Best Of Artic Root EnergyFebruary 24, 2011 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. One of the more fascinating studies was published 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 attending 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 10 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)
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)
Update: February 2011 – A systematic review in this month’s issue of the journal Phytomedicine summarizes the current state of knowledge about arctic root (Rhodiola rosea) thusly: “R. rosea may have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions”. This conclusion was based on an evaluation of 11 placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials with publication dates spanning between 1950 to 2009. However, several newer studies weren’t in print at the time of summary. Here’s an overview of what the current batch of Rhodiola research reveals: a) Salidroside, a component of R. rosea, may reduce binge eating behavior by modulating stress response; b) a combination of R. rosea, Schisandra chinensis and Eleutherococcus senticosus (ADAPT-232) improved cognitive performance (accuracy, attention and speed) in a group of 40 women taking part in a set of “stressful cognitive tasks”; c) new animal and human studies report that supplementing with arctic root improves physical performance and reduces “lactate levels and parameters of skeletal muscle damage after an exhaustive exercise session”; d) two recent experiments in animal models report that R. rosea extracts may be useful in the battle against addiction to morphine and nicotine. In the original review I cited, the authors call for more well-designed studies to confirm previous findings. It appears that some scientists are indeed forging forward and putting this adaptogen to the test with positive results. (17,18,19,20,21,22,23)
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Adaptogen, Fatigue, Stress
Posted in Exercise, Mental Health, Nutritional Supplements