Rhodiola Extract (3% Rosavins)

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Rhodiola Extract (3% Rosavins)

250 mg, 60 vegetarian capsules
Item Catalog Number: 00889

A common complaint among older adults is loss of physical and mental energy. As people age, their cells’ ability to produce energy is diminished. Many scientists believe that cellular energy deficit is a critical factor in the onset of many problems.

The Russian herb rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) has demonstrated a remarkable ability to support cellular energy metabolism. Rhodiola promotes higher levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the cellular power plants known as the mitochondria, thus providing more of the energy molecules needed to perform many daily activities.135

In a human clinical trial, rhodiola aided exercise endurance after just a single dose.136 In a double-blind crossover human trial, rhodiola increased several measures of mental performance, including associative thinking, short-term memory, concentration, calculation and speed of audiovisual perception. Statistically significant improvements were reported after just two weeks of supplementation.137 More recent clinical trials have found that Rhodiola rosea significantly improves physical and cognitive function.138-141

Unlike many Rhodiola supplements on the market today, Life Extension’s Rhodiola Extract uses only the authentic Rhodiola rosea species and is standardized 3% rosavins and NLT 1% salidrosides, matching the concentrations of active adaptogens used in clinical trials.


Supplement Facts
Serving Size 1 vegetarian capsule
Amount Per Serving
Rhodiola Rosea extract (root) [std. to 3% rosavins
(7.5 mg), NLT 1% salidrosides (2.5 mg)]
250 mg

Other ingredients: vegetable cellulose (capsule), microcrystalline cellulose, vegetable stearate, silica.
Dosage and Use
Take one (1) capsule daily with food, or as recommended by a healthcare practitioner.

Individuals with manic or bipolar disorder should not use Rhodiola. Take early in the day if Rhodiola Extract interferes with your sleep.
Do not purchase if outer seal is broken or damaged.
When using nutritional supplements, please consult with your physician if you are undergoing treatment for a medical condition or if you are pregnant or lactating.
To report a serious adverse event or obtain product information, contact 1-866-280-2852.





By Pete Croatto


A unique herbal remedy, rhodiola grows and thrives in dry, sandy ground at high altitudes in Arctic areas of Europe and Asia.1 Soviet scientists have long known that this native herb—particularly the species known as Rhodiola rosea—can boost energy and treat mental fatigue, along with other conditions. Now that the Cold War has ended, so have the barriers to our knowledge of rhodiola’s benefits. News about this versatile herb is spreading around the world, prompting scientists to take a closer look at the herb’s many applications. Their new findings confirm the multiple physiological and psychological benefits of rhodiola, demonstrating that the herb indeed offers a powerful antidote to the stresses of modern-day life.

Improving the Body’s Response to Stress

Stress is an inevitable fact of life, but it can have serious consequences on our mental and physical health. Effective strategies for managing stress are therefore essential to thrive in a fast-paced world. Research suggests that rhodiola may offer a practical, natural solution for overcoming many stress-related complaints.

Rhodiola rosea relieves stress by balancing the body’s stress-response system. This consists of the sympathetic nervous system (which prepares the body to expend energy during crises, often described as the “fight or flight response”) and the counterbalancing parasympathetic nervous system (which recharges and heals the body, returning it to a relaxed state). With constant stress, the system becomes unbalanced, making us feel edgy, tired, or depressed. Rhodiola rosea helps re-establish balance by acting as an adaptogen—an agent that strengthens the body’s response to physical, mental, and emotional stressors.

It is believed that rhodiola enhances the body’s tolerance to stress by influencing key brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, and natural feel-good opioids such as beta-endorphins.2,3

Enhancing Nervous System Health

Rhodiola’s effects are particularly remarkable in the nervous system. According to Dr. Richard Brown of Columbia University, rhodiola is exceptionally beneficial because it “enhances the healing properties of one’s own nervous system.” He notes that the herb provides both “cognitive stimulation” and “emotional calming,” which lead to improvement in cognitive and memory function, as well as contributing to the long-term upkeep of brain function.1

A number of studies have shown that rhodiola can dramatically reduce mental and physical fatigue under stressful conditions, by increasing the body’s energy levels. In one study, a low dose (170 mg/day) of a R. rosea extract was given to 56 young physicians on night call, when there is notable decrease in physical and mental performance.4Using measures of cognitive and memory function, such as associative thinking, short-term memory, calculation, and speed of audiovisual perception, the researchers found a statistically significant reduction of stress-induced fatigue after just two weeks of supplementation with rhodiola. No side effects of rhodiola were reported.

