The perennial plant rhodiola rosea, sometimes called "golden root," "roseroot" or "arctic root," is a powerful adaptogen known to enhance vitality by helping your body adapt to physical, chemical and environmental stress. In other words, it helps your body maintain homeostasis. The plant has a long history of use in traditional folk medicine in Russia and Scandinavian countries,1 and modern science has shown rhodiola:2,3,4,5,6,7
Has antidepressant and antianxiety benefits8 and helps improve symptoms of burnout
Enhances cognitive function, improving mental clarity, thought formation and focus
Helps modulate immune function (raising low immune function and reducing overactive function)
Enhances nervous system health
Enhances cardiovascular health
Improves male and female sexual functioning, reproductive health and fertility
Has anticancer benefits
Helps protect against viral infections9
Enhances athletic performance and shortens recovery time between workouts
Exercise Benefits of Rhodiola
A 2004 study10 found extract of rhodiola rosea radix had an anti-inflammatory effect on healthy untrained volunteers, before and after bouts of exhausting exercise. It also protected muscle tissue during exercise. According to the abstract:
"Professional athletes effectively use rhodiola rosea ("golden radix") extract as a safe nonsteroid food additive improving endurance and rapid recovery of muscles during several decades. rhodiola rosea extract improves muscle work due to mobilization and more economic expenditure of energy resources of muscles.
The use of adaptogens including R. rosea improved physical endurance of male athletes, reducing blood lactate level and accelerating recovery after exhausting exercise."
Other studies have similarly found that rhodiola can significantly increase time to exhaustion during exercise,11 reduce C reactive protein levels and improve neuromotoric fitness. For example, a 2003 animal study12 found that rats given 50 milligrams per kilo (mg/kg) of rhodiola rosea extract along with the same amount of rhodiola crenulata root, prolonged the duration of exhaustive swimming the rats were capable of by nearly 25 percent.
This improvement was found to be due to the extracts' ability to activate the synthesis or resynthesis of ATP in mitochondria. The extracts also stimulated reparative energy processes that take place post-exercise. Rhodiola rosea was determined to be the most effective of the two extracts for improving physical working capacity.
Antiviral Effects of Rhodiola
Rhodiola extract has also been shown to protect athletes from viral infections. In one study,13,14 48 marathon runners randomly received either 600 mg of rhodiola rosea or a placebo for four weeks prior to a race. Blood samples were collected at three intervals: before the start of the race, and 15 minutes and 1.5 hours after the race ended. Follow-up studies using in vitro assays concluded that rhodiola was able to protect cells against the vesicular stomatitis virus for 12 hours after physical exertion.
David Nieman, director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory, discovered that marathon runners are particularly prone to viral illnesses, especially upper respiratory tract illnesses, after competing. Rhodiola, he found, could help with this — in addition to providing athletes with enhanced performance and recovery benefits.