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Runners and Appalachian’s Human Performance Lab Add Science to the Charlotte Marathon with Field Trial

Nov. 26, 2012. Recently, 55 runners did more than just compete in the annual Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon. They were part of a field trial conducted by the Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory.

Scientists and interns from the lab were at the Thunder Road Marathon to test an herbal supplement called Rhodiola rosea to see if it decreases muscle damage in the study participants as a result of from the strenuous exercise during the marathon.

The lab, which is located at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis and part of the university’s College of Health Sciences. 

Rhodiola rosea, which is also called Arctic or golden root, is an adpatogenic herb known for promoting sustained energy and physical performance as well as improving mood and the ability to handle stress. Rhodiola grows in high altitudes in the arctic areas of Europe and Asia and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine.

The field test involved 55 marathon runners – 17 females and 38 males with an average age of 41. They took the supplement or a placebo for the past month. The morning before the marathon, the research team drew the athletes’ blood and conducted tests to determine physical strength. On race day, the researchers were finish line where the athletes in the study underwent another blood draw and physical tests after completing the marathon and again one hour later.

“We were testing to determine if the people who were on the treatment had relatively less muscle damage and a smaller decline in strength and power than people not on the treatment,” said Dr. Andrew Shanely, an assistant professor of exercise science in the Human Performance Lab.

The difference between the strength of the runners on the Rhodelia rosea supplement and placebo will be measured from the data collected in the physical tests and through the decreased presence of cytokines, molecules the body produces in response to stress, and an increase in the expression of Heat Shock Protein 72 (HSP 72) in the blood. Rhodelia rosea, Shanely explained, is known to cause an increase in HSP 72, and, in animal models, increased HSP 72 protects muscles from damage. Carolinas Medical Center and the Human Performance Laboratory at the NCRC will perform the blood tests.

The study sponsor is PL Thomas, a company that secures and markets high-quality, natural raw materials from around the globe to provide ingredient solutions for the food, beverage, supplement and cosmeceutical industries. They offer consumer products like RhodioLife that contain Rhodelia rosea extract.

Components of Rhodelia rosea, such as rosavins, have been tested in laboratory human trials. “Tests haven’t been done of this size or with this age group or in this setting,” Shanely said. “This company wanted to do a more robust test of this product, and this will be a tough test.” 

About the Appalachian State Human Performance Lab

Led by David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, the research team of the Human Performance Lab is a national leader in the area of nutrition and exercise immunology. Working closely with trained and amateur athletes, corporate collaborators and sponsors as well as community participants, the Human Performance Lab’s mission is to investigate the influence of unique plant molecules on age-related loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia), muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and exercise-induced changes in immune function, oxidative stress and inflammation by testing whole foods, natural products and natural bioactive components. For more information, visit http://ncrc.appstate.edu/.

About the North Carolina Research Campus

The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis is home to university, corporate, government, non-profit and healthcare partners focused on research into human health, nutrition and agriculture to prevent, treat and cure disease. For more information, visit www.ncresearchcampus.net.