Today's science news features a headline about a life-extension benefit from the herb Rhodiola rosea. A report published online ahead of print in the journal Rejuvenation Research revealed the finding of researchers at the University of California, Irvine. These scientists found that supplementing the diet of fruit flies with the herb Rhodiola rosea extended the life span of the insect by 10 percent.
Fruit flies are often used by researchers, as they have a fully-documented genome and reproduce so easily in experiments. In this case, Professor of pharmaceutical sciences Mahtab Jafari and associates gave adult fruit flies varying doses one of three Chinese herbs (Lu Duo Wei, Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang and San Zhi Pian) or Rhodiola rosea mixed in yeast paste. The specific type of extract used was not identified. The flies received the herbs every other day for the duration of their lives. A control group received an unsupplemented diet.
While the other three herbs did not affect the flies’ life span, rhodiola increased it by an average of 10 percent, equivalent to 3.5 days in males and 3.2 days in females. The authors noted that “correcting for a possible dietary restriction effect still did not eliminate the difference between supplemented and control flies, nor does the effect of Rhodiola depend on dietary manipulation, strongly suggesting that Rhodiola is not a mere dietary restriction mimetic.”
Rhodiola, an herb that grows in high altitude Arctic regions of Europe and Asia, is believed to have antioxidant properties, and has been used by many individuals to relieve depression and improve energy levels and stress response. Dr Jafari is currently evaluating Rhodiola’s molecular mechanism by measuring its effect on fruit flies’ energy metabolism, oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses, and is initiating studies with Rhodiola in mice.
Another group in Sweden has been studying the effects of Rhodiola rosea on freshwater snails exposed to toxins. Rhodiola rosea has protected the snails and allowed them to live while others in a control group that weren't eating Rhodiola died or were not able to reproduce. This work, and much of the other published research from Sweden and Russia, involves Siberian Rhodiola. Both the Swedish and the SIberians have been consuming Rhodiola since Viking days, where it had great value as a medicine and stimulating tonic. (Even Dr. Oz discussed Rhodiola on The Oprah Show recently).
Although these studies do not present clinical evidence that Rhodiola can extend human life, the finding that it does extend the lifespan of model organisms, combined with its known health benefits in humans, make this herb a promising candidate for further antiaging research.