In another study of rhodiola’s effects on work capacity, researchers gave 10 drops of R. rosea tincture (equivalent to 100-150 mg R. rosea extract) once or twice a day for two to three weeks to 27 healthy students, physicians, and scientists aged 19-46 years for several days before embarking on intense intellectual work, such as final exams.1 The group found improvements in the amount and quality of work, and in all cases rhodiola prevented a loss of work capacity because of fatigue.

Research has also revealed another benefit of rhodiola in helping to increase attention to detail-oriented tasks by improving concentration over a prolonged period. A series of studies using a proofreading test showed that a one-time dose of R. rosea of 300 mg or more significantly decreased the percent of errors made, particularly over an eight-hour period.1

Boosting Physical Endurance

As well as enhancing memory, rhodiola also helps strengthen the body, making it more resilient to challenges such as exercise and fatiguing tasks.

In one study, the energy-boosting effect of small and medium doses of rhodiola was observed in animals that demonstrated greater strength to endure the “swim test”—a physically and mentally stressful test in which a rodent is put into a beaker of water and observed to see how long it can keep its head above water.1,5

These findings were verified in another study in which rhodiola-treated rats were able to swim for 25% longer before becoming exhausted, compared with animals that did not receive rhodiola. As adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy currency of the body, the researchers concluded that rhodiola enhances exercise capacity by activating the synthesis or re-synthesis of this vital energy source and stimulating energy-repair processes after intense exercise.6

Rhodiola also helps improve exercise performance in humans. In an intriguing report, healthy young adults who consumed 200 mg of rhodiola extract one hour before exercise significantly increased their capacity for endurance exercise.7

As well as liberating more energy for exercise, rhodiola also helps protect muscle tissue during exercise. This effect was seen in a study of healthy untrained volunteers after exhausting exercise, in whom rhodiola extract reduced levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, and creatinine kinase, a marker of muscle damage.8

New Research Highlights Diverse Benefits

In just the past two years, new evidence has revealed even more diverse benefits of rhodiola. These include protecting the nervous system against oxidative stress, enhancing healthy sleep, lifting depressed mood, relieving anxiety, and maintaining blood sugar within a healthy range.

Recent research confirms that rhodiola has potent antioxidant effects that protect nervous system cells. A study at the Jiangsu Institute of Nuclear Medicine in China showed that salidroside, an active constituent found in rhodiola, protects human neuron cells from oxidative stress in several ways, including inducing several antioxidant enzymes. By protecting cells of the nervous system against oxidative stress-induced cell death, salidroside could be used “for treating or preventing neurodegenerative disease implicated with oxidative stress,” the scientists noted.9

Rhodiola may also help soothe feelings of agitation and sleeplessness, according to a preliminary study at Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine. When rhodiola-derived salidroside was administered to mice along with the sedative pentobarbital sodium, it enhanced the drug’s sedative (calming) and hypnotic (sleep-inducing) effects. “Salidroside could obviouslyshorten the sleep latency and prolong the sleeping time of mice…

[It] produces significant sedative-hypnotic effect. The dose-effect relationship is remarkable,” noted the scientists. 10

In addition, rhodiola may help support good mental health by lifting mood, relieving anxiety, and supporting a healthy response to stress. When investigators at the University of Camerino in Italy administered a water-alcohol extract of rhodiola to mice, they found that the extract “significantly, but not dose dependently, induced antidepressant-like, adaptogenic, anti-anxiety-like, and stimulating effects in mice.”11

Furthermore, new evidence suggests that rhodiola may help offset another troubling manifestation of stress: anorexia, or discontinuation of eating. Scientists induced stress-related anorexia in rats either through immobilization or through injection of corticotrophin-releasing factor (the major mediator of stress responses in animals). At doses of 15 and 20 mg/kg, rhodiola extract reversed these anorectic effects. The researchers concluded that this study provides “functional evidence of claimed adaptogen and anti-stress properties of R. rosea.”12

Rhodiola may even hold benefits for those challenged with elevated blood sugar or diabetes, according to new evidence. Scientists investigated the effects of R. rosea and Cinnamomi cassiae (cinnamon), both of which have been used as folk remedies for diabetes, in 10 rats with the disease. Each animal received each remedy for 12 weeks. “Cinnamomi cassiae and R. rosea extracts significantly decreased blood glucose, increased levels of reduced glutathione and the activities of glutathione reductase, glutathione S-transferase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase in the liver.” Based on these impressive findings, the researchers concluded that R. rosea extracts could be beneficial in “correcting hyperglycemia and preventing diabetic complications.”13

These recent results reaffirm earlier studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrating rhodiola as a comprehensive adaptogen that helps the body withstand the accumulating effects of stress and advancing age.

