I’ve been a long-time skeptic of supplements and vitamins. For the most part, I eat a very clean and balanced vegan diet, chock full of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that I need for sustained energy and health (yes, including protein!); and exercise is almost mandatory given that I live in NYC. I’d have to take at least 10 pills a day to get all the good stuff in my three meals and snacks, so why add yet another step to my busy life? Plus, taking a crunchy bit of kale or an apple is so much more satisfying than swallowing a handful of capsules.
When I read about an herbal supplement called Rhodiola, however, my inner doubting Thomas was silenced. A perennial flower native to cold regions (think Sound of Music territory–mountainous areas like northern Europe and Central Asia, and even certain parts of North America), the herb, also known as golden root or rose root, has been used for centuries to treat what we might think of as the modern-day phenomenon of “21st-century stress.” Historical sources trace its use back to the Greeks (not surprisingly), as well as to Vikings and Chinese emperors. Most notably, it’s been heavily endorsed in Russia throughout its long history: more recently, the intense competition during the Cold War led the Soviets to use it to improve individuals’ mental clarity, focus, and overall mood. If you think keeping up with social media is stressful, imagine being in a constant state of martial and intellectual war as these societies were–anyone would need a happy pill!
While the idea of subscribing to a once-Communist arms-race tactic is not all that appealing, it is appealing to think there is a natural way to fight the ailments that are seemingly unavoidable in our culture. We can meditate, practice yoga and mindfulness, and treat our bodies as well and healthfully as we can, but that doesn’t change the fact that demands to do more, be more, and have more hit us from every direction, especially here in the West in 2015. Even if we don’t give into those messages, they’re still there, like the blinding and towering video displays in Times Square.
Rhodiola is something of a panacea against all that. It is known as an “adaptogen,” which are plants that increase the body’s non-specific resistance and regulate overall functioning. They help us handle stress more efficiently, supposedly because they increase cell regeneration and energy use. Hence its ability to do all this, and more: improve memory, attention, mental productivity, mood, and immunity; fight fatigue and depression; decrease muscle recovery time after workouts. No wonder Maria was always climbing mountains with a song in her heart!
I’ve been going through a rather anxious time, personally and professionally, this year, and so I decided to give Rhodiola a try. The suggested dosage is starting with 100 mg every morning for one week, then adding 100 mg increments per week as needed up to 500 mg/day. Capsules come in a range of potencies, from 100-500 mg each, so check your label; also look for standard formulas with 3-5% rosavin and 0.8-1% salidroside.
After the first day, I immediately noticed a difference in how I felt upon waking up. Although I get a regular amount of sleep (7 hours/night) and keep regular hours, I usually wake up at 6 AM feeling a bit groggy and slow; mornings are great, but they’re definitely a leave-me-alone time. With Rhodiola, though, I woke up feeling much more refreshed and alert, which naturally improved my attitude starting the day at work.
I’ve kept to the 100 mg/day regimen for now, and I won’t lie and say that Rhodiola is as miraculous as it may sound. I’ve had my ups and downs mood-wise, and mental and physical fatigue comes in waves. But with regular use, I think Rhodiola might be a wise and beneficial addition to my diet.
What’s your favorite herbal supplement?
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Also by Jennifer: Inspired Living – How to Find Stillness
Photos: www.wikipedia.org; www.ew.com, Everett Collection