Herbal Extract Improves Exercise Performance
Taking an extract of Rhodiola rosea (golden root, rose root) just before exercising may allow people to exercise longer before becoming tired, reports the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2004;14:298–307).
Rhodiola is classified as an adaptogen, an herb that protects the body against different kinds of stressors; rosavins and salidroside are recognized as its active constituents. Used extensively throughout Russia, China, and Scandinavia for centuries, rhodiola has been used traditionally to increase physical endurance, enhance work productivity, prevent altitude sickness, and treat fatigue, depression, anemia, nervous system disorders, and various infections. Studies done in humans, animals, and cells in test tubes have shown the plant to have antifatigue, antistress, anticancer, antioxidant, immune-enhancing, and sexual-stimulating effects. Recently, there has been much interest in rhodiola as an exercise-performance-enhancing agent. Previous studies have shown that rhodiola administration can improve strength, endurance, and coordination. Athletes taking rhodiola also have reported shorter recovery times after bouts of high-intensity exercise.
The new study was divided into two phases. The goal of Phase I was to determine the immediate effects of rhodiola administration; the second phase investigated the effects of four-weeks of rhodiola intake. Twenty-four men and women, whose average age was 21 years, took part in the first phase of the study. Phase I was broken into two sessions that took place on consecutive days. During the first session, the participants took either 200 mg of Rhodiola rosea extract (standardized to contain 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside) or placebo. After allowing one hour for absorption, the following were assessed: arm movement speed, reaction times to auditory and visual cues, and the ability to sustain attention.
During the second session, the participants took either rhodiola or placebo again, as during the first session. After an hour, muscle strength and exercise endurance capacity were measured. Knee extensions were used to determine muscle strength, and endurance was measured as the length of time the participants could ride on a stationary bicycle until they became exhausted. After five days with no treatment, the treatment groups were switched, so that the placebo group now received rhodiola and the rhodiola group now received placebo, and the two sessions were repeated. After another five days, 12 people participated in Phase II of the study. The participants were assigned to receive either 100 mg two times per day of rhodiola or placebo for four weeks. At the beginning and end of the four weeks, participants took part in two-day study sessions as in Phase I, again receiving a dose of rhodiola or placebo one hour before each series of tests.
During Phase I, rhodiola significantly increased the amount of time that the participants were able to exercise before becoming fatigued. The people taking rhodiola were able to exercise about 3% longer than those taking placebo. After the participants had taken rhodiola for four weeks, a pre-exercise dose of the herb no longer improved endurance. That suggests that rhodiola is beneficial only if used occasionally and for short periods of time. Muscle strength, speed of arm movement, reaction times, and sustained attention were similar between the rhodiola and placebo groups during both phases of the study.
This is the first study to demonstrate the exercise performance-enhancing effect of Rhodiola rosea extract when taken immediately prior to exercise.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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