Integrative Practitioners Praise Rhodiola’s Benefits

Natural health practitioners in the United States are well aware of the herb’s many benefits. They have used R. rosea for years to help manage a wide variety of conditions.

Naturopathic physician and author Tori Hudson, ND, says: “I typically use rhodiola for: infertility, lack of ovulation, irregular and/or infrequent menses, adrenal fatigue, poor stress adaptation, decreased memory, chronic sleep disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, mild depression, shortening the recovery time between bouts of exercise, [and] enhancement of athletic performance.”

Naturopathic physician and registered nurse Holly Lucille, ND, RN, adds that she has successfully used rhodiola for patients with adrenal dysfunction, amenorrhea, mild depression, anxiety, stress, and weight loss. “It is just so effective from a medicinal perspective and can be used in such a variety of clinical situations,” says Lucille.

Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, has recommended rhodiola to women suffering from the symptoms of menopause. “Particular women in the perimenopausal stage of life, they get a combination of things that change,” she explains. “With hormonal changes, they have a loss of energy, they get a brain fog, they can’t multi-task well, their libido is down; they get depressed. It’s just when their careers are peaking. They’re supposed to be at their best and go downhill.”After taking R. rosea, Gerbarg says, these patients have increased energy and mental clarity. And they feel sexier. “They’re very happy customers,” she says.

“Any patient who has a problem with fatigue—almost regardless of the cause (because of medication, fatigue related to aging or depression, post-infection disease)—rhodiola can be like the magic bullet,” Gerbarg says. “I’ve had cases of amazing recovery with rhodiola, a lot of residual symptoms with these people—loss of energy, loss of strength, their brain slows down—sometimes these will improve quickly and dramatically with rhodiola.”

Dr. Gerbarg also notes that her patients have reported improved sexual function with rhodiola. “Increasing energy in general can improve people’s sexual interest and performance,” she says. “When people are fatigued they tend to have less sexual interest and more performance difficulties.” Rhodiola rosea’s work as a stress reliever may improve sex for the people who find sex “stressful mentally or physically,” she adds.

Chris Kilham, best known as the “Medicine Hunter” and the author of Hot Plants (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004) has called R. rosea the “single most beneficial medicinal plant in the world.” He notes, “If people will take an effective dose of real standardized R. rosea extract, they will experience an effect. They won’t say, ‘Gee, yeah, I think it’s doing something.’ They’ll experience something.”

Using Rhodiola

The average dose of R. rosea is between 200 mg and 400 mg per day of an extract that is standardized to contain rosavins and salidrosides in a 3:1 ratio. This mimics the ratio of these compounds that naturally occur in R. rosea root.

Purchasing only R. rosea is important, as it is this species of rhodiola that has been the predominant subject of phytochemical, animal, and human studies. While salidrosides are found in all species of rhodiola, only R. rosea contains rosavins (rosavin, rosin, and rosarin). “Approximately 51% of all animal studies and 94% of all human studies conducted on plants in the genus rhodiola are on the species R. rosea,” notes health journalist Carl Germano, RD, CNS, LDN. He adds, “Only R. rosea has passed extensive toxicological studies and has been certified safe for both animals and humans.”

Rhodiola is generally considered safe and well tolerated, although high doses (1.5-2.0 g/day) have been associated with irritability. Rhodiola rosea may have a mild energizing effect, so it should be taken first thing in the morning or during midday. The herb is best taken without food. Rhodiola’s effects in pregnant and nursing women have not yet been studied, so these women should not use the herb until more information is available.3


While the world of today shows no signs of slowing down, adults can bolster their ability to respond to daily stressors—both mental and physical—by using rhodiola extract. Given its vast potential for averting stress-related disorders, this remarkable herb from the Arctic regions of Russia has no doubt found a lasting place in the medicine cupboards of forward-thinking consumers today.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Health Advisor at 1-800-226-2370.


1. Brown R, Gerbarg P, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview. Herbalgram. 2002;56:40-52.

2. Lishmanov IuB, Trifonova ZhV, Tsibin AN, Maslova LV, Dement’eva LA. Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 1987 Apr;103(4):422-4.

3. Kelly GS. Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Jun;6(3):293-302.

4. Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue—a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine. 2000 Oct;7(5):365-71.

5. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL (w/Graham B). The Rhodiola Revolution: Transform Your Health with the Herbal Breakthrough of the 21st Century. Emmaus, PA: Rodale; 2004.

6. Abidov M, Crendal F, Grachev S, Seifulla R, Ziegenfuss T. Effect of extracts from Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata (Crassulaceae) roots on ATP content in mitochondria of skeletal muscles. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2003 Dec;136(6):585-7.

7. De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307.

8. Abidov M, Grachev S, Seifulla RD, Ziegenfuss TN. Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2004 Jul;138(1):63-4.

9. Zhang L, Yu H, Sun Y, et al. Protective effects of salidroside on hydrogen peroxide-induced apoptosis in SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Jun 14;564(1-3):18-25.

10. Li T, Xu G, Wu L, Sun C. Pharmacological studies on the sedative and hypnotic effect of salidroside from the Chinese medicinal plant Rhodiola sachalinensis. Phytomedicine. 2007 Sep;14(9):601-4.

11. Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan;21(1):37-43.

12. Mattioli L, Perfumi M. Rhodiola rosea L. extract reduces stress- and CRF-induced anorexia in rats. J Psychopharmacol. 2007 Jan 26.

13. Kim SH, Hyun SH, Choung SY. Antioxidative effects of Cinnamomi cassiae and Rhodiola rosea extracts in liver of diabetic mice. Biofactors. 2006;26(3):209-19.

The Chemistry of Calm

How to Support Your Brain with Safe Nutritional Supplements


The Chemistry of Calm

With all the medical and media attention given to depression over the past two decades, another equally commonplace condition has been widely overlooked:anxiety disorder.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider the amount of pressure so many of us face in our daily lives. In today’s hectic, fast-paced, stressful world, you would think anxiety-related disorders would pose a far greater threat to our society than depression.

And it turns out you’d be right.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million American adults, or about 18.1% of people in this age group in any given year, suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.* By comparison, only 14.8 millionAmerican adults, or about 6.7% of the US adult population, suffer from major depression.* †

In other words, the number of adults in this country currently suffering from some form of anxiety disorder is almostthree times the number of people stricken with major depression.

This is not to diminish the problem of depression. In fact, anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depressive disorders or substance abuse.* And most people who suffer from one type of anxiety disorder also have another type of anxiety disorder, which is what makes the information you’re about to learn so timely, relevant, and valuable.

As many clinicians will tell you, the range of drugs available to effectively treat anxiety remains relatively limited. Many are potentially addictive and lose efficacy over time, like the benzodiazepines Valium®, Xanax®, and Klonopin®. Others come with a host of undesirable side effects, including dry mouth, cognitive or memory impairment, and loss of sex drive.

Pioneering and visionary psychiatrist Dr. Henry Emmons—first profiled in Life Extension Magazine® over three years ago—has remained at the forefront in identifying natural interventions to restore calm in the face of stress, with minimal side effects.

In this exclusive excerpt from his most recent work, The Chemistry of Calm, Dr. Emmons presents a comprehensive set of natural compounds, along with recommended dosages and regimens, to effectively combat the hidden scourge of anxiety disorder.

The Talking Brain

Using medications to try to improve brain chemistry can offer relief, at least in the short term. But medications do not restore normal levels of neurotransmitters, nor even promote normal function. They manipulate the brain chemistry to achieve their desired effects.

SSRIs, for example, prevent the reuptake (or recycling) of serotonin from the space between the nerve cells (the synapse). This allows the chemical to remain in the area of activity for a longer period of time. And the benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Ativan, and Xanax®, work by stimulating the GABA receptors, thus mimicking the calming effects of GABA in the brain.

With time, the brain accommodates to medications and they often lose their effectiveness, requiring higher doses or different drugs. When you try to stop them, there are frequently withdrawal symptoms that feel worse than the original problem.

When the brain produces a neurotransmitter, it starts with a raw ingredient, usually an amino acid from the diet or another chemical that is already present in the brain. Enzymes are then used to convert the amino acid into the needed brain chemical. By understanding this process in detail, we can take measures to assure an ample supply of the raw ingredients and also enhance the activity of the enzymes. There are various cofactors, for example, that help the enzymes work faster (e.g., the B vitamins).

Understanding the function of nutrients allows for more subtle and natural interventions than standard medical practice, and if they are taken appropriately, I believe that they can work better and have fewer side effects than medication.

