Rhodiola; Nature's Steroids

Last week I posted an Instagram story of myself taking a shot of Rhodiola tincture and then grimacing at the potent flavor. The caption read, "give me that energy!" Surprisingly, I received a lot of messages in response to the post. Some people were agreeing that yes, rhodiola extract tastes like ass. Mostly though, people were curious about what it was and why I was taking it. This prompted me to share some info on one of my favorite herbs. 

Rhodiola Rosea is a flowering plant that typically grows in cold climates. It's considered an adaptogen, meaning it contains chemical compounds that help the body adapt to stress. Other common adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, cordyceps (a type of mushroom), holy basil, and licorice root. 

The Siberian Secret

Here's some interesting history for you:  Rhodiola has been used for centuries by the natives of places like Russia, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Iceland, but it wasn't until the 1940's that researchers starting getting their hands on the stuff. During that time, the Russian government caught word from the Siberian natives of this powerful flower that could increase energy and stamina. The Soviets began running secret experiments (scientists working on this research were banned from sharing any information outside the country) on various adaptogens. They were searching for substances that would increase the athletic performance of their Olympians as well as help their military adapt to the stress of sleep depravity, frostbite, and exhaustion.

Several different adaptogens were used in these experiments, but ultimately it was rhodiola that produced the most impressive results. They found that it helped soldiers maintain energy and focus even when sleep-deprived, and it increased the endurance of their Olympic athletes. They even found that their astronauts were in better spirits after long periods of isolation!

Unfortunately, the Russians lost interest in rhodiola pretty quickly once they starting using synthetic steroids...

The Benefits of Rhodiola

Obviously, the effects of rhodiola are not going to be as striking as steroids, but it's still pretty impressive and a whole lot kinder to your body.  Think about it- if this plant contains chemical compounds that allow it to adapt and survive in cold, harsh climates, it stands to reason that we could also benefit from its constituents. 

While scientific evidence on rhodiola is still limited, there has been strong evidence that Rhodiola does the following to some degree: 

  • Increases energy and reduces fatigue, especially in cases of chronic fatigue and burnout
  • Boosts athletic performance (specifically for endurance athletes) and speeds recovery 
  • Improves cognition and focus
  • Reduces symptoms of depression
  • Help reduce the effects of all stressors- physical, chemical, mental, and emotional

How to Take

Take 50-200 mg rhodiola daily (preferably between meals) for fatigue reduction or before a workout. You can easily find rhodiola in most health food stores in either tincture or capsule form. Many holistic stress-reducing supplements contain this herb in combination with other adaptogens, which can be great for anyone struggling with chronic fatigue. Personally, I like these products:

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Resources:

Johnson, Kristina. "Before Steroids, Russians Secretly Studied Herbs." National Geographic. National Geographic, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/08/long-before-doping-scandals--russians-were-studying-performance-/>.

"Rhodiola Rosea - Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects." Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects | Examine.com. Examine.com, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <https://examine.com/supplements/Rhodiola+Rosea/>.

"Rhodiola Rosea." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodiola_rosea>.

"RHODIOLA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-883-rhodiola.aspx?activeingredientid=883>.