by Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken
Black pepper has an ancient history of being a highly desirable but expensive spice. It has even been used as a currency.
Piperine is a simple and pungent alkaloid found in the seeds of black pepper. Piperine is commonly known as a bioavailability enhancer for a number of nutraceuticals, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, as well as for its neuroprotective activity. The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology reported that the compound piperine in black pepper increases the cognitive function of the brain and helps mood disorder.
Piperine helps the body absorb curcumin and therefore enhances curcumin’s antidepressant effect long-term. There may be similar absorption assistance given to selenium, vitamin B12, and beta-carotene.
Piperine has shown multiple mechanisms of action, including inhibition of MAO enzymes, elevation of brain serotonin (5-HT) brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) levels, and modulation of HPA axis.
Because of its intense taste in small quantities, it is typically used as just a few “pinches” into turmeric recipes.
Typically 2.5 mg/ kg is used so for a 70 kg person that would equal 175 mg; a teaspoon of black pepper weighs about 2000 mg, so this is less than 10% of a teaspoon – otherwise known as a “pinch” or two.
 Johnson, J. J., Nihal, M., Siddiqui, I. A., Scarlett, C. O., Bailey, H. H., Mukhtar, H., & Ahmad, N. (2011). Enhancing the bioavailability of resveratrol by combining it with piperine. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 55(8), 1169-1176. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100117.
 Ying, X., Yu, K., Chen, X., Chen, H., Hong, J., Cheng, S., & Peng, L. (2013). Piperine inhibits LPS induced expression of inflammatory mediators in RAW 264.7 cells. Cellular Immunology, 285(1-2), 49-54. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2013.09.001.
 Shrivastava, P., Vaibhav, K., Tabassum, R., Khan, A., Ishrat, T., Khan, M. M., . . . Islam, F. (2013). Anti-apoptotic and Anti-inflammatory effect of Piperine on 6-OHDA induced Parkinson’s Rat model. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry,24(4), 680-687. doi:10.1016/ j.jnutbio.2012.03.018
 Mao, Q.Q., Xian, Y.F., Ip, S.P., and Che, C.T. (2011). Involvement of serotonergic system in the antidepressant-like effect of piperine. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol. Biol. Psychiatry 35, 1144–1147
Flowers of Hibiscus (rosa-sinensis Linn) popularly known as “China-rose flowers” contain significant flavonoids (such as anthocyanin and quercetin) known to have antidepressant activity.
The antidepressant effect may be from its antioxidant activity; there are few controlled studies on human populations. Hibiscus has been used in Hawaiian cultures to treat postpartum depression.
Another herbal tea, made from the sepals of Hibiscus flowers are beautiful, showy red flowers that are harvested and dried like most teas. This plant contains bioflavonoids, which are believed to help prevent an increase in LDL cholesterol, and to lower blood pressure. The research is quite clear on these effects. It may work by boosting nitric oxide production, generally an advantage for cardiovascular activities (aerobic exercise).
Again, why bother to make tea with this food and limit the nutrient availability when you can eat it! I use a heaping tablespoon in my morning smoothie. I also like to blend it with green tea and ice, then strain it into water bottles as a drink during exercise.
 Butterweck, V., Jürgenliemk, G., Nahrstedt, A., & Winterhoff, H. (2000). Flavonoids from Hypericum perforatum Show Antidepressant Activity in the Forced Swimming Test. Planta Medica, 66(1), 3-6. doi:10.1055/s-2000-11119.
 Vanzella, C., Bianchetti, P., Sbaraini, S., Vanzin, S. I., Melecchi, M. I., Caramão, E. B., & Siqueira, I. R. (2012). Antidepressant-like effects of methanol extract of Hibiscus tiliaceus flowers in mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-41.
 Kobayashi, J. (1976). Early Hawaiian Uses of Medicinal Plants in Pregnancy and Childbirth. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 22(6), 260-262. doi:10.1093/tropej/22.6.260.
 Siddiqui, A., Wani, S., Rajesh, R., & Alagarsamy, V. (2006). Phytochemical and pharmacological investigation of flowers of hibiscus rosasinensis linn. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Indian J Pharm Sci, 68(1), 127. doi:10.4103/0250-474x.22986.
The root of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is used extensively in Ayurveda, the classical Indian system of medicine, and is categorized as a rasayana, an herbal remedy used to promote physical and mental health.
There are many claims concerning the health benefits of Ashwagandha root and most all of them concern reduction of adrenal stress (anxiety) and reduction of inflammation; there are many peer reviewed studies, including systematic review summaries that are rather convincing. Positive influences on neurodegenerative diseases such as cognitive decline and dementias have been suggested.
