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The restorative powers of rhodiola

Two people running
Rhodiola rosea provides a natural way to battle stress. Use this beloved herbal remedy to boost your exercise sessions too.

If things have been getting on top of you recently, it might be time to try a herbal remedy beloved by Chinese emperors to help them cope under pressure.

Rhodiola rosea has also – allegedly – been studied in secret by Russian scientists in a bid to improve their athletes’ endurance.1

So could the herb help you beat the symptoms of stress, in the office or the gym?

How rhodiola works to combat stress

Rhodiola rosea is called an ‘adaptogen’; one of the herbal remedies that help the body adapt to and cope with the symptoms of physical, mental or environmental stress.

Adaptogenic herbs are said to have both calming and stimulatory properties, so they can pep you up or soothe frazzled thoughts.

When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands release hormones that trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response – cortisol, and adrenaline and noradrenaline (also known as catecholamines).

These cause the classic symptoms of stress such as a racing heart and shallow breathing.

But rhodiola reduces our reaction to stress by curbing production of these stress hormones.

A trial published in Planta Medica in 2009 followed 60 people with stress-related fatigue taking 576 mg rhodiola every day for 28 days. The results showed decreased cortisol release and enhanced concentration.2 

And in 1994, Russian researchers found that rhodiola could help protect the heart from the damaging effects of stress by preventing the release of catecholamines.3

Handpicked content: How stress snatches magnesium

Can rhodiola improve your workout?

Exercise is good for us, but it’s still considered a form of stress on the body.

Now research suggests that rhodiola rosea could help you get more out of an exercise session.

A small American study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013, found that people given rhodiola before a time trial on a stationary bike pedalled faster, and felt less exhausted, than those who took a placebo.4 

In another study of 52 healthy young men, those given 15 drops of rhodiola tincture were able to pedal at maximum intensity for 9% longer than those given a placebo.5

Rhodiola for exercise recovery

Rhodiola could help with post-exercise recovery, too. In a study of 42 master level competitive skiers, the heart rates of those given rhodiola 30-60 minutes before a training session returned to baseline more quickly afterwards than those given a placebo.6 

Another study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2010, followed 14 male athletes taking rhodiola supplements for four weeks.

The University of Rome researchers who conducted the study concluded that rhodiola could lower levels of lactic acid and reduce skeletal muscle damage after exercise.7

Handpicked content: The top 5 supplements to smash your sports goal

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 23 September 2021

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