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Rhodiola (RHODIOLA ROSEA)
Found in Northern Europe and Russia, rhodiola is a perennial succulent with a thick ginger-like root that exudes a floral fragrance (hence its Latin specific designation, rosea, and one of its common names, roseroot). While used at least since Viking times to boost endurance and treat fatigue and depression, this herb is a fairly recent addition to American scientific herbalism. (Most Russian research was done by the military and kept secret until 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.) "Very compelling data support rhodiola as an adaptogen," notes Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council. "It has a wide variety of applications. I expect it to become a popular herb."
INDICATION "Rhodiola is one of the best adaptogens for mind and memory problems," Hobbs says. "I prescribe it for people who complain of fuzzy memory. They've reported good results."
BENEFITS Increases energy and stamina * enhances alertness, concentration, and memory * reduces effects from stress * lowers blood pressure * normalizes heart function * augments cancer treatment and lessens its toxicity * protects the liver * eases adaptation to high altitudes.
SIDE EFFECTS Following her Lyme-disease diagnosis, Patricia L. Gerbarg, M,D., has taken 400 to 450 milligrams of rhodiola daily for eight years and suffered no side effects. Jitters and anxiety are possible. Some commercial products combine the herb with caffeine, but Gerbarg warns that these may be overstimulating.
DOSAGE 5 to 10 drops of tincture 2 to 3 times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before eating, for 10 to 20 days; or 200 to 450 mg per day of extract.
SCIENCE When Belgian researchers gave 24 people either a placebo or rhodiola (200 mg daily), the latter group experienced a noteworthy jump in stamina. The herb also has a strong anti-fatigue effect. In tests on healthy doctors assigned to night hospital duty, rhodiola (170 mg daily) significantly outperformed a placebo in improving mental performance and mitigating fatigue, according to a report in Phytomedicine. Supporting evidence comes from a Russian study showing that rhodiola enables students to perform better under academic pressure.
Rhodiola reduces stress, too, According to a comprehensive review in HerbalGram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, the herb lessens the release of stress-related hormones and increases levels of feel-good compounds called endorphins.
As for its cardiovascular effects, Chinese and Russian studies show that rhodiola lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate, normalizes heart rhythm, prevents stress-induced heart damage, and reduces levels of C-reactive protein, a risk factor for heart attack. It also improves blood flow through the brain.
Rhodiola is a "powerful antioxidant" that may help prevent or repair cancer-related cell mutations, says Gerbarg. Preliminary research indicates that rhodiola may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy medications (it virtually eliminates the toxicity of Adriamycin, a widely used cancer drug) and improve the immune function of people with bladder cancer. Additionally, rhodiola is showing liver-protective qualities, according to Ukrainian, Korean, and Chinese investigations.
Gerbarg and her husband, who together went on to author The Rhodiola Revolution, have both used the herb to treat more than 150 patients suffering from depression. "Pharmaceutical antidepressants helped them function; but they still weren't happy," she observes, "In many cases, adding rhodiola increased their energy and allowed them to experience more enjoyment in life."