Glutamate, the excitatory chemicalHeightens overall brain activity



Taurine, NAC, green tea, vitamin D3, magnesium, omega-3s
GABA, the inhibitory chemicalSlows overall brain activityGABA, L-theanine, taurine, vitamin B6, zinc, inositol, herbal therapies
Norepinephrine, the arousal 
Raises level of alertness



L-theanine, NAC, omega-3s, inositol
Dopamine, the reward chemicalFocuses attention and enhances pleasure and rewardL-theanine, B vitamins, omega-3s, St. John’s wort, ginkgo
Serotonin, the soothing chemicalCalms, regulates sleep and appetite, protects against stressTryptophan/5-HTP, DHEA, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3s, St. John’s wort
CRH/cortisol, the stress hormoneProlonged elevation leads to fat storage, insulin resistance, degenerative brain disorders, memory loss, inflammationDHEA, B vitamins, antioxidants, herbal adaptogens

The Talking Brain

The neurotransmitters are chemicals that enable the different parts of the brain to stay in touch with one another and coordinate their roles. The table below summarizes the key players in the fear circuitry, what they do, and how to support them nutritionally.

Calm Yourself: Glutamate and GABA

Calm Yourself: Glutamate and GABA

Our bodies are truly elegant in their design, and this is especially apparent with brain function. One common element of this design is a binary system, wherein one chemical activates a process while its partner turns it off again. That is true of the brain chemicals glutamate and GABA, which together account for over 80 percent of brain activity. Glutamate accelerates brain activity—it is excitatory. GABA, on the other hand, puts the brakes on brain activity—it is inhibitory. Together, they keep the brain humming along at just the right pace—not too fast, not too slow.

If you have developed anxiety, then you know that your balance of these two chemicals has been thrown off and the brain’s activity level is turned up too high, at least in some areas of the brain.

The balancing supplements for glutamate and GABA include the amino acids taurine, GABA, and L-theanine; the antioxidants NAC and green tea; vitamins B6 and D; the minerals magnesium and zinc; omega-3 fatty acids;and several herbal therapies.

How Do You Know if Glutamate and GABA Are Imbalanced?

Remember that all of these chemicals are necessary and even beneficial when they are in balance and working properly. But it is possible to have too much glutamate for your own good. If it becomes truly excessive, then the overactivation that results can become outright dangerous to the cells. Glutamate then changes from being simply excitatory to becoming excitotoxic, and this may result in the premature death of the cell.1 This process may be related to the later development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.2 This is not a good state for your brain to be in for very long.

Additionally, your GABA levels may have fallen too low so that there is not enough inhibition to keep glutamate in check. Like a car that has lost its brake fluid, you may have lost the ability to slow things down. To remedy this imbalance, we can find ways to either reduce the effects of glutamate, enhance the activity of GABA, or both.

The balancing supplements for glutamate and GABA include the amino acids taurine, GABA, and L–theanine; the antioxidants NAC and green tea; vitamins B6 and D; the minerals magnesium and zinc; omega-3 fatty acids; and several herbal therapies.

Disarm Yourself: Reduce Norepinephrine

Norepinephrine raises our level of alertness and arousal. That is well and good if you’re doing something like hunting or evading capture, but not helpful if you are speaking in front of a group or if you have developed panic anxiety for any reason. With depression there is often too little norepinephrine, but in anxiety it is frequently elevated and needs to be toned down.

At an emotional level, you may feel panicky, as if something awful is about to happen. And mentally, your mind may go blank as you find that you can’t think clearly or remember things, no matter how hard you try.

You can tone down the effects of norepinephrine by taking the amino acid L-theanine, the antioxidant NAC, inositol, and the omega-3 fatty acids. You should also avoid caffeine.

Reward Yourself: Balance Dopamine

Reward Yourself: Balance Dopamine

The effects of dopamine are more complex than those of norepinephrine, at least in regard to anxiety. In some ways, they have a similar function. Both tend to be energizing and aid in mental focus and concentration. Both can aggravate anxiety when levels are way too high. But dopamine has some beneficial effects against anxiety as well, such as improving motivation and the experience of pleasure. Unless dopamine becomes really excessive, your anxiety may improve if you gently boost your dopamine levels.

Signs of dopamine deficiency include feeling apathetic and fatigued, difficulty losing weight, feeling unmotivated (as with exercise), low sex drive, and general difficulty getting pleasure from things. If you have these signs along with anxiety, consider taking these measures to boost dopamine function: B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, L-theanine.

