Rhodiola: 12 Powerful Health Benefits (What The Studies Say)
Adaptogens are powerful herbal ingredients that can have amazing impacts on health. In the grand scheme of things, however, the idea of an “adaptogen” is only a recent discovery.
On the other hand, ancient knowledge of these health benefits is nothing new.
This applies to all the most famous herbs and mushrooms we call adaptogens today, including ashwagandha, reishi, ginseng, or gynostemma. Each of these healing botanicals may seem like recent sensations as health supplements, but in truth, people have known about their capabilities for thousands of years.
Besides these, none are as praised as the herb called Rhodiola.
WHAT IS RHODIOLA ROSEA?
Rhodiola is a peculiar plant. Most would be hard-pressed to pick it out of the typical garden plant lineup since it’s quite unusual.
Besides its unique appearance, Rhodiola is also an herb only known to grow in high altitudes.
Further, it is only found in very northern latitudes. For this reason, it’s not a common find in most people’s flower gardens or in the countryside, except in rocky, mountainous regions of northern Europe and Asia.
Rhodiola’s native habitat can be found in countries or regions such as Scandinavia, Siberia, Russia, and Iceland, and as far south as northern France and Germany.
A HISTORY OF ARCTIC MEDICINE
In these regions where it is native, Rhodiola is known as far more than just a supplement adaptogen with great popularity in today’s alternative health culture.
As a plant denizen of the Arctic, it was originally considered a potent medicine.
Cultures of the Arctic, including the Vikings, Siberians, Saami, and others used the herb as a general tonic to increase strength, energy, and vitality. Healers from these various groups noted particular strengths in the botanical for helping with stress, mood disorders, energy levels, inflammation, and even reproductive health to a certain extent.
As it was back then, so it is today—only in our case, science has found more concrete evidence to make these uses for health still very pertinent in modern times.
WHAT RHODIOLA CAN DO FOR HEALTH
As research has found in the last few decades, many of Rhodiola’s health effects utilized by ancient healers make for an effortless translation into valuable perks for today’s health-seekers.
While some historical uses of the herb have fallen by the wayside, others have been taken up with conviction by modern researchers and scientists.
The following health benefits of Rhodiola are the most research-supported, studied, and proven effective by both science and evidence-based traditional and folk use.
Like all other powerful adaptogens out there, Rhodiola is an antioxidant.
“Adaptogen” designates an herb or mushroom which helps protect the body against stress, illness, and degeneration, much like a tonic.
And, as science has unveiled, these adaptogenic qualities in these herbs most of the time can be owed to antioxidant properties: the ability to slow oxidative damage and free radicals, which also slows down the breakdown of tissues, inflammation, and even aging.
One study substantiated these antioxidant properties, showing that compounds in Rhodiola scavenged free radicals and protected tissues found all over the body—thus proving Rhodiola’s adaptogenic benefits.
GREAT FOR ADRENAL FATIGUE
What is adrenal fatigue, and how does Rhodiola help with it?
Adrenal fatigue is a sub-clinical, unofficial condition that results from high cortisol levels.
These high cortisol levels are often the result of too much stress, anxiety, over-work, and ultimately, chronic fatigue. In a vicious cycle, it also worsens and is worsened by these issues.
In the natural health world, adaptogens like Rhodiola are recommended by alternative practitioners for such issues. Problems like adrenal fatigue are frequently overlooked or unrecognized by mainstream health practitioners, but as studies have shown, Rhodiola’s support of better cortisol can provide some relief.
Branching out from its antioxidant potential, Rhodiola is also known to help naturally enhance the immune system.
Keeping down free radicals and inflammation is shown to naturally help the immune system better express and elevate itself to its full potential.
As such, an antioxidant like Rhodiola could help do this naturally, but also in a couple of other ways. One study showed it naturally helped enhance immune cells, in effect helping the body be better equipped for fighting illnesses, infections, perhaps even viruses like colds and flu.
Past free radical-fighting, Rhodiola could also be called an out-and-out immune booster as well.
GREAT FOR THE HEART
Doctors, nutritionists, and other health experts are quick to recommend antioxidants for supporting heart health. As it turns out, Rhodiola could be another great antioxidant for one’s heart health arsenal.
One study has also shown Rhodiola extract can help lower blood pressure.
While this seems like a mild health benefit found in practically any other antioxidant, Rhodiola appears to have this ability to a noticeably greater extent. Another study, which was actually a major review, also showed Rhodiola has great potential for reducing the risk of heart disease, though only certain types and more studies were ultimately needed.
BOOST AEROBIC ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE
Beyond its usefulness as an antioxidant for improving health, one of its more favorable uses in ancient times was to increase and enhance one’s athletic abilities.
In the regions where Rhodiola grew (and still grows) natively, people who took it were noticeably more energetic, physically fit, and able to work much longer.
No wonder this herb of old still has popularity today: these effects can still be experienced when taking the herb today, plus there’s science to prove it. One study showed that test subjects who took it demonstrated much greater physical performance while exercising than without it.
RHODIOLA CAN FORESTALL FATIGUE
An obvious reason why Rhodiola has such great effects on exercise? Apparently, it reduces how much the body experiences and is impacted by fatigue.
Not only does it appear to help with physical fatigue, it can also aid perceived mental fatigue, too.
What’s more, a 2017 trial tested the use of Rhodiola as a supplement on people with chronic fatigue. There did appear to be very noticeable benefits, with subjects experiencing less and less fatigue with regular, daily use of the herb after a 1-week period, and even better results once test subjects got into their 8th week of daily Rhodiola use.
HELP STRESS AND ANXIETY
Low energy and chronic fatigue are obviously quite draining. But what about other aspects of wellness that drain us of energy—such as stress and anxiety?
Not so coincidentally, Rhodiola may be a great herb for stress.
A study in 2012 found that an extract of the herb had notable impacts on anxiety and stress, specifically when researchers tested subjects and found that Rhodiola had lowered cortisol levels.
Cortisol is called the “stress and anxiety” hormone. It’s produced in high amounts by the body when it experiences too much stress and can have many negative effects—including adrenal fatigue.
HELP WITH DEPRESSION
Besides common encounters with problems like stress and anxiety, Rhodiola could also very well throw its hat in the ring for helping with depression, too.
As a matter of fact, the evidence supporting the herb for depression is quite convincing. A study in 2015 showed that, in comparison to a prescribed anti-depressant, Rhodiola was slightly less effective though it did show anti-depressant benefits.
The real perk here: compared to the pill, Rhodiola showed no adverse side effects.
This means people looking for more natural, side-effect free approaches to relieving depression may want to explore Rhodiola, though more studies are needed.
What may lend Rhodiola the most weight in helping with conditions like anxiety, depression, and stress could be found in its neuroprotective properties.
A “neuroprotective” herb means that it helps protect the nervous system and neurons from stress, inflammation, and oxidative damage.
This protection can, as a result, improve issues with mental health, nervous disorders, and a very long list of other nervous system-related issues—even neurological disorders potentially, or multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions.
A study also gave very high-quality evidence for this, showing that Rhodiola directly protected cellular damage and death in human cortical neuron cells.
RHODIOLA COULD HELP PEOPLE QUIT SMOKING
Though there are many claims attached to lots of supplements and how they could help with quitting smoking, science suggests that Rhodiola might be for real.
More remarkably, this arctic herb could be helpful for one of the toughest aspects of smoking cessation: nicotine withdrawals.
A 2011 study, though it was performed on animals, revealed that use of Rhodiola extract effectively reduced and even completely ridded test subjects of nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Though clearly many more studies are needed on the herb before calling it a viable therapy, what it has shown thus far is quite promising for smokers.
GREAT FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH
Many herbs are alleged as great for women’s health, though not all may be as effective or successful as Rhodiola.
In a 2016 study, a clinical case showed that Rhodiola had amazing benefits for menopause and its symptoms.
Researchers on this case hypothesized the herb was responsible for these effects because it most likely modulated estrogen receptors. As women age, estrogen levels drop, and estrogen receptors may lose function, which in turn leads to the symptoms that menopause creates.
However, with some more concrete studies, Rhodiola could one day be a natural therapy for menopause and women’s health altogether.
HELP BATTLE CANCER
A list of Rhodiola’s health benefits wouldn’t be proper if they didn’t go out with a grand finale.
To conclude with this herb’s many health powers, Rhodiola could be a great natural support for cancer.
In a 2011 study, an extract of Rhodiola (which was notably rich in its powerful compounds, salidrosides) helped shrink the growth of cancer in the bladder of test subjects. Even better, it helped kill cancer while supporting the well-being of perfectly normal, healthy bladder cells.
Though it’s not ready to be declared a cancer remedy quite yet, this shows great hope one day for more natural solutions.
Rhodiola’s energy-enhancing, fatigue-reducing benefits—supported by both science and tradition—make it symphonize perfectly and effortlessly with our other healthful botanical selections.
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