Stress can cause a myriad of problems. Accelerating the aging process, increasing body fat, and disrupting sleep patterns, is just the beginning. Pervasive as stress may be, there are ways to reduce the premature aging, and fatigue, that stress and anxiety may cause. They’re called adaptogens. Aptly named, adaptogens are plant-based herbs, that enable your body to acclimate to stress. Ashwagandha and Rhodiola are two of the most powerful and effective adaptogens used to reduce stress, enhance athletic performance, and improve cognitive function. We’re going to compare Ashwagandha vs. Rhodiola, to unveil key differences and similarities, so you can decide if, and when to use ashwagandha, and Rhodiola.
What Are Adaptogens
Adaptogens are ancient herbs used in traditional Chinese and Indian ayurvedic medicine, marketed as natural healers of stress and anxiety. Studies show that several adaptogens such as Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Rhodiola Rosea, and L-Theanine, produce a calming effect and balance stress.
How Do Adaptogens Work
Each adaptogen is unique in its exact mechanism, pharmacological use, and therapeutic benefit. Research has shown that several adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anxiolytic, nootropic, anti-depressive, and anti-fatigue effects that may enhance overall productivity, critical thinking, mood state, sleep, and enable better stress response.
Adaptogens are found to help you “adapt” to stress and better cope with anxiety. Adaptogens regulate and balance the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, pituitary, and the sympathoadrenal system, all of which are involved in the body’s response to stress.
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Researchers believe that adaptogens work by altering the reactivity of defense systems, such as the immune system, endocrine response, and central nervous system.
Several adaptogens such as ashwagandha, theanine, and valerian root all stimulate the release of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that produces serotonin and melatonin, the “sleep hormone” achieving a calmer state of mind and body. Inhibitory neurons reduce excitatory neurons, essentially blocking emotions such as fear, anxiety, and stress enhancing alpha wave production in the brain promoting relaxation.
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What Is Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a powerful and potent adaptogen, native to India, the Middle East, and North Africa. The ashwagandha plant is small and short with velvety leaves and bell flowers that contain small fruit, similar in appearance to a cherry tomato. Ashwagandha has been cultivated for thousands of years as an ayurvedic medicine for a variety of traditional uses and benefits, most notably anxiety, energy, inflammation, and overall health and wellness. Traditionally prepared as a Rayasana; an herbal tonic for whole body rejuvenation, now you can find Ashwagandha in the supplement aisle of nearly every health food store.
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What Is Rhodiola Rosea?
Also called artic root, golden root, and roseroot, Rhodiola is one of the most used adaptogens and psychostimulants in Europe. It grows in frigid high-elevation climates between the crevices of rocks, and on the sea cliffs in regions of Europe, Russia, North America, and Britain. Several clinical studies have demonstrated Rhodiola’s effectiveness and benefits on mental performance, endurance capacity, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and as a mild to moderate anti-depressant [R, R, R, R].
Extensively studies during World War II through the Cold War, adaptogens such as Rhodiola were given to pilots, submarine crews, and Russian cosmonauts as a stimulant to enhance mental and physical performance and help them “adapt” and cope under times of mental and physical stress [R].
Benefits Of Ashwagandha
2. Reduces Stress And Anxiety
Improving symptoms of anxiety and stress are the most well-known benefits of Ashwagandha. Stress is created by external physical or mental overload. This can create anxiousness, mental fogginess, fatigue, and interrupt hormonal homeostasis. Workplace stress has risen nearly 20% in the past three decades with 2 out of every 3 adults (67%) reporting mild to severe levels of stress according to the APA [R].
In a double-blind, randomized controlled trial, 64 subjects were administered 300mg of full spectrum ashwagandha root for 60 days to evaluate the efficacy of Ashwagandha in reducing stress and anxiety. The treatment group exhibited a significant reduction in scores on all stress-assessment scales compared to placebo, improving stress levels and overall quality of life [R].
2. Improves Sleep
Another well-known benefit of ashwagandha are its sleep-inducing effects. Research shows that ashwagandha may even be powerful enough as a proposed alternative to recommended present treatments for insomnia. Constant exposure to blue light, work deadlines, and stress can keep us up at night, disrupting sleep schedules and patterns, leading to adverse effects and sub-optimal productivity.
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, evaluated the pharmacological effects of ashwagandha on sleep. 80 healthy participants were assessed on sleep parameters, such as sleep efficiency, sleep duration, wakefulness, and sleep onset.
In both healthy and insomnia groups, ashwagandha produced a significant improvement in all studied sleep parameters, proving to help sleep quality and manage insomnia [R].
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3. Naturally Increases Testosterone Levels
Natural testosterone levels decline as you age. Low testosterone levels in men and women can cause significant adverse effects such as irritability, fatigue, loss of muscle mass, and tank your sex drive. Evidence suggests that ashwagandha may have a significant impact on naturally increasing testosterone levels
A study published in the American Journal Of Men’s Health, enrolled 50 healthy male participants in a 16-week double blind, randomized controlled trial, to investigate the effects of ashwagandha, testosterone, cortisol, and vitality markers. The results showed an 18% increase in DHEA levels as well as a 15% increase in testosterone levels compared to placebo [R]. Therefore supplementing with 300-600mg of ashwagandha per day, can result in elevated testosterone levels, improving overall vitality.