Soothe Yourself: Boost Serotonin

Nearly everyone feels better when their serotonin levels are optimal. It has such a wide array of functions, involved with everything from sleep to appetite to impulse control to sexual desire. It is the brain chemical that helps soothe us when we feel stressed or threatened, and it offers considerable protection to the brain against the damaging effects of cortisol.

Because it is such a key brain chemical, the signs of serotonin depletion are many: insomnia (or irregular circadian rhythms); craving sweets and other carbohydrates; frequent muscle aches and pains; impulsive behaviors; moodiness, especially sadness, anxiety, and irritability; feeling emotionally sensitive or vulnerable; feeling insecure, lacking self-confidence; and low stress tolerance.

Most people with anxiety, especially if their mood is low as well, may benefit by boosting their serotonin levels. Consider taking the following supplements: the amino acid L-tryptophan or the related precursor 5-HTP, the hormone DHEA, the B vitamins and vitamin D, and omega-3 fats.

* Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
† U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics. Table 2: Annual Estimates of the Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004 (NC-EST2004-02) Source: Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau Release Date: June 9, 2005. http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/

Protect Yourself: Take the Sting Out of Cortisol

Do you long for a stress-free life? Do you wish that your stress hormones would go away and not come back? Actually, you wouldn’t want either of these, any more than you would want a life without pain. No one wants to be in pain all the time, but to be unable to feel pain at all creates a nightmare of its own. Likewise, if you were unable to mount a stress response, if your body suddenly became unable to produce the stress hormones, your physiology would collapse.

Stress is not the problem. It is unremitting stress and a constantly elevated level of cortisol that create the problems. The consequences can be severe. If it goes unchecked, elevated cortisol may cause weight gain, insulin resistance, or even type 2 diabetes; elevated blood pressure and coronary artery disease; memory problems and possibly dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases; and immune system problems, which may impair your body’s ability to fend off diseases of all types, including autoimmune disorders and even cancers.3

It is crucial to protect yourself with some of the following supplements: the steroid hormone DHEA, which tones down the effects of cortisol; the B vitamins, which help keep homocysteine (a harmful amino acid associated with heart disease, depression, and anxiety) in check; antioxidants; and herbal adaptogens such as rhodiola
(See Rhodiola: Tonic Herb below.)

The Therapeutic Supplements

In addition to the basic supplements (see table The Resilient Supplement Plan), there are several therapeutic supplements, summarized in the table below.

I consider these supplements to be medicinal, with stronger therapeutic effects than the basic supplements. I’ve listed them roughly in the order in which I recommend them for the treatment of anxiety, with my first choices listed at the top.

If you are taking medication already, be sure to talk with your doctor before adding any of the supplements from these categories. And if you are considering going off medication, remember never to stop your medication suddenly—always consult with your doctor about how to safely taper off any psychiatric medication.

L-theanine100–200 mg twice daily.Found in green tea; can be both calming and focusing.
5-HTP50–100 mg up to three times daily.Boosts serotonin. Helps anxiety and depression.
NAC600 mg up to three or four times daily.A potent antioxidant; recently shown to treat OCD.
Taurine500 mg once or twice daily.Improves glutamate/GABA function.
Inositol500–1,000 mg two to three times daily (studies use 12–18 g per day).Often considered a B vitamin, it can effectively treat panic, OCD, and phobic anxiety.
GABA250–750 mg up to three times daily.Does not cross easily into the brain, so other measures may have more effect on GABA.
DHEA5–10 mg daily, up to 50 mg daily.Get levels tested before taking.


L-theanine is an amino acid found in high concentrations in green tea. But you would have to consume an awful lot of it to get a therapeutic dose of theanine. You can get more by taking a green tea extract, but you can also take a supplement containing L-theanine alone, or in combination with other calming agents.

Researchers have found that it changes brain waves as measured on EEG, promoting the relaxed and alert state associated with alpha waves.4 That makes it unusual because it can sharpen mental focus and calm anxiety at the same time.

L-theanine is one of my most common treatments for anxiety and may help any of the seven types of anxiety. It is usually taken in doses from 50 to 200 mg once or twice daily. For severe anxiety, it may be taken three or four times per day. It is not habit-forming like so many anti-anxiety medications. There are no known drug interactions, but I recommend talking to your doctor before adding it to a medication.


While 5-HTP can also help sleep, it may be used during the daytime as well because it is not usually sedating. Considerable research has shown that 5-HTP can reduce anxiety, both general and panic, as well as improve mood.5

If you are already taking an SSRI, do not take 5-HTP without consulting your prescribing physician.

