Ashwagandha vs. Rhodiola Rosea: Compare the Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens, natural substances like herbs, roots, or mushrooms, support the body's stress management and hormone balance. Ashwagandha and Rhodiola rosea, both recognized for stress relief, are frequently used in Ayurvedic and Eastern European natural medicine for its adaptogenic properties to address stress, anxiety, and fatigue. This article provides an overview on ashwagandha and rhodiola and their potential health benefits to help you decide which, or if both, could suit you.

Key Takeaways: Ashwagandha and Rhodiola

  • Both ashwagandha and rhodiola support stress relief.
  • Using ashwagandha can help in stress relief, sleep optimization, and sexual and fertility health for both men and women.
  • Rhodiola's studies focus on its anti-fatigue effects.
  • Ashwagandha and rhodiola together can be beneficial.
  • Regular use of ashwagandha or rhodiola is recommended for long-term stress relief benefits.

What is Ashwagandha?

ashwagandha powder

Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is an herb with a history in Ayurvedic medicine spanning over 6,000 years. Originating from India, Africa, and the Middle East, ashwagandha contains bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, flavonoids, and steroidal lactones. Withanolides, a specific type of steroidal lactone, is believed to be primarily responsible for the health benefits of Ashwagandha, also referred to as 'Indian Ginseng'. Studies have found that ashwagandha has a variety of benefits ranging from stress relief, lower blood sugar levels, sexual health, and fertility.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

1.    Alleviates stress and anxiety

Many consumers take ashwagandha for its stress management capabilities. Numerous studies support that ashwagandha benefits include reducing cortisol levels, the primary hormone associated with stress. Beyond its stress-relieving properties, ashwagandha supports overall well-being, mitigating the extensive effects that stress responses can exert on various bodily functions, including cognitive function, sleep, and immunity. 

Research has demonstrated the herb's potential benefits in reducing anxiety levels. In a study involving seventy-five participants, one group received 300 milligrams of ashwagandha standardized to 1.5% withanolides, while the other received a placebo. The results show that ashwagandha was especially beneficial to the treated group. The intervention demonstrated significant decreases to anxiety levels, accompanied by notable improvements in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life compared to the placebo group.

Under conditions of stress, susceptibility to feelings of depression, anxiety, inflammation, and oxidative stress is heightened. Ashwagandha is believed to modulate the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, indirectly leading to a reduction in cortisol levels in response to stress stimuli. This mechanism contributes to ashwagandha's comprehensive approach to stress management and its potential impact on associated mental and physical well-being.  

2.    Enhances focus and memory

Research shows that ashwagandha holds promise in enhancing cognitive function, including memory and attention. In a small double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, volunteers were randomly assigned to consume either a single 400-milligram dose of ashwagandha or a placebo. The study revealed that the supplemented group experienced improvements in working memory and response times compared to the placebo group.

While preliminary studies have yielded positive results, further research is essential to establish conclusive evidence regarding the impact of ashwagandha on cognition. Ongoing investigations will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the cognitive benefits associated with ashwagandha supplementation.

3.    Improves sleep quality

If you struggle with sleep, ashwagandha may be a valuable aid in enhancing sleep quality. Studies suggest that ashwagandha could potentially boost the activity of GABA, an amino acid serving as the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, known for its calming effects. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 150 healthy subjects received a daily dose of 120 milligrams of standardized ashwagandha extract for six weeks. The supplementation demonstrated a noteworthy improvement in overall sleep quality, specifically addressing non-restorative sleep conditions in the participants. 

4.    Improves female sexual function

In the realm of Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has long been revered as a natural aphrodisiac with the potential to enhance sexual function. A randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 80 women aged 18 to 50 investigated the effects of standardized ashwagandha root extract. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 600 milligrams per day of ashwagandha or a placebo for eight weeks. The results of the study demonstrated a significant improvement in various aspects of female sexual health among those receiving ashwagandha intervention. This improvement encompassed enhanced sexual desire, improved lubrication, heightened arousal, more satisfying orgasms, increased sexual satisfaction, and reduced pain. The findings highlight ashwagandha's potential as a valuable supplement for supporting female sexual well-being.

5.    Boosts fertility levels in men

Several studies have indicated that ashwagandha helps male fertility by elevating testosterone levels. In a particular study, administering 675 milligrams of full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract resulted in a significant improvement in critical factors for men's fertility, including sperm concentration and motility. Notably, infertile males treated with an ashwagandha supplement also experienced a substantial increase in semen volume.

Additional research supports ashwagandha's role in improving male fertility by enhancing semen quality. The proposed mechanism for this improvement involves ashwagandha's ability to augment enzymatic activity in seminal plasma, while concurrently reducing oxidative stress. These findings underscore ashwagandha's potential as a supportive measure for addressing male infertility concerns.

How to Take Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is readily available online and in various food or health stores. The herb is offered in diverse forms such as root extracts, capsules, or powders. When selecting a product, aim for a withanolide content ranging from 1% to 10%. The recommended daily dosage typically falls between 300 and 500 mg, but for personalized advice, it's advisable to consult a doctor before taking ashwagandha if you are unsure of the optimal dosage.

