Rhodiola Boosts Fruit Fly Lifespan By Nearly 25 Percent - What Can It Do For Humans?
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), sometimes called Arctic root or golden root, is considered an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it acts in non-specific ways to increase resistance to stress, without disturbing normal biological functions. The herbal extract has long been used for stress relief was recently found to increase the lifespan of fruit fly populations by an average of 24 percent, according to UC Irvine researchers.
A 2002 review in HerbalGram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, reported that numerous studies of rhodiola in both humans and animals have indicated that it helps prevent fatigue, stress, and the damaging effects of oxygen deprivation. Evidence also suggests that it acts as an antioxidant, enhances immune system function, and can increase sexual energy. Rhodiola's efficacy was confirmed in a 2011 review of 11 placebo-controlled human studies. The reviewers considered studies that all had study designs rated as moderate to good quality, and the analysis of their combined data concluded that rhodiola might have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions. The reviewers noted that very few adverse events are reported, suggesting a good safety profile.
The study leaders, Mahtab Jafari and Sam Schriner discovered that Rhodiola works in a manner completely unrelated to dietary restriction and affects different molecular pathways.
This is significant, said Jafari, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, because dietary restriction is considered the most robust method of improving lifespan in laboratory animals, and scientists have been scrambling to identify compounds that can mimic its effects.
“We found that Rhodiola actually increases lifespan on top of that of dietary restriction,” Jafari said. “It demonstrates that Rhodiola can act even in individuals who are already long-lived and healthy. This is quite unlike resveratrol, which appears to only act in overfed or unhealthy individuals.”
The researchers proved this by putting flies on a calorie-restricted diet. It has been shown that flies live longer when the amount of yeast they consume is decreased. Jafari and Schriner expected that if Rhodiola functioned in the same manner as dietary restriction, it would not work in these flies. But it did. They also tested Rhodiola in flies in which the molecular pathways of dietary restriction had been genetically inactivated. It still worked.
Not only did Rhodiola improve lifespan an average of 24 percent in both sexes and multiple strains of flies, but it also delayed the loss of physical performance in flies as they aged and even extended the lives of old flies. Jafari’s group previously had shown that the extract decreased the natural production of reactive oxygen species molecules in the fly mitochondria and protected both flies and cultured human cells against oxidative stress.
Jafari and Schriner, an assistant project scientist in Jafari’s laboratory, are not claiming that Rhodiola supplements will enable humans to live longer, but their discovery is enhancing scientific understanding of how supplements believed to promote longevity actually work in the body.
Rhodiola has already shown possible health benefits in humans, such as decreasing fatigue, anxiety and depression; boosting mood, memory and stamina; and preventing altitude sickness. Grown in cold climates at high elevations, the herb has been used for centuries by Scandinavians and Russians to reduce stress. It’s also thought to have antioxidant properties.
Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an expert on botanical medicine, says that it is one of her favorite herbs for treatment of patients suffering from "21st century stress": fatigue, mental fog, trouble concentrating, low energy and, perhaps, mild depression. She recommends using a standardized extract. Look for products that are similar to those studied in clinical trials containing 2-3% rosavin and 0.8-1% salidroside. Start with 100 mg once a day for a week and then increase the dosage by 100 mg every week, up to 400 mg a day, if needed. Dr. Low Dog notes that while studies suggest that rhodiola reduces anxiety, some people might feel "revved" up from it. She advises taking it early in the day to avoid any interference with sleep.
Jafari’s research group is currently exploring the plant’s potential to kill cancer cells, improve Alzheimer’s disease and help stem cells grow.
Rhodiola is readily available online and in health food stores. Jafari, though, has analyzed several commercial products and found them to not contain sufficient amounts of the reputed active compounds -- such as rosavin and salidroside -- that characterize high-quality products.
In addition, a study published in 2007 in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, showed that patients with mild-to-moderate depression who took a rhodiola extract reported fewer symptoms of depression than those who took a placebo. A small human trial of rhodiola at UCLA published in 2008, reported significant improvement in 10 people with generalized anxiety who took the herb for 10 weeks. Side effects were generally mild or moderate in severity. The most common unwanted effects were dizziness and dry mouth. Rhodiola appears to work faster than conventional antidepressants, often in less than a week.
John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.