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Life Extension Magazine

Life Extension Magazine September 2011
Report

Reducing the Risks of High Cortisol

By Jan Whiticomb

Enhanced Longevity

Scientists have found that rhodiola possesses the power to restore malfunctioning biological systems, a key factor in reducing the detrimental effects of aging. In testing multiple organisms, rhodiola was found to enhance healthy responses to negative environmental stressors that include oxidative stress, acute and chronic heat shocks, and toxic chemical exposure.15

In the laboratory, rhodiola was found to protect human cells from premature aging when they were exposed to oxidative stress. Again, scientists used the compound derived from rhodiola called salidroside.16 Salidroside further preserves aging skin cells’ ability to reproduce, thereby creating healthier, more vital skin. One group of scientists found that the salidroside in rhodiola dramatically diminishes pathologic symptoms of aging in laboratory mice by preventing accumulation of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs).17

Further bolstering rhodiola’s anti-aging credentials is a recent study showing that rhodiola extract helps slow the aging process while extending life span.18 During this study, scientists administered rhodiola extract in the diet to a group of fruit flies. A control group did not receive the dietary rhodiola. The rhodiola-supplemented fruit flies demonstrated a 10% longer life span, compared with control subjects. When examined more closely, it was clear that the rhodiola-supplemented animals displayed decelerated aging, compared with subjects that did not receive the herb.19

Of important note, rhodiola’s anti-aging and longevity-promoting effects appeared to be independent of any special diet.19 This is of vital importance because it suggests that rhodiola provides longevity benefits through a mechanism separate from caloric restriction, which, as Life Extension readers know, is the best-documented method to increase life span to date.20

The possibility that rhodiola could act through a novel mechanism to forestall aging and lengthen life span is remarkable news for the anti-aging community.

Bolstering Heart Health

Heart disease remains the number one killer, and doctors report that many cardiac events are stress induced.21,22

Stress, whether physical or emotional, puts extra strain on the heart and other muscles. Numerous studies suggest that rhodiola exerts several protective benefits for the heart.23

A probable link between the administration of Rhodiola rosea extract and prevention of arrhythmia (potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythms) was discovered in a recent study.24 The study involved test animals receiving Rhodiola rosea each day for 8 straight days. They were then subjected to an agent known to disrupt heart rhythm. Pre-treatment with rhodiola protected the animals against experimentally induced arrhythmia and electrical instability of the heart. The animals who received rhodiola were less vulnerable to heart damage caused by experimentally induced myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Bolstering Heart Health

Another animal study highlights further potential cardioprotective benefits of rhodiola. In an animal model of coronary artery disease, rhodiola helped decrease the heart muscle’s oxygen consumption while increasing oxygen supply to the myocardium, helping to ensure that the heart muscle has enough oxygen required for optimal function.25

This evidence, combined with earlier animal studies suggesting rhodiola’s ability to reduce cardiac stress-related damage,23 supports the need for further in-depth studies of rhodiola’s cardiovascular benefits in humans.

System-Wide Age Reversal

Reduces Stress

Lowers levels of cortisol7
Restores normal physiological response to stress64
Fights stress-induced despair64
Restores brain cells in areas damaged by stress-induced depression45,46

Protects the Heart

Prevents stress- and ischemia-induced heart muscle damage65-67
Increases heart muscle cell tolerance to ischemia68
Prevents stress- and heart attack-induced arrhythmias26,69-72
Reduces size of heart muscle infarction (tissue death)62-64,68
Promotes new cardiac blood vessel growth after heart attack66,73-75

Protects the Liver

Prevents toxin- and oxidative stress-induced liver cell damage26-29
Reduces serum markers of liver dysfunction76
Restores depleted liver stores of natural antioxidants26

Prevents Cancer

Inhibits proliferation of human leukemia cells77
Inhibits growth, induces death of human cancer cells78-81
Reduces new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) in tumors82

Protects Against Radiation

Increases survival following otherwise lethal total-body irradiation83
Reduces radiation-induced lipid oxidation83
Scavenges radiation-induced free radicals83
Prevents anemia from red blood cell membrane damage83

Modulates the Immune System

Anti-inflammatory effects in settings of excessive inflammation30,41
Stimulates appropriate immune responses84,85
Boosts immune response to vaccines33
Antiviral effects against hepatitis C, influenza, and Coxsackie virus (cause of viral myocarditis)34-36
Antibacterial effects against Staph aureus and tuberculosis37,38
Combines with other adaptogens to boost suppressed immune function following chemotherapy86

Vital Organ Function and Enhanced Immunity

As the major detoxifier for the body, the liver processes countless amounts of toxins and removes them from our body. Rhodiola species support natural antioxidant systems in the liver and protect liver cells from damage by toxins and oxidative stress.26-29 As adaptogens, rhodiola species also carefully modulate the immune system, increasing its response to real threats of infection or malignancy, while preventing excessive inflammation.30-32 A species of rhodiola was found to modulate the immune system to promote a healthy response to certain vaccinations.33 Rhodiola potently inhibits tissue inflammatory responses to irritating drugs, preventing skin redness, swelling, and pain following exposure to the antifungal drug nystatin.30

Rhodiola species possess direct antiviral and antibacterial activities, which may reduce the risk of serious infections.34-38 For example, Rhodiola rosea inhibits the enzymes that flu viruses use to attach to and invade the cells of the respiratory tract, reducing your chances of catching the flu following an exposure.35