If opting for the powder format, Ashwagandha can be seamlessly incorporated into various preparations, including tea, smoothies, lattes, or other food and beverage creations. Prioritize high-quality supplement brands that adhere to rigorous standards and quality measures to ensure optimal effectiveness and safety.

How Long Does it take for Ashwagandha to work?

Ashwagandha is most effective after at least a week of use. Consistent use is recommended to notice the benefits of reduced stress and cortisol levels.

Is Ashwagandha safe to take?

Generally safe, choose high-quality supplements tested for heavy metals and manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Pregnant individuals or those with pre-existing conditions should consult a healthcare professional. 

Potential Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Typically well-tolerated, excessive consumption may lead to indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.

What is Rhodiola?

rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea, or rhodiola, is another adaptogen that has gained popularity as a supplement. The adaptogenic herb enhances the body's resilience to physical, environmental, and chemical stresses. Originating from cold regions in Asia and Eastern Europe, it contains active compounds, salidroside and rosavin, known for balancing cortisol. Rhodiola is known for its long history of medicinal use in other cultures, such as Scandinavia and Russia, to improve mental performance via the herb’s anti-fatigue effects.

Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea

1.    Regulates mood and stress

Rhodiola rosea works with the HPA axis, a robust neuroendocrine mechanism overseeing various physiological processes, including responses to stressors. Specifically, it inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, responsible for degrading neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play pivotal roles in mood, motivation, and adrenaline levels. By preventing their degradation, rhodiola also contributes to enhancing and regulating overall mood.

A study investigated the effects of rhodiola rosea on male and female patients experiencing mild to moderate depression. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, participants were divided into three groups for a 6-week assessment: group A receiving 340 mg/day, group B receiving 680 mg/day, and group C receiving a placebo. The study findings indicated that both dosages of standardized rhodiola extract led to notable improvements in overall depression, encompassing enhancements in insomnia, emotional stability, and somatization.

2.    Increases mental performance

Rhodiola exhibits a stimulating effect, enhancing energy levels and effectively addressing stress-related fatigue. This anti-fatigue attribute has demonstrated its ability to not only increase energy but also elevate mental performance. In a study involving 60 participants experiencing stress-related fatigue, those who received a daily dosage of 576 mg of rhodiola rosea extract showcased improvements in burnout and stress response. The study's conclusion emphasized that Rhodiola intervention has an anti-fatigue effect, enhancing mental performance. Specifically, the results highlighted improved concentration and a reduction in cortisol response to escalating stress levels in individuals experiencing burnout with associated fatigue symptoms. 

3.    Improves exercise performance

Recent studies have shown that rhodiola can help exercise performance. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 24 volunteers were administered 200 milligrams of rhodiola rosea extract (3% rosavin, 1% salidroside). The study assessed exercise performance parameters, including time to exhaustion, pulmonary ventilation, and VO2 max and VCO2 max. The findings revealed that acute intake of rhodiola supplements improved endurance exercise capacity in young, healthy individuals.

It's essential to note that this study employed a relatively small sample size, raising uncertainties about the generalizability of these conclusions to larger populations.

How to Take Rhodiola

Rhodiola is conveniently available online and in food or health stores. The adaptogen is offered in capsule or powder formats. Opt for a 3:1 ratio (3% rosavin, 1% salidroside) and select high-quality supplements with the assurance of third-party testing. The recommended daily dosage typically ranges from 100 to 600 mg, but it's advisable to seek personalized advice from a professional if you have uncertainty.

If you opt for the powder format, rhodiola can be seamlessly integrated into various culinary creations. The rhodiola root powder carries a botanical scent and a slightly bitter, tannic flavor. It harmonizes well with robust flavors like coffee or chocolate, but its versatility allows pairing with a range of flavors to suit individual tastes.

How long does it take for Rhodiola to work?

Supplementation may show immediate effects, but its best to take rhodiola consistently since most studies find rhodiola most effective after use beyond a week.

Is Rhodiola safe to take?

Generally safe, pregnant individuals or those with pre-existing conditions should consult a doctor before taking rhodiola. Highly caffeine-sensitive individuals should be cautious due to rhodiola's natural stimulant effect.

Potential Side Effects of Rhodiola

While rare, there have been reports of potential side effects including dizziness, dry mouth or excess saliva.  

FAQ: Rhodiola vs Ashwagandha: Which should I take?

Rhodiola and ashwagandha each come with their own unique benefits, allowing you to align your choice with specific health goals. Ashwagandha may be more beneficial to address oxidative stress and promote relaxation, whereas rhodiola is typically preferred for boosting energy levels and reducing fatigue.

Ashwagandha has undergone extensive studies, showcasing a wide range of health benefits. Nevertheless, Rhodiola has also demonstrated promising advantages that should not be underestimated. Combining both adaptogens may offer comprehensive support for stress-related health concerns and contribute to overall well-being.

FAQ: Can I take Rhodiola and Ashwagandha together?

Yes, rhodiola and ashwagandha together are deemed safe. You can take them together for a potential synergistic effect. 

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