It is likely helpful to ingest this substance after exercise, particularly endurance workouts or heavy lifting (supposedly it helps to stimulate muscle recovery).
Also this Ayurvedic has been used to help treat insomnia.
The amount suggested by the literature studies is one-half teaspoon, about 1600 mg.
 Bhattacharya, S., Bhattacharya, A., Sairam, K., & Ghosal, S. (2000). Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: An experimental study. Phytomedicine, 7(6), 463-469. doi:10.1016/ s0944-7113(00)80030-6.
 Manchanda, S., Mishra, R., Singh, R., Kaur, T., & Kaur, G. (2016). Aqueous Leaf Extract of Withania somnifera as a Potential Neuroprotective Agent in Sleep-deprived Rats: A Mechanistic Study. Molecular Neurobiology Mol Neurobiol. doi:10.1007/s12035-016-9883-5.
Maca has been cultivated and grown high in the Andean Mountains of Peru for thousands of years.
Like Rhodiola, it flourishes in extreme environments of freezing cold winds, strong sunlight, and high elevation (over 10,000 feet). There does appear to be a correlation between plants that survive in stressful circumstances and the adaptogenic effects that such plants have on the human body and mind.
The root of the maca plant has been used for centuries as a nutritive substance that raises the body’s state of resistance to disease by increasing immunity to stress while remaining nontoxic to the recipient.
The shelf life is an amazing seven years. Maca is powerfully abundant in amino acids, phytonutrients, healthy fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. This superfood allegedly has the ability to increase energy and stamina, working directly on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.
Once again, there are some indications of positive effect on mood.
About two tablespoons of maca powered root was used in the above studies. A good source of maca is the “premium” combination of Peruvian sources from “The Maca Team” available on the internet.
 Rubio, J., Caldas, M., Dávila, S., Gasco, M., & Gonzales, G. F. (2006). Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine BMC Complement Altern Med, 6(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-6-23.
by Richard Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken
A systematic review of numerous randomized placebo-controlled studies of Rhodiola rosea showed beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and in mild to moderate depression. For example, one Swedish phase II randomized placebo-controlled study over a six-week clinical trial concluded:
“R. rosea possesses a clear and significant anti-depressive activity in patients suffering from mild to moderate depression. When administered in a dosage of two tablets, each containing 170 mg of extract, daily over a 6-week period, statistical significant reduction in the overall symptom level of depression as well as in specific symptoms of depression, such as insomnia, emotional instability and somatization, could be demonstrated. In higher doses, four tablets per day over a 6-week period, an additional positive effect could be shown. No side-effects resulting from treatment could be detected in any group of the groups”.
Therefore, doses of about 300 – 600 mg were effective in that study.
The mechanism of action may be inhibition of monoamine re-uptake (such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline), enhanced binding and sensitization of serotonin receptors, monoamine oxidase inhibition, and neuro-endocrine modulation. Rhodiola is apparently adaptogenic, meaning that it does its good deeds without disturbing normal biologic functions.
I’m not sure if it is an herb (plant leaf, stem, or flower used for flavoring or medicinal use) or a spice (same as herb but a root). The aerial portion (above ground plant) is used as a food. However, various alternative names for the plant include “root,” such as the “red root” and the powder is a deep red so I assume that the medicinal part is primarily a root and therefore technically a spice.
Rhodiola Rosea 3% Salidroside Powder (100 grams) costs about $18. I use a little less than one eighth of a teaspoon, about 300 mg (a cost of about ten cents). I’m unsure of where this was harvested although it can grow on cold rocky slopes in the USA; it has been suggested to aid those living in very cold stressful environments where it grows, such as Siberia and Scandinavia. It has a shelf life of three or more years.
 Hung, S. K., Perry, R., & Ernst, E. (2011). The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine, 18(4), 235-244. doi:10.1016/ j.phymed. 2010.08.014.
 Darbinyan, V., Aslanyan, G., Amroyan, E., Gabrielyan, E., Malmström, C., & Panossian, A. (2007). Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 61(5), 343-348. doi:10.1080/08039480701643290.
 Kumar, V. (2006). Potential medicinal plants for CNS disorders: An overview.Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 20(12), 1023-1035. doi:10.1002/ptr.1970
 My source for this is from Bulk Supplements (www.bulksupplements.com) – I order from Amazon and guided in my selection in part by happy consumers who have tried it and like it on some basis.