Think back over the last few decades. How many times, after being asked “what’s wrong?”, have you responded, “oh nothing, I’m just tired.” Hundreds of times? Thousands of times? Fortunately, doctors have now begun to accept and understand that “just tired” doesn’t have to be a permanent state of being for women. There’s a medicinal plant making waves for its ability to counteract fatigue and brain fog: Rhodiola rosea. Read on to learn how it works, plus hear from a 58-year-old woman who says “Rhodiola rosea changed my life.”
Why women are prone to tiredness
“When it comes to feeling tired, women over 50 get hit hard,” says psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD, the CEO and Founder of Amen Clinics and BrainMD. “In one study, one in three women over age 51 reported experiencing fatigue.” The biggest reason for this, unsurprisingly, is menopause. “The hormonal ups and downs associated with menopause are a key contributor,” says Dr. Amen. “Other issues that can rob you of mental and physical energy include depression, anxiety, grief, sleep disorders, certain medications, alcohol use, and poor diet.” Of course many of these things can interact to create a truly vicious cycle.
What is Rhodiola rosea?
“Rhodiola rosea is a hardy plant that lives in harsh climates, including Arctic environments and high altitudes,” explains Dr. Amen. An extract is taken from this plant, which has been used for centuries to treat conditions such as fatigue and brain fog.
“Rhodiola rosea is a well-studied, stimulating adaptogen,” Dr. Amen adds. Adaptogens are herbs and other substances derived from plants that support and improve the body’s natural ability to respond to stress. Other common adaptogens include ashwagandha, holy basil and maca root.
The top two benefits of Rhodiola rosea
When it comes to the benefits of taking rhodiola, they go far beyond helping you fight stress. “This fast-acting medicinal plant fights fatigue, enhances mental and physical performance, and supports positive moods,” says Dr. Amen. “It improves the availability of energy throughout the day while promoting more restful sleep at night.”
While these perks comes primarily from rhodiola’s work as an adaptogen, there may be other ways it works in the body as well. “Other findings suggest that rhodiola may boost the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine,” Dr. Amen notes. “These brain chemicals play a critical role in moods, energy levels, and motivation.”
1. Freedom from fatigue
In a study published in the journal Complementary Medicine Research, folks who took 200 mg of rhodiola twice a day (before breakfast and lunch) saw their levels of general fatigue improve by 53% after eight weeks. What’s more, their physical fatigue improved by 48% and their mental fatigue improved by 44%. The researchers noted that the biggest improvements were observed after just one week of taking rhodiola.
Additionally, a study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found Rhodiola rosea made tiny “energy engines” inside cells known as mitochondria 85% more active. Plus it increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s cellular source of energy. And finally, a review in Molecules confirms the herb’s perks for easing depression, enhancing productivity, improving cognitive function, and reducing burnout. (Click through to learn how the “three good things” approach can help you beat burnout.)
2. Improved mood
Since Rhodiola may influence levels of hormones like dopamine and serotonin, it has also been found to improve mood and curb symptoms of depression. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research, participants who took 200 mg of Rhodiola twice a day for 14 days saw significant improvements in their mood. And they experienced noticeable reductions in anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression, too. For many women with stress or depression, Rhodiola rosea has been a natural remedy that changed their life.
How to take Rhodiola rosea
Happily, it’s a cinch to get the perks of this powerful adaptogen. While Rhodiola rosea is available in capsules, tinctures and powders, Dr. Amen notes that most people find it easiest to take capsules or tablets. “Look for a product that delivers 200 mg of Rhodiola rosea extract with at least 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides,” he says. The doses used in studies are either 200 mg or 400 mg (200 mg twice a day). You can start with one 200 mg dose daily, then increase to 400 mg if needed.
“I generally recommend that people avoid taking rhodiola in the late afternoon or evening since it is a stimulating substance,” Dr. Amen adds. Try taking it first thing in the morning, before breakfast, or in the mid- to late-morning when you start to feel your energy lagging and brain clouding over. (Click through for easy ways to get rid of brain fog fast.)
Some products that fit Dr. Amen’s criteria: Vitanica Rhodiola (Buy from Amazon, $22.99) and Vital Nutrients Rhodiola Rosea (Buy from Vital Nutrients, $22.90). If you don’t experience enough of a boost from Rhodiola alone, Dr. Amen’s company, BrainMD, has a product called Focus & Energy (Buy from BrainMD, $41.95) that combines rhodiola with green tea extract, ashwagandha, panax ginseng and choline to further promote alertness.
“Rhodiola rosea changed my life” — Becky Blake, 58
Just five more minutes and I’ll get up, Becky Blake, 58, told herself as she searched for the energy to get out of bed. When she finally got up, her body dragged and her brain was so fuzzy she couldn’t think straight. She had an especially hard time at her job as a special education specialist. Just remembering details about her clients was a major feat.
For five years running, at every physical, Becky asked her doctor, “What is wrong with me?” She always got the same reply, “You’re over 50. It’s hormonal changes. Just part of the female aging process.”
Frustrated and refusing to accept she just had to live with her symptoms, Becky tried to find her own remedy. She started exercising more and eating a more balanced diet. When that didn’t help, she tried more holistic approaches. That included IV vitamin therapy, magnesium supplements, hypnotherapy, EFT tapping, acupuncture and Reiki. But nothing changed.
How Becky discovered Rhodiola rosea
Then, Becky read about Rhodiola rosea. The plant grows in cold regions and at high altitudes in Europe and Asia, and it has a long history of medicinal use. She read how rhodiola works with the body by decreasing the stress response and increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — the body’s main source of energy.
It’s also been used to increase mental capacity. Plus it helps manage depression and anxiety by lowering the body’s cortisol response to stress. Becky’s eyes grew wide as she read how the herb also helps balance brain chemicals like serotonin, a hormone that dampens pain and inflammation and also increases energy.
Maybe I’ve finally found something that can help, Becky hoped. It can’t hurt to try!
How Rhodiola rosea changed Becky’s life
Becky purchased a bottle of 250 mg Rhodiola rosea capsules for about $12 and began taking one a day at around 10 AM when the head bobs and fuzziness became unbearable. Within a few hours of taking her very first dose, Becky was shocked to notice how awake and alert she felt — without having to down several cups of coffee. Although she was excited, Becky was cautious that perhaps her energy boost was a fluke. So she crossed her fingers and waited to see what effect the supplement would have the next day.
To Becky’s delight, after a mid-morning dose of rhodiola, she once again felt refreshed and was able to think clearly. Her kids and friends also noticed the increase in her mood, energy and clarity. After a few weeks, Becky opted for a liquid version of rhodiola that she adds to her morning smoothie. “I’m so happy to have my life back and be able to enjoy my days instead of willing them away so I can go to bed,” Becky says. As for her doctor’s claims about female aging, she laughs. “At 58, I’ve never felt better!”
For more on adptogens that boost mood: