Mood for Life

nutrition, exercise, meditation optimized

Maca root: increases energy, stamina, and immunity


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[1].

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.

[1] 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.

Rhodiola for physical and mental performance


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[1]. For example, one Swedish phase II randomized placebo-controlled study over a six-week clinical trial concluded[2]:

“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[3].  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[4].  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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Kumar, V. (2006). Potential medicinal plants for CNS disorders: An overview.Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 20(12), 1023-1035. doi:10.1002/ptr.1970

[4] My source for this is from Bulk Supplements ( – I order from Amazon and guided in my selection in part by happy consumers who have tried it and like it on some basis.

Rooibos anti-stress antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity


by Richard Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken

Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a bush native to the Cedarberg Mountains in the Western Cape region of South Africa where it is extensively cultivated for its commercial use as an herbal tea. After harvesting, the needle-like leaves and stems can be either fermented prior to drying or dried immediately. The unfermented product remains green in color and is referred to as green rooibos. During fermentation, the color changes from green to red with oxidation of the constituent polyphenols, so the final product is often referred to as “red tea” or “red bush tea.” The non-oxidized green version, let’s call it “green herbal tea,” would be superior in antioxidants.

Rooibos possesses antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity[1], as does unfermented green herbal tea.

Rooibos is especially rich in the super-antioxidant compound quercetin. Rooibos is a source of two comparatively rare antioxidants, aspalathin and nothofagin. Aspalathin helps to modify hormones in the body and reduces the output of adrenal hormones, thus reducing stress and helping to inhibit metabolic disorders.  The antioxidant nothofagin demonstrates significant anti-inflammatory activity and neuroprotective functions[2].

As this is a tea, why not buy teabags, add hot water and drink it?  Well that’s fine, but much more expensive than bulk purchase. While the process of preparing, serving, and sipping tea can be an art, we are here interested in the nutrient value – and efficiency of preparation. Steeping in hot water extracts only a portion of the water-soluble components (such as polyphenols) of the plant, i.e., that which enters into solution if the fibrous cell walls are sufficiently disrupted by the heating process – the rest is discarded in the tea bag.

But as a food, the entire leaf can be eaten and all nutrients consumed. A dose suggested from literature studies is one teaspoon.


[1] Joubert, E., Gelderblom, W., Louw, A., & Beer, D. D. (2008). South African herbal teas: Aspalathus linearis, Cyclopia spp. and Athrixia phylicoides – A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 119(3), 376-412. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2008.06.014.

[2] Mckay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity of south African herbal teas: Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia). Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 21(1), 1-16. doi:10.1002/ptr.1992.

Intense green tea and hibiscus work-out drink



Intense physical exercise is often associated with an increase in the production of free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in various tissues, which may overwhelm the capacity of the antioxidant defense systems[1].

Oxidative stress, induced by the accumulation of large amounts of ROS and an imbalance between ROS and antioxidants, can lead to the destruction of tissue and cell macromolecules such as lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. It has been suggested that exercise-induced oxidative stress may be associated with muscle fatigue, muscle damage, and a decrease in physical performance.

Use of green tea prevents oxidative stress in endurance athletes[2].  Polyphenols from Hibiscus flowers appear to induce an endothelium-dependent relaxant effect via stimulation of nitric oxide production or a decrease of blood viscosity.

Adding hot water to tea bags help solubilize the polyphenols because the temperature softens the cells walls and increases the solubility of cellular contents; steeping 5 minutes or so is enough.  But there is a “biohack” that can get the goodies into solution even faster: blending.  The reason is that agitation in the aqueous environment and particle size reduction aids the extraction.  High-speed blenders can get the particle size down below 100 microns and the agitation is maximal. Reduction of tea time availability: 5 minutes from “steeping” to less than 30 seconds using blending.

Here is what I do to make a “water bottle” mixture for exercise. This uses bulk tea leaves (no tea bags, which are much more expensive).

  • Place one to three tablespoons of raw dried Hibiscus flowers into a blender (mine is 64 ounce capacity).
  • (optional) Add one to three tablespoons green tea leaves.
  • Add a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice (to protect the antioxidants when blending).
  • Add ice (optional) and water to three quarters of the capacity of the blender.
  • (optional) If the sour bitter taste is an issue (I actually prefer it), add a date or date syrup to taste.


[1] Alessio, H. M. (1993). Exercise-induced oxidative stress. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 25(2). doi:10.1249/00005768-199302000-00010

[2] Jówko, E., Długołęcka, B., Makaruk, B., & Cieśliński, I. (2015). The effect of green tea extract supplementation on exercise-induced oxidative stress parameters in male sprinters. European Journal Of Nutrition54(5), 783-791. doi:10.1007/s00394-014-0757-1


Zinc and depression

by Richard Aiken MD PhD



Zinc is an essential trace mineral, a component of hundreds of enzymes and proteins.  It is required for intracellular message transmission, protein synthesis, maintenance of cell membranes, cellular and intracellular transmembrane transport, and is involved in regulation of the neuronal, endocrinal and immunological systems[1] [1].

Zinc deficiency induces neurological symptoms as well as psychopathological symptoms that mostly correspond with clinical depression (e.g., poor appetite, reduced sense of taste, reduction in immune function, irritability, mood liability, cognitive impairment)[2]

The mechanisms in which zinc is linked to antidepressant activity is a active area of research but there are indications that it is involved in the neurogenesis processes[3].

There is a delicate balance in the relation of zinc to copper, so supplementation is not recommended.  A whole-food varied-plant diet is the best assurance of getting zinc in the correct doses and  food context.


[1] Takeda A. Movement of zinc and its functional significance in the brain. Brain 224 Res Rev 2000;34(3):137–48.

[2] Swardfager W, Herrmann N, McIntyre RS, Mazereeuw G, Goldberger K, Cha DS, 226 et al. Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major 227 depressive disorder. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2013;37(5):911–29.

[3] Levenson CW, Morris D. Zinc and neurogenesis: making new neurons from 388 development to adulthood. Adv Nutr 2011;2(2):96–100.