I usually recommend a starting dose of 50 mg daily, increasing every few days as tolerated. Most people do well with 100–150 mg daily, but the dose may safely go as high as 300 mg per day if needed. It is usually best to take it divided into two or three doses throughout the day, but if it is sedating it may all be taken at night. However, a small number of people actually have trouble sleeping from 5-HTP, and should then take it early in the day.

It may be best absorbed if taken half an hour before meals, and that can also reduce carbohydrate cravings for people who have them. But if that is a hassle or causes stomach upset, it is fine to take it with meals.

Tonic Herb: Rhodiola

Editor’s note: Many people prefer using tryptophan combined with its essential cofactors lysine and niacinamide in lieu of 5-HTP. Tryptophan is better able to remain stable in the blood and cross the blood-brain barrier, where it is converted to serotonin. If 5-HTP converts to serotonin in the blood, this serotonin will not cross the blood-brain barrier.


NAC is short for N-acetylcysteine. It has been used for years in emergency rooms for patients who are at risk for liver damage from something they have ingested (such as the common pain medication acetaminophen). It protects the liver for the same reason it protects the brain: it works as a powerful antioxidant, boosting levels of the body’s own primary antioxidant—glutathione.

As researchers have realized the connection between glutamate/GABA balance and anxiety conditions, they have begun experimenting with NAC. Recently, it has been used with one of the most complex anxiety illnesses—the spectrum of compulsive disorders (including OCD). Remarkably, researchers have found that this simple and inexpensive nutritional supplement works for such hard-to-treat problems as pathological gambling and compulsive hair-pulling (trichotillomania).6 Researchers at Yale are now conducting a placebo-controlled trial with patients whose OCD symptoms have not improved with other treatments.7

NAC typically comes in a dose of 600 mg and may be taken two or three times daily. Some of my patients have had mild headaches or stomach upset, but it is generally well tolerated, especially if you take it with food.


A group of herbs known as herbal adaptogens or tonic herbs have long been used to strengthen immunity, improve energy, and enhance the body’s ability to handle stress. My favorite for someone with stress, anxiety, or even depression is Rhodiola rosea, also known as arctic root.

Traditionally, rhodiola has been used to improve energy and mental focus, but recent studies have looked at its benefits with anxiety and depression.11 A small study done at UCLA in 2008 showed that participants with general anxiety improved greatly on rhodiola, with minimal side effects.12 It may work by improving serotonin and dopamine levels and counteracting the effects of cortisol.13

Look for an extract standardized to at least 3 percent rosavins and about 1 percent salidrosides. A typical dosage is 100–250 mg twice daily, with breakfast and dinner. While it usually improves anxiety and even sleep, it is usually best not to take it just before bedtime. If it feels energizing, take it early in the day, with breakfast and lunch.

Editor’s Note: While it is generally considered safe for long-term use and is not known to interact with medications, rhodiola is contraindicated for individuals with bipolar disorder. Individuals diagnosed as bipolar, or who have a family history of bipolar disorder, should consult with a psychiatrist before taking rhodiola.


Taurine is an amino acid that increases glycine and GABA to calm the brain, and it also protects the brain by reducing the harmful effects of excess glutamate.8 You may be familiar with it, as it is added to some of the popular energy drinks such as Red Bull. Apparently the manufacturers see it as a means of further supporting someone during periods of extreme exertion, when taurine levels can become depleted. I don’t recommend replenishing it through energy drinks, but you may calm your brain if you boost your taurine levels in safer ways.

The Resilient Supplement Plan

Taurine is usually taken in doses of 500 mg one to three times daily. It can cause slight drowsiness and if so may be taken at bedtime. It has also been known to reduce blood pressure, so you should use care if you are prone to hypotension or light-headedness. It may be taken with or without food.


Inositol is often classified as a B vitamin, though technically it is not a vitamin since the body can produce it. Taken as a supplement, it has long been known to reduce general anxiety, panic, and OCD symptoms. Researchers found inositol to be just as effective as a popular antidepressant for panic disorder, and participants tolerated it well even at massive doses up to 18 grams per day.9

Inositol is often recommended at a dose of about 1,500 mg daily, though in studies it has been used at much higher doses. Its side effects are mild, including occasional nausea or diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, and headache. There has been a report of inositol worsening bipolar disorder, and I do not recommend it if you have that condition.

Editor’s Note: The following table of basic supplements is recommended by Dr. Emmons to “support the brain and restore it to a more resilient state.” However, most Life Extension® members already include these supplements in their daily program.

