Rhodiola rosea ("Golden Root" or "Rose Root") has a long history of use in the traditional medical systems of Eastern Europe and Asia, and particularly in Russia. It has traditionally been used as a tonic to improve mental and physical performance and promote resistance to stress of all kinds.
In modern times Rhodiola rosea has come to be classified as an 'adaptogen'. This is a group of medicinal herbs which through various mechanisms improve the body's ability to resist stress, essentially helping the body adapt physiologically. As such, Rhodiola rosea extracts are now used to combat conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more generally to help people cope with both mental and physical stress and improve their well-being.
Modern scientific studies have suggested that Rhodiola rosea exerts its beneficial effects through a number of different mechanisms. These include:
- Regulating the concentrations of important neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline/norepinephrine. It is thought Rhodiola rosea achieves this in a similar way as MAOI antidepressant drugs by modulating the enzymes that break down these chemicals - monoamine oxidase (MAO) and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT).
- Improving the transport of these neurotransmitters within the brain.
- Preventing the depletion of adrenal catecholamines (e.g. adrenaline/epinephrine) induced by acute stress.
- Increasing the production and activity of natural opiate-like substances such as endorphins within the body.
- Improving oxygen transport and oxygenation of tissues.
- Increase the production and or preserve reserves of ATP (the body's energy currency molecule), especially during exercise.
Other benefits of Rhodiola rosea suggested by research include:
- Antioxidant activity
- Heart protective
- Potential anti-cancer activity
Rhodiola rosea appears to work through different mechanisms than most adaptogens which act primarily on the adrenal glands. It has been suggested therefore that it may be more useful than other adaptogens as an aid for combating acute mental, biological or chemical stress. It may also offer synergistic benefits when used with other adaptogenic herbs.