The Rhodiola Revolution — Book Review

I heard a fascinating interview with author Patricia L. Gerbarg on the Smart Drug Smarts podcast, in which she was exuberantly praising this Nootropic adaptogen, Rhodiola, which is (literally) mythological.

This herb has a fascinating story intertwinned with ancient and recent history, after listening to the Smart Drug Smarts interview twice, I was a little skeptical, yet determined to discover if this really is the robust antiaging Biohack that Dr. Gerbarg describes it as…

After reading this book, I was very sold on trying Rhodiola itself. I’ve concluded after reading this book, writing a 3000 word article and spending many hours scouring Pubmed looking at studies that Rhodiola as a Nootropic has a biological risk-reward trade off tantamount to Piracetam or ALCAR — some of my favorite all time Nootropics.

A lot of the book is on the topic of the interplay between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. One of the interesting points it makes is that when these systems are not functioning optimally it negatively effects our Hueristic decision making. To quote the book:

“The vagus nerve also is a major conduit for mind-body interactions — so the next time you experience a “gut reaction,” you’ll know that your vagus is speaking to you.”(693–694)

A lot of times you hear really high performance people talking about how they owe a lot of their success to following their gut. Yet a lot of people who aren’t so successful blame their impulsiveness or poor instinctual decision making. I would assert that the difference between these two kinds of people is the elasticity of their respective nervous systems and this book explains a lot of strategies to improve this.

The book includes several interesting surveys to try to determine the health of your own stress management, here’s how I scored:
Quiz I: How High Is Your Stress Level?
Scored 6 — Low side of the Moderate range
Quiz II: How Well Do You Replenish Your Energy Supply?
Scored 12 — Breaking even
Quiz III: How Sensitive is Your Stress Response System?
Scored 1 — Mildly overactivated
So I’m actually not doing a great job of replenishing my energy supply but my stress level is relatively low and my stress response is pretty balanced, so I’m getting by ok. I’m pretty productive and happy but there’s definitely some room for improvement! My weaknesses that the book’s surveys pointed out are primarily that

  • I don’t exercise consistently enough.
  • I need to devote some more time to having fun outside of my work.
  • While I have some good friendships (some are with you people who follow Limitless Mindset) and my relationship with my family is quiet good, I lack really close relationships with the people physically nearby me. This is my own fault because I’m constantly moving to new cities in new countries, so I should more carefully consider this biological trade off in exchange for cultural novelty.

One study indicated that Rhodiola is actually something of a language learning hack, in a placebo controlled study, foreign students taking a Rhodiola derived drug improved language ability by 60% learning Russian. я немного говорю по русски. Es una idioma muy deficil que appender! If it helped them learning Russian, it can definitely help you!

One of the cool things the book covers is the interesting history of Rhodiola which is intertwined with the history of the Russian space program and connected to some iconic moments in the space race.

The book is NOT just about Rhodiola, it’s about the Nootropic class of Adaptogens which includes Eleuthero, Schisandra and Ginseng. So I think it could have been appropriately named the Adaptogen Revolution, while Rhodiola is probably the best option for increasing performance.

Why would you want to buy and read a book about Rhodiola instead of buying and taking Rhodiola?
I would say if you are an otherwise healthy person that just wants to take Nootropics for performance enhancement, just take Rhodiola. It’s pretty inexpensive and it’s very safe.
However, if you have some health issues like depression, being overweight, sexual performance or are facing the specter of heart disease I’d recommend getting the book as it contains some real specific protocols for dealing with these issues. For example a really potent weight loss cofactor of Rhodiola is Rhododendron Caucasicum.

A book like this, is maybe a good gateway drug to encourage someone in your life (who is maybe a little bit older) to get into Biohacking. You know if you talk to a younger person about Biohacking, they will Google it, watch a few Youtube videos and be like heck yeah, this looks cool! I’ll try it. However, if you talk to an older person, they are probably going to be VERY skeptical, they are going to be paranoid about side effects and they are going to be resistant about changing their habits. A book like this can change their minds and assuage their doubts.

A couple of my favorite lines from the book…

Yet regardless of our genetic inheritance, scientists are beginning to suspect that one pivotal factor in the development of heart disease, high blood pressure, and many other illnesses is overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and underactivation of the parasympathetic nervous system. (531–533)
Not surprisingly, much of the current research suggests that an overactive stress response system seems to accelerate the aging process.(564–565)
The vagus nerve also is a major conduit for mind-body interactions — so the next time you experience a “gut reaction,” you’ll know that your vagus is speaking to you.(693–694).
Exposure to mild stressors, coupled with periods of recovery, can build our energy reserves and help to restore the interplay between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This is essential to maintain the stress/ energy balance and to reap the rewards of good health and longevity.(832–834)
The parasympathetic nervous system is critical to regulating our stress response. Rhodiola rosea enhances parasympathetic function and fortifies the stress response system, improving our ability to overcome stress and reducing our risk of stress-related health problems.( 840–842)
In order to provide maximum health benefits, products should contain rosavins and salidrosides in a 3: 1 ratio. (1327–1328)
be absolutely sure to buy a high-quality brand of pure root extract that contains a minimum of 3 percent rosavins and 0.8 to 1.0 percent salidrosides, as mentioned above. (1331–1332)
Although the herb can be paired with food, it is much better absorbed on an empty stomach. We recommend timing each dosage 20 to 30 minutes before a meal or 2 hours after.(1356–1357)
We do advise caution for anyone with bipolar disorder (manic depression) who is prone to agitation or manic episodes.(1390–1391)
Soviet scientists considered it an important ingredient in their sports performance formulas.(1464)
Although they didn’t go looking for it, the researchers found that Rhodiola rosea had a unique dual effect: It calmed the emotions while stimulating the intellect.(1775–1777)
Researchers tested the ability of 60 foreign students to learn Russian. Twenty of the students began taking 660 milligrams a day of Rodaxin, while another 20 took a placebo, and the rest took nothing. Those given Rodaxin showed a 60.7 percent increase in their language-learning ability and reported less fatigue than those not given the supplement. They also earned higher grades on their final exams.[26](1801–1804)
The term double-blind means that neither the participants nor the scientists know who is getting a placebo and who is getting the real thing.(1821–1822)
“The search for ways to maintain high mental and professional working capacity of cosmonauts at all stages of a long-term flight is the most important task of space psychology.”(2287–2288)
The herb seems to add spice to life — feelings of joy, pleasure, and excitement.(2513–2515)
there simply is no evidence that the adrenal glands stop functioning because of stress.(2958–2959)
As far as we know, Rhodiola rosea is the only treatment that can enhance sexual desire, arousal, and the capacity for orgasm in women, as well as heighten sex drive in men — all without any serious side effects.(3120–3122)
In the United Sates, pharmaceutical companies support most medication research and development. Because they really can’t earn a profit from natural substances, which they can’t patent, they’re reluctant to fund studies on plant estrogens.(3304–3306)
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