The following table summarizes the supplements I recommend to support the brain and restore it to a more resilient state.

Multivitamin or B complexAs directed on bottle. Aim for 25 mg of B6 twice daily as a rule of thumb.If cost is a factor, you may choose a B complex.
Vitamin D3 (vitamin D3 is the easier form of vitamin D for the body to use)2,000 IU from October through April. May reduce to 1,000 IU in summer, or stop if in the sun 15-20 minutes daily.Consider getting your vitamin D level tested, especially if you live in the north and/or you have dark skin.
Omega-3: fish oil and/or flaxseed2,000-4,000 mg fish oil; may augment with 2 tablespoons ground fl axseed daily.Fish oil is preferred, but vegetarians and the cost-conscious
may use flaxseed.
Tonic herb: rhodiola200 mg daily.An herbal adaptogen, this may improve the body’s general response to stress.


GABA has already been discussed as the neurotransmitter most responsible for calming down an overactive brain, and it is available as a nutritional supplement without prescription. Then why isn’t it higher on my list of recommendations? If you take it by mouth, most of it gets broken down before it gets to the brain, so it is not as useful as you might think. Still, a portion of it does appear to get into the brain, and some of GABA’s calming effects may occur in the rest of the body, as with muscle relaxation. It has been shown in human studies to help create a relaxed alpha brain wave pattern even more effectively than L-theanine, and also to boost immune function in individuals who were subjected to stress.10

GABA may be taken in doses as small as 100 mg twice daily, up to 750 mg three times per day. If drowsiness occurs, take it just at bedtime.

The Chemistry of Calm


Dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands, where cortisol and adrenaline are also made. It can be converted into testosterone and estrogen, and levels of DHEA are higher in men than in women. More and more physicians are recommending it, particularly in midlife or beyond, when DHEA levels drop below normal. Some clinicians recommend doses up to 50 mg or more. Levels can be monitored to be sure it doesn’t get too high.


by Henry Emmons, MD Copyright© 2010

by Henry Emmons.

Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


1. B. Hassel and R. Dingledine, “Glutamate,” in G. J. Siegel et al., eds., Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects (Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press, 2006).

2. A.H. Kim et al., “Blocking Excitotoxicity,” in F. W. Marcoux and D. W. Choi, eds., CNS Neuroprotection (New York: Springer, 2002): 3–36.

3. R. Peled et al., “Breast Cancer, Psychological Distress and Life Events Among Young Women,” BMC Cancer 8 (2008): 245.

4. K. Kobayashi et al., “Effects of L‑Theanine on the Release of Alpha-Brain Waves in Human Volunteers,” Journal of the Agricultural Chemical Society of Japan 72, no. 2 (1998): 153–157.

5. J. Lake, “Integrative Management of Anxiety,” Psychiatric Times 25, no. 1 (January 2008): 13–16.

6. J. Grant et al., “N-Acetyl Cysteine, a Glutamate-Modulating Agent, in the Treatment of Pathological Gambling: A Pilot Study,” Biological Psychiatry 62, no. 6 (2007): 652–657; J. Grant et al., “N-Acetylcysteine, a Glutamate Modulator, in the Treatment of Trichotillomania,” Archives of General Psychiatry 66, no. 7(July 2009): 756–763.

7. www.med.yale.edu/psych/clinics/OCD%20Research%20Clinic/N-acetycysteine.htm.

8. M. Mori et al., “Beta-Alanine and Taurine as Endogenous Agonists at Glycine Receptors in Rat Hippocampus in Vitro,” Journal of Physiology 539 (2002): 191–200; H. Wu et al., “Mode of Action of Taurine as a Neuroprotector,” Brain Research 1038, no. 2 (March 2005): 123–131.

9. A. Palatnik et al., “Double Blind, Controlled, Crossover Trial of Inositol Versus Fluvoxamine for the Treatment of Panic Disorder,” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 21, no. 3 (2001): 335–339.

10. A. Abdou et al., “Relaxation and Immunity Enhancement Effects of Gamma- Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration in Humans,” BioFactors 26 (2006): 201–208.

11. V. Darbinyan et al., “Clinical Trial of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract SHR-5 in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression,” Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 61, no. 5 (2007): 343–348.

12. A. Bystritsky et al., “A Pilot Study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD),” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14, no. 2 (2008): 175–180.

13. F. Khanum et al., “Rhodiola rosea: A Versatile Adaptogen,” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 4 (2005): 55–62.

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