22 years old) received the Ginkgo/Rhodiola blend or a placebo for 7 weeks.
  • Physical endurance, maximal oxygen uptake and blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and testosterone were measured before and after the trial.

The men receiving the herbal blend showed an increase in oxygen uptake and a decrease in fatigue. This supplement partly reduced fatigue by: a) blunting an expected elevation in cortisol (the stress hormone); b) preserving a stable concentration of testosterone, which dropped in the placebo group. The maintenance of this cortisol/testosterone ratio is often used to identify fatigue and overtraining in endurance athletes. (1)

A study from 2004 suggests that using Rhodiola alone can also be effective in combating physical fatigue in “healthy young volunteers”. In that research, a single dose of R. rosea (200 mg) “increased time to exhaustion” and oxygen uptake. The particular extract used in this trial was standardized for 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside. These are believed to be the primary active ingredients in this adaptogen. (2)

Improving physical performance and promoting resistance to exercise burnout is certainly desirable. But the combination of supporting the mind as well as the body is what sets Rhodiola rosea apart. Several recent experiments suggest that this “golden root” possesses potent physiological and psychological activity.

  • A 12 week study was conducted on a group of 120 senior men and women using a Rhodiola supplement with added minerals and vitamins. Half the group took 2 capsules with breakfast. The remaining participants swallowed a capsule after breakfast and another after lunch. Various quality of life measures (daytime sleepiness, decreased libido, irritability, memory complaints, poor concentration and sleep disturbances) were examined prior to, during and after the experiment. It was determined that both sets of volunteers benefited from supplementation. But those receiving 2 capsules in the morning found greater effects with regard to cognitive and physical performance. In total, 81% of the physicians rated patient response as “good” or “very good”, and 99% of the patients and physicians reported an excellent safety and tolerance profile. (3)
  • A Swedish trial from 2009 examined the effects of a patented Rhodiola extract (SHR-5) on 60 patients with “stress related fatigue“. The dosage used was 4 tablets of the herbal extract, providing 576 milligrams, or an equal quantity of an inactive placebo. The authors of the trial concluded that, “repeated administration of R. rosea extract SHR-5 exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response”. Previous experiments, dating back up to 9 years, tend to support these findings. (4,5,6)
  • The March 2008 edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined yet another application for this adaptogen. The experiment was based out the University of California Los Angeles Department of Psychiatry and involved 10 patients who were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). All of the participants took 340 mg of an R. rosea extract over a 10 week period. By the end of the study, a significant decline in anxious symptoms was noted. This was quantified by reviewing each patient’s score on an anxiety index called the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale. Only mild side effects were reported, such as minor dizziness and dry mouth. (7)
  • The SHR-5 extract was also recently tested on 89 patients with depression. In this trial, the participants were administered either 340 mg or 680 mg of an R. rosea extract or similar looking placebo tablets. Depressive symptoms were analyzed at the start and end of the 6 week study. The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression was employed to establish the level of depressive symptoms. The researchers involved reported that both groups receiving Rhodiola demonstrated improvements in emotional stability, overall depression and sleep quality. (8)
Source: eCAM 2007 4(3):375-380 (link)

There are several proposed mechanisms by which R. rosea appears to work. Laboratory research in an animal model indicates that it may actually increase the number of neurons (nerve cells) in the hippocampus and prevent injury to existing neurons in that region of the brain. The hippocampus plays an important role in regulating memory and mood. Certain antidepressants (SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are known to function in a similar manner. On the physical front, preliminary research suggests that R. rosea can: a) increase antioxidant concentrations in the human body; b) discourage systemic inflammation (C-reactive protein levels); and c) elevate glycogen levels (a form of stored energy that’s held in the liver and muscles). Taken as a whole, this combined evidence paints a picture of a tonic that protects and restores sensitive areas of the body and brain that may be vulnerable to the effects of stressors. (9,10,11,12)

There are many aspects of modern living that deplete our natural energy reserves. Chief among them are chronic physical/psychological stress and a poor diet. There are also certain health conditions that can play a part in a generalized feeling of physical grogginess and mental malaise. It’s very important to rule out such conditions as anemia, insomnia, nutritional deficiencies and thyroid disorders as a first step in addressing general fatigue. However, if you’re basically in good health but you still feel chronically wiped out, you may want to consider experimenting with a well researched adaptogen such as Rhodiola rosea. (13,14,15,16)

Be well!

JP

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Posted in Exercise, Mental Health, Nutritional Supplements

13 Comments to “Arctic Root Energy”

  1. Bill Flemming Says:

    I’ve been taking Rhodiola rosea now for some time. I use either the Verde Botanica brand called Mind Body & Spirit or else another product called Energy Reserves. Both are great — I’ve tried a lot of other store-bought Rhodiola and the stuff just didn’t work. Good article — thanks for the overall update on this important herb!

