Can Rhodiola Prevent Post-Menopausal Bone Loss?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Osteoporosis, defined as a reduction of bone mass or bone density, was long viewed as a disease unique to aging women.

It’s been treated primarily with conjugated horse estrogens in hopes of mitigating the decline in female hormone levels that occurs during menopause.

Sadly, much of what conventional wisdom held true about osteoporosis turns out to be flawed.

It’s now clear that osteoporosis (like many age-related conditions) is not a disease with a singular cause affecting a specific population.

Rather, it is a multi-faceted disease driven by a barrage of interrelated factors, and must be addressed as such for optimal prevention and treatment.

Oxidative Stress Increases Bone Loss

Highly reactive oxygen compounds, called free radicals, can damage cells and tissues. Oxidative stress is the build-up of these dangerous compounds over time.

It’s now been theorized that high levels of oxidative stress during menopause may actually damage bone-forming cells resulting in bone demineralization. But why does menopause cause high levels of oxidative stress?

Experimental research in animals and cell cultures suggests that the characteristic fall in estradiol during menopause might contribute to the rise in highly reactive oxygen compounds — or oxidative stress.

A study published in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine suggests an association between age-related loss of estradiol, the development of higher levels of oxidative stress and subsequent bone loss.1

Rhodiola Preserves Bone Density by Inhibiting Oxidative Stress

Rhodiola rosea contains an antioxidant called salidroside. This compound exhibits potent antioxidant effects within the bone matrix, protecting bone-forming cells.

In this particular study, researchers used two study systems. In one of them, bone-forming cells in a Petri dish (osteoblasts from mice) were exposed to hydrogen peroxide, a potent oxidative compound.

In the other one, they used an in vivo osteoporosis model that relied on female mice whose ovaries were removed.2

They then added salidroside, an active constituent from the root of Rhodiola rosea, to both groups, in order to measure the protective effects on bone loss.

Here’s what they found by administering salidroside:2

  • It increased osteoblast survival
  • It increased alkaline phosphatase activity (indicating bone formation action)
  • It increased calcium deposition within bones
  • It increased reduced glutathione levels, an intrinsic antioxidant
  • It decreased the production of intracellular free radicals, like malondialdehyde (MDA)
The final proof of salidroside’s benefits, at least in mice, was that it improved internal bone architecture and bone mineral lumbar density.

The authors concluded that salidroside’s greatest impact was probably on improving survival of bone-forming cells.2

Rhodiola … It’s Not Just for Stress Anymore

It’s always cool to discover new uses of age-old herbs. Rhodiola belongs to a class of herbs known as adaptogens. Through a variety of mechanisms, these herbs help us respond better to stress.

But now, at least with Rhodiola, we might have another natural weapon against post-menopausal osteoporosis in our collective arsenal. Go Rhodiola!

References:

  1. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2012 May 23. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2012-0095.
  2. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57251. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057251

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