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The following is an excerpt from the book The Rhodiola Revolution: Transform Your Health with the Herbal Breakthrough of the 21st Century
by Richard P. Brown, M.D., and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. with Barbara Graham
Published by Rodale; June 2004; $21.95US/$29.95CAN; 1-57954-924-1
Copyright © 2004 Richard P. Brown, M.D., and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D.

Rhodiola Rosea:
Nature's Hormone Helper

Many women find that Rhodiola rosea helps to offset certain hormone-related symptoms. For instance, the herb can reduce the fatigue, irritability, and depression that occur during the premenstrual and menstrual phases. For a woman in perimenopause, Rhodiola rosea is effective at improving energy, mental clarity, memory, and mood. It also seems to normalize menstrual cycles and certain physical changes, such as vaginal dryness, although we're not exactly sure how it does this.


While not all women have heard of PMDD, which stands for premenstrual dysphoric disorder, most are familiar with PMS. This is because sooner or later most women experience some of the physiological and behavioral changes associated with the female menstrual cycle. Estimates of the number of women who struggle with PMS vary wildly, with some experts putting the figure as high as 90 percent. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that 20 to 40 percent of women experience significant premenstrual discomforts, with another 5 percent suffering from PMDD, a depressive illness.

Suzanne had struggled with severe PMS for most of her life. In general, she was a happy, enthusiastic person -- except the week before her periods, when her hormone levels dropped. That's when she seemed to undergo the sort of dramatic personality change made famous by Dr. Jekyll and his evil counterpart, Mr. Hyde. During that 1 week every month, she became short-tempered, critical, anxious, and moody, to the point where she claimed to feel like a victim of demonic possession.

Pat was able to rein in Suzanne's PMS with antidepressants. But as Suzanne approached menopause, her symptoms came back with a vengeance. Once again, she found herself screaming at her husband and children. After trying every possible standard treatment, Pat prescribed 500 milligrams daily of Rhodiola rosea. Sure enough, it banished Suzanne's hormonal demons.

When Menstrual Cycles Go Missing

A woman's menstrual cycle can stop for many reasons other than pregnancy or menopause. For example, malnutrition, anorexia, stress, illness, and hormone imbalance are known to contribute to the cessation of monthly periods. The term primary amenorrhea applies to women who never began menstruating in the first place -- usually because of an anatomical, hormonal, or genetic disorder, or severe malnutrition. Secondary amenorrhea refers to women who miss three or more periods after having had regular menstrual cycles.

In a Soviet study involving 40 women -- seven with primary amenorrhea, 33 with secondary amenorrhea -- scientists administered Rhodiola rosea either by mouth or by injection for 10 to 14 days. In some cases, they repeated the treatment several times. The herb successfully restored normal periods in 25 of the women. Of these, 11 subsequently became pregnant.

While this particular study is intriguing, it lacks sufficient scientific detail for us to fully interpret the results. Nevertheless, in our own clinical experience, treatment with Rhodiola rosea appears just as promising. We've seen the herb successfully restore regular monthly menstrual cycles in several of our premenopausal and menopausal patients who had missed their periods for more than 6 months.

Two of Dick's patients, women in their early forties, had failed to become pregnant after 2 years of in vitro fertilization and synthetic hormones. Within 3 months of stopping all hormonal treatments and starting Rhodiola rosea, 300 milligrams a day, both women not only became pregnant but also carried to term and bore healthy babies. The possibility that Rhodiola rosea might increase the chances of pregnancy in women with fertility problems is worthy of further research.

The Perimenopause Challenge

Many women entering perimenopause -- with the initial onset usually around age 40 -- seek our help for the anxiety, depression, memory problems, and sexual disorders that tend to go with the territory. We have found that in terms of treatment, one size does not fit all. So we do our best to tailor our recommendations to each patient. Understanding the particular physical changes and psychological issues that a woman faces is essential to developing an effective treatment plan.

Sometimes our bottom-line prescription simply is more rest. Women need to recognize that after age 40, they require more downtime to rejuvenate their bodies. For some, especially those whose careers might just be taking off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and other bad habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption -- which may not have caused problems in the past -- start showing their effects as well. There isn't any way around it: As a woman gets older, her body needs ample doses of rest, nutritional supplements (including vitamins and antioxidants), and physical activity in order to stay healthy.

Though we may not think twice about it when we're young, maintaining our cellular energy reserves becomes a major challenge as we get older. Our cellular repair mechanisms simply can't protect us from oxidative damage as well as they once did. The liver can't detoxify substances such as alcohol as easily, and as a result, brain cells succumb more readily to the toxic effects of alcohol and recreational drugs.

The added strain of illness and the effects of medications -- part and parcel of the aging process -- must be taken into account. So, too, must our overall life situations, including the quality of our relationships and the burden of our responsibilities. All of these factors influence emotional and physical health -- and, in women, the experience of perimenopause and menopause.

Most women in perimenopause or beyond benefit from a combination of approaches that may include dietary changes, nutritional supplementation, exercise, relaxation training, psychotherapy, medication, and -- when appropriate -- Rhodiola rosea. We've found that many of our female patients age 40 and older respond positively to the herb, experiencing greater energy, sharper mental function and memory, and better mood.

Making Peace with "The Change"

For Betty, menopause came on with hot flashes, drenching night sweats, insomnia, weight gain, anxiety, and low-grade depression. In other words, she got the worst of it. Fortunately, Dick was able to relieve all of her symptoms with a winning combination: Bio-Strath, a rich blend of B vitamins and antioxidants; Remifemin, made from an herb called black cohosh; and 400 milligrams daily of Rhodiola rosea.

With this treatment regimen, Betty's hot flashes and night sweats stopped almost immediately. Her depression and anxiety lifted over the next several months. She slept well, and when she woke up in the morning, she looked forward to the day ahead. To her great relief, once her symptoms subsided, she had no trouble losing the extra pounds she had gained.

While some women look forward to menopause as a respite from a lifetime of menstrual cycles, most await it with a combination of wariness and dread. It raises the specter of a whole host of challenges to the body, mind, and spirit: diminishing health, including an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis; lack of sexual desire and response; decline in memory and mental ability; erosion or loss of personal relationships. These challenges seem even more daunting now that the dream of synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a way to stay young and feminine has turned into a nightmare.

Long-term studies that identified HRT as a risk factor for breast and uterine cancers have left most women wondering what they can do to preserve their health and vitality for as long as possible. Few want to gamble on HRT, even in lower doses -- especially since claims of protective effects against heart disease and dementia have turned out to be untrue. In fact, the very latest research suggests that HRT actually raises the risk of heart disease and dementia. But if not HRT to manage menopause, then what?

A growing number of women are turning to natural remedies -- such as the plant estrogens in soy, black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), and chasteberry or vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) -- to ease the menopausal transition. Because they're natural, plant estrogens (also called phytoestrogens) are believed to be safer and milder than synthetic hormone replacement. But this has yet to be confirmed by long-term large-scale studies.

In the United States, 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. Fortunately, many medical centers are helping to bridge this research gap by establishing departments of complementary and alternative medicine. At the Rosenthal Center of Columbia University, for example, scientists are conducting studies of black cohosh and other phytoestrogens.

Reprinted from: The Rhodiola Revolution: Transform Your Health with the Herbal Breakthrough of the 21st Century by Richard P. Brown, M.D., and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. with Barbara Graham © 2004 Richard P. Brown, M.D., and Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

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