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Bill!

    I appreciate you sharing your experience!

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) Says:

    Great article! But here’s a question I’ve not gotten a straight answer to: Given that this is species with intense living conditions and small growth habit, and given that the part used requires killing the plant, what is being done to ensure sustainable harvest? I don’t know enough about how it grows to have anything but vague fears. Do you know more about how prolific it is?

  4. JP Says:

    Orna,

    Thank you! :)

    It appears that sustainability is a real issue to consider. This is the somewhat sobering information I found:

    http://www.herbcompanion.com/herb-profiles/America-Adopts-a-Revered-Russian-Remedy.aspx?page=3

    The best hope for Rhodiola rosea probably lies in the attempts to cultivate it – much like they do with other endangered adaptogens.

    http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue81/article3379.html?Issue=81

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) Says:

    Thanks for the links, JP. I asked this question for four years of (naturopathic) medical school and no one ever gave me as straight an answer.

    I also want to say (as both an ND and a retired journalist) I’m quite impressed with your site and look forward to digging through it! I’m glad you found me on Twitter so I could find you. If you ever want to converse outside of comments on your blog I’d be very happy to.

  6. JP Says:

    I’m happy to know that the links were useful, Orna. :)

    Thank you very much for your kind assessment of my work. I really appreciate it!

    I’d love to stay in touch and exchange ideas. I’ll look forward to it!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Balko Says:

    Mr. Flemming,

    is it just a coincidence that you praised Arctic Root while Proactivebio Inc. was selling Swedish Herbal Institute products and since the company switched to Verde Botanica you also changed your mind and persistently eulogize Mind, Body & Spirit and degrade all other brands all around the internet?

  8. Kistâra Motzfeldt Vahl Says:

    Hi JP thanks for interesting reading about Arctic Root.

    I’m and 37 years old greenlandic woman, who is very interested in plants from our area. Therefore I looked for more informations about arctic root. In our culture – traditional hunting culture and in south greenland as sheep farmers – the plant has been a very important plant. Where they preserved the plant in various ways. The use of it nowadays is varying according to the area. In some areas they still use it a lot, together with the traditional foot. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible connection. I’ve been travelling a lot in my country, and seen that people that use the plant in a higher degree, they often become very old but their physics and psychics are quite intact. One thing, that I especially has noticed is, that people in east (in east the arctic root, is very used), does almost not get wrinkles in their faces, when they get old. Could there be an connection with their foot – with many local plants including Arctic Root?

    Kistâra Motzfeldt Vahl

  9. JP Says:

    Kistara,

    Your observations may indeed by accurate. Unfortunately, there aren’t any scientific studies (that I’m aware of) that have specifically looked at the long term effects of arctic root consumption.

    However there have been numerous, preliminary studies that suggest the Rhodiola may afford a variety of benefits for the body and mind – including the skin. Some would consider these benefits to be classified as “anti-aging” as they counter some of the degeneration that typically occurs over a lifetime.

    Be well!

    JP

  10. Michelle Says:

    Since reading this article I’ve started using a Rhodiola/Ginkgo supplement and it’s effects are amazing.
    I truely believe Rhodiola will be the next big supplement, I have only heard positive things and everyone who tries it seems to recomend it.
    I use Vitality Plus it’s a blend of Rhodiola and Ginkgo so you don’t have to take 2 supplements.
    It’s made a huge difference to my mood and energy!

  11. Jerry Says:

    RE: does almost not get wrinkles in their faces

    Wrinkles, around the eyes are from an induction of homocysteine, collagen degradation. (activation of the Methionine Cycle. Increase your soy lecithin, (Choline) intake.

  12. gerlinde Says:

    hi i live in australia i would like to know how to get arctic root as the health shops dont carry it ty

  13. JP Says:

    Hi Gerlinde,

    Below, I’ll include two links to online stores that are based in Australia. Another option is to order from an online store that’s located in the US, but that ships to Australia. I’ve included two links to the latter as well.

    http://www.healthfoodsonline.com.au/shop/product/rhodiola_advanced_60_caps/1798

    http://www.gnclivewell.com.au/product.asp?id=264&t=Rhodiola+GNC+HPS&cid=2

    http://www.iherb.com/info/shipping/International < --- They sell several arctic root (Rhodiola) supplements.

    http://www.vitacost.com/international-faqs-australia <— They also sell multiple arctic root (Rhodiola) supplements.

    Be well!

    JP

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