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4. Improves Cognitive Function
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers. GABA is considered an inhibitory transmitter because it blocks certain brain signals and decreases activity in your nervous system, helping calm anxiety, stress, and fear. Ashwagandha has been shown to have GABA-mimetic effects and neuroprotective phytochemicals [R].
A review investigating the effects of ashwagandha and it benefits on brain health, revealed that recent studies do suggest extensive potential benefits on various brain disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Schizophrenia, Huntington's disease, dyslexia, depression, autism, addiction, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorders [R]. Through a collection of phytoconstituents called sitoindosides ashwagandha established evidence suggests ashwagandha could be a potential pharmaceutical candidate.
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5. Improves Athletic Performance
Several studies have shown that ashwagandha may benefit exercise performance indicators such as muscle strength, muscle growth, and cardiorespiratory performance.
A study published in the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, concluded that 600mg of ashwagandha showed significant improvements in muscle mass and strength, and exercise recovery in conjunction with a resistance training program after 8 weeks [R].
Ashwagandha has also been shown to improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A study conducted with 40 cyclists evaluated the effects of 500mg of ashwagandha administered twice per day for 8 weeks on endurance and exercise capacity. Results showed a substantial increase in VO2 and time to exhaustion, improving endurance [R]. Study results were also replicated with hockey players with the same supplement protocol, dosage, and duration, resulting in improved energy levels, VO2 and muscular endurance [R].
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Benefits Of Rhodiola Rosea
1. Reduces Anxiety
Chronic to long term anxiety can have a detrimental impact on your health and normal day-to-day function, leading to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and comprised immune health [R] Rhodiola has been proven through several clinical studies, to help improve your body’s response and ability to cope with stress.
A pilot study conducted at UCLA recruited ten participants with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and were administered 340 mg of Rhodiola Rosea each day for ten weeks. The results showed significant decreases in anxiety and stress [R]. In a similar study, participants were given two doses of Rhodiola per day, and exhibited reductions in anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression with significant improvements in mood after 14 days [R].
2. Eases Stress
As an adaptogen, Rhodiola may not completely eradicate stress, however it can help cope with the effects to make it more bearable. Several studies have shown that Rhodiola can help prevent physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion in stress induced environments. One study showed improvement in mental fatigue amongst a group of 161 servicemen, while another double-blind crossover study showed favorable outcomes in cognition and perception amongst physicians working graveyard shifts [R, R].
3. Improves Cognitive Performance
The ability of Rhodiola Rosea to improve cognitive function is well established. Numerous studies have indicated improvements in short term memory, focus, and learning capabilities [R]. During a twelve-week analysis, 120 patients with cognitive disabilities were given two dose regimens of Rhodiola. A highly statistically significant improvement was found and exhibited in physical and cognitive performance amongst all participants with no adverse effects.
4. Supports Mood & Depression
Demonstrated in several different mechanisms, Rhodiola has shown to be quite effective in reducing mild to moderate symptoms of depression and mood related anxiety. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial patients suffering from moderate depression were given two doses of Rhodiola rosea at 340mg per day. The study concluded that Rhodiola can have anti-depressant effects and significantly improved overall mood state over a six week trial period [R].
5. Improves Endurance Capacity
Rhodiola Rosea shows has shown to have profound effects on endurance capacity. A study conducted at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, investigated the effects of Rhodiola on endurance exercise performance, perceived exertion, mood, and cognitive function. Study methods consisted of a standardized 10-minute warm-up followed by a 6-mile time trial (TT) on a bicycle ergometer. Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) was measured every 5 minutes during the TT using a 10-point Borg scale.
Results indicated that Rhodiola supplementation significantly decreased heart rate response to submaximal exercise and improved endurance capacity, by faster time trials, as opposed to placebo [R].
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Ashwagandha Vs. Rhodiola Rosea: Differences & Similarities
Ashwagandha and Rhodiola have similar benefits on health, athletic performance, and cognition. However, studies suggest that Ashwagandha can support increases in muscle mass and strength, in addition to endurance capacity, as opposed to Rhodiola, which has shown to promote endurance, but not muscle or strength parameters.
Sleep is also a difference, in proposed health benefits between ashwagandha vs rhodiola. Several studies have shown that Ashwagandha has a profound impact on all sleep parameters, such as sleep efficiency, sleep duration, wakefulness, and sleep onset. Ashwagandha also improves natural testosterone levels, which coincides with improved sleep quality and quality of life.
Ashwagandha Vs. Rhodiola Rosea: Takeaway
Ashwagandha and Rhodiola have been used in traditional medicine due to their apaptogenic properties for centuries. Several studies have found that both, can help strengthen your body’s response to stress, as well as provide ergogenic benefits, and improve cognitive performance – there’s a reason why the Russians have been studying these herbs for advanced medicinal use for years.
Taking Ashwagandha and Rhodiola together, is extremely effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Rhodiola relieves stress related response such as mental fatigue, improving mood and cognition. By combining these two hebs, you can effectively improve several aspects, easing your mind, controlling stress, and improving overall quality of life.
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