Herbal extracts of Rhodiola rosea (golden root), a yellow-flowered mountain plant, have long been used for their various health-promoting effects. Recently, researchers at University of California, Irvine, found the extract could increase the lifespan of fruit fly populations by 24% on average. Leaders of the study Mahtab Jafari and Sam Schriner discovered that Rhodiola works in a completely unrelated manner to dietary restriction and has effects on different molecular pathways.
Jafari explains its significance in that dietary restriction is recognized as the most powerful method of extending lifespan in laboratory animals. Since then, scientists have been trying to identify compounds that can mimic its effects of prolonging lifespan. Jafari states that Rhodiola was found to increase lifespan more so than dietary restriction, which demonstrates that Rhodiola can also act in individuals who are already healthy and in advanced years. This is unlike the substance found in wine, resveratrol, which only appears to benefit those individuals that are overfed or unhealthy.
Previously, Jafari’s group had shown that the herbal extract reduced the mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species molecules in flies. This means that it protects both flies and even cultured human cells against harmful oxidative stress. This particular study involved putting flies on a calorie-restricted diet, which causes them to live longer when they eat a decreased amount of yeast. Both researchers hypothesized that if Rhodiola functioned in the same way as a dietary restriction plan, it would not work to improve the lifespan of the flies. However, it did work on the flies even when it was tested on flies who have had their molecular pathways of dietary restriction genetically inactivated. Rhodiola had several positive effects on the fly population. First, it improved lifespan by an average of 24% in both sexes in multiple strains of flies. Second, it delayed physical performance loss during aging. Third, it even extended the lives of flies that were already old.
Just to be clear, the researchers are not making a claim that taking Rhodiola supplements will allow humans to live longer. However, their discovery is serving to enhance understanding of the manner in how supplements which are believed to promote longevity in the body actually work.
In humans, Rhodiola already has known health benefits including reducing fatigue, depression and anxiety. Also, it can boost mood, memory and stamina, as well as prevent altitude sickness. This herb is grown at high elevations in cold climates. It has been used by Scandinavians and Russians for centuries as a stress reliever. Rhodiola supplements can be found online and in health food stores. The bad news is that Jafari has analyzed several commercial products and found none of them to contain sufficient amounts of the active compounds that characterize high-quality products.