Rhodiola Helps Stress, Adrenals, Stamina

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

December 11, 2018

Rhodiola Helps Stress, Adrenals, Stamina
Exhaustion, burnout and feeling stressed are common feelings as we come into the busiest time of year. Pacing, rest, and nourishment are necessary daily requirements to get through these times to replace the fatigue, irritability and grumpiness. Fortification with adaptogenic herbs like the well-known Rhodiola rosea can make a substantial difference in stress tolerance and resistance and healthy aging.

Stress is more than just a feeling. Stress comes from imbalanced diets, environmental pollution like plastics, pesticides, jet fuel, car exhaust, blue light and EMF exposures. It comes from medications, alcohol, and tobacco use etc. Infections, food intolerances, and poor or disrupted sleep bombard us with different types of stress. A confrontation with someone, deadlines, or bills in the mail along with the holiday season equates to a lot of stress and even unhealthy aging.

Stress Affects Adrenals and Thyroid

High stress levels oftentimes coupled with high caffeine intake pushes the body’s adrenal glands and nervous system (HPA-axis) to crank out more cortisol and stress hormones and neurotransmitters. Perhaps you push through the day, but it takes a toll in so many ways from a physiological perspective.

Stress leads to elevated cortisol levels. As stress and high cortisol output pattern progresses, the body reaches a point of breakdown. The natural 24-hour pattern of strong cortisol levels in the morning with a natural decline through the rest of the day becomes dysregulated. Rather a more erratic rollercoaster pattern of highs and lows of cortisol occurs at the wrong time(s) of the day.

This pattern causes energy crashes, fatigue, loss of passion and enjoyment, irritability, insomnia, weight management and blood sugar difficulties. Mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon energy crashes may occur like clockwork with the intense desire to take a nap. Thyroid health and hormone production are on the receiving end of stress dysregulation which leads this system to also become stressed and dysfunctional.

Stress Affects Our Internal Physiology

On a cellular level, high stress induces multiple challenges to the body and eventually it can lead to loss of stress resistance and faster aging. It manifests itself with increased oxidative stress, impaired nutrient sensing, acquired mitochondrial damage, stem cell exhaustion, DNA changes, shortening of telomeres, and changes in gene expression. These are things that we can’t directly see, but we can see the effects of it as aging more rapidly with stiff joints, loss of flexibility, less mental sharpness, wrinkles, dry skin, slower recovery after physical activity or injury, slower metabolism, and general loss of “vim and vigor”.

Rhodiola Rosea – A Favorite Adaptogenic Herb for Stress

Rhodiola rosea, an adaptogenic herb, has been used for centuries to help physical and mental stress tolerance and restore vitality. Rhodiola rosea is grown in mountainous regions in North America and Europe. As science continues to understand the benefits of herbals, we find that Rhodiola provides versatile support in different facets of the body’s stress response.

Brain Stress Tolerance and Neuroplasticity

In the face of stress, we can turn to Rhodiola rosea for support even just as needed. A recent 2018 study found that just one dose of Rhodiola rosea helped the brain deal with stress. Healthy adults were given one dose of 500 mg of Rhodiola rosea and then challenged with a stress stimulus. Results were measured by how the brain and peripheral nervous system responded with nerve conduction and excitability. Rather than the nerves or brain becoming ramped up or stressed out because of the stimulus, the response showed that the brain and nerves adapted to the stress. Rhodiola rosea supported healthy brain plasticity, stress tolerance, and healthy mood.

Heart and Blood Vessel Health

Chronic stress is well known to affect the heart and circulatory system. Protection from stress on our heart and blood vessels is needed daily in today’s world. Rhodiola rosea provides another tool for heart health. Research published in December 2018 demonstrated Rhodiola’s antioxidant support for heart health and stress. Rhodiola rosea helped protect and support healthy blood vessels and cholesterol metabolism by modulating nitric oxide function and improving antioxidant enzymes SOD and glutathione peroxidase.

Athletes, Performance and Strength

The Journal of Sport and Health Science October 2018 published a recent trial on Rhodiola rosea supplementation benefits for athletic performance. Healthy male athletes were given 600 mg of Rhodiola for four weeks as antioxidant support. After completion of the study, antioxidant levels rose. Interestingly, improvement was observed with shorter reaction time and improved accuracy on reaction and motor/movement tests.

Another study with college age female athletes evaluated Rhodiola’s effect on anaerobic strength performance. In this 3-day study, the women were given 1,500 mg of Rhodiola per day and an additional 500 mg 30 minutes prior to exercise. Participants were put through a series of anaerobic or strength training exercises with measurements that evaluated various elements of power and capacity. Those who took Rhodiola had improved scores in all elements tested over those who received placebo.

Rhodiola’s Wide Range of Benefits on Physiology

Research proves Rhodiola’s functionality with stress modulating throughout other aspects of physiology. Rhodiola use has been found to support healthy aging, cellular health, DNA repair, and antioxidant status on a cellular and systemic level “similar to the effect of positive lifestyle interventions”.

Rhodiola rosea helps stress resistance by supporting the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA)-axis, modulates cortisol levels, and helps endorphin levels. It supports several powerful antioxidant enzyme systems and can buffer oxidative stress. Rhodiola also helps the with oxygenation demands and has been used historically to help the body adapt to higher altitude changes.

Additional Resources

Stress Induced Burnout: The Path Back to Happiness

Stress and Adrenals: Restoring the HPA Axis

Thyroid TSH Changes Throughout the Day

If you find yourself wired and tired, hitting the snooze alarm multiple times, feeling less stress tolerant, and your strength feels zapped, then some much deserved rest and relaxation is needed. At the same time, make sure you fuel up your body with proper nourishment with quality foods and nutrients like Rhodiola. This prized adaptogenic herb is often taken together with cordyceps, Siberian ginseng/Eleutherococcus, holy basil, pantethine, and ashwagandha to help de-stress and revitalize. At this time of the year, we hear songs and stories about “Mr Grinch.” If you feel like an aging Grinch, trying adding in some Rhodiola support to your nutritional regime!

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