Combating Brain Aging

Combating Brain Aging

The neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases occurs as a result of inflammation in the nervous system coupled with the accumulation of harmful, pro-oxidant proteins that trigger even more inflammation and ultimately brain cell destruction. Constituents from rhodiola species such as salidroside display powerful antioxidant properties that prevent oxidative, pro-inflammatory effects as well as the formation of these proteins and the subsequent inflammatory cascade.39-43 Fewer brain cells die from oxidative stress.40,44

Nerve cells in the memory centers of the brain resist age-related damage and produce more beneficial neurotransmitters after treatment with rhodiola.45,46

Both short- and long-term memory enhancements have been demonstrated with rhodiola.47-49 Mental performance and acuity under experimentally induced adverse conditions, such as test-taking or sleep deprivation, are also significantly improved.7-9,11

Rhodiola species help aging humans fall asleep faster, longer, and with improved quality of rest.50,51 In one study of men with sleep disturbances, rhodiola increased the amount of time spent in healthful REM sleep, reduced total wakeful time during the night, and markedly increased the “efficiency” of sleep sessions.51 Greater blood oxygenation during sleep was also observed—a key longevity factor.

What Is An “Adaptogen?

The concept of “adaptogens” is thousands of years old and is an important feature of ancient medical systems in the mountains of Asia and in northern Europe.87 The modern term was coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist who defined an “adaptogen” as an agent that allows an organism to counteract and resist a variety of stressors.88 In 2001, noted nutrition scientist Gregory S. Kelly updated and strengthened criteria for defining an adaptogen, requiring that any one adaptogen:88

  • Produce an increase in power of resistance against multiple stressors, including physical, chemical, or biological agents
  • Normalize physiology, helping the body maintain youthful function, regardless of the cause of stress
  • Normalize bodily functions beyond what is required to gain resistance to stress naturally.

Adaptogens exert a normalizing effect,87 allowing organisms to increase healthy functions that are impaired by stress, and to decrease unhealthy responses that are triggered by stress, without any risk of “overshooting” and creating an unbalanced response. Scientists use the term “homeostasis” to describe your body’s ability to maintain physiological function within certain parameters, including temperature, respiratory rate, and blood chemistry within tightly controlled limits. In mainstream language, then, adaptogens simply enhance the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and fight age-inducing stress.5

Physical Performance

Physical activity and moderate exercise have multiple health benefits, but they also induce injury from oxidative stress, muscle cell damage, and inflammation. There is an important role, therefore, for adaptogens such as rhodiola in mitigating exercise-induced stress. Russian athletes have been known to use adaptogens to promote endurance and improve performance.

Physical Performance

Rhodiola increased antioxidant blood levels and minimized oxidative stress-induced muscle damage in trained athletes for up to 24 hours after strenuous activity.52,53 One study showed an increase in the time to exhaustion during exercise, with significant increases in oxygen delivery to muscle tissues during the workout as well.54

Rhodiola species have been used for centuries by villagers living high in the Himalayas to enhance their resistance to the effects of oxygen deprivation and to boost their endurance for strenuous tasks.55 Those effects prove equally beneficial at more moderate altitudes. During exercise, rhodiola helps people work out longer, increasing their oxygen uptake and decreasing muscle damage.53,54 Long-term supplementation boosts energy storage capacity and blood oxygen level prior to exercise, further enhancing exercise capacity and endurance.55

Rhodiola species protect internal organs from the low oxygen levels found at higher altitudes and that also occur during heart attacks and strokes.56,57 A 2011 study revealed something of even greater significance: rhodiola prevents a phenomenon known as vascular remodeling in lung tissue at high altitudes.58

Not All Rhodiola Is the Same

The authentic Rhodiola rosea species validated in clinical research is wildcrafted from the forests of the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The raw materials are harvested after a minimum of four years of growth, according to the World Health Organization Guidelines of Good Agricultural Practices. This practice of sustainable stewardship preserves the natural resources of rhodiola’s native habitat.

Some rhodiola extracts are standardized to salidroside content only. Salidroside content is not specific to the Rhodiola genus only and is not the only beneficial constituent of rhodiola. Highly beneficial Rhodiola rosea extracts contain a ratio of rosavin and salidroside phytochemicals similar to that which is found in the authentic plant itself.

Vascular remodeling describes the thickening of pulmonary blood vessels that contributes to increased blood pressure in the lungs, a condition known as pulmonary hypertension.59 Chronic exposure to high altitude is just one cause of this condition, which leads rapidly to congestive heart failure.60,61 More common causes of pulmonary hypertension include cardiovascular disease, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnea.59,62 Rhodiola’s ability to prevent vascular remodeling, then, may represent an important and sorely needed new approach to managing a major cause of death and disability in older adults.63

Rhodiola

Summary

Rhodiola is a cortisol suppressing herb that is becoming an increasingly popular dietary intervention in the United States.

It is one of a handful of known adaptogens—plant-based compounds known to support long, healthy life span in part by exerting system-wide protective and restorative effects.

Rhodiola has been shown to favorably modulate the stress response, restore vital organ function, and boost immunity. It is a low-cost nutrient that combats cognitive dysfunction, minimizing depression and anxiety, while enhancing muscle performance, endurance, and circulatory health.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at
1-866-864-3027.

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