Roseroot for altitude sickness

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WHAT IT IS: The rhodiola rosea, or roseroot, is a herb which helps the body to resist physical, chemical and biological stress. It is native to the arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America.

The herb's name comes from the rose-like fragrance of the root when it is crushed or split open. It is known as hongjingtian in Chinese.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is believed that the harsher the environment in which the plants are grown in, the more potent the harvested roots would be, said Ms Jie Jun Dong, a TCM practitioner at Ma Kuang Healthcare Group.

A tael (37.6g) of roseroot is sold at $4 at some medical halls here.

HOW TCM USES IT: The sweet roseroot is considered cold in nature.

It is thought to move through the meridians of the spleen and lungs.

Meridians are channels in the body through which qi (vital energy) travels. A balance of yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) and yang (the element linked to heat) in the body is needed for good health.

Ms Jie said the roseroot is most commonly prescribed on its own to curb altitude sickness, which gives rise to shortness of breath and tiredness.

In TCM, altitude sickness is attributed to qi or blood deficiency in the spleen, which occurs after a prolonged bout of illness - the result of a genetic predisposition to spleen imbalances or exposure to harsh environments, such as high altitudes.

In addition to fatigue and the presence of a pale face and tongue, the person may also have a weak pulse and be averse to cold weather.

Roseroot is then consumed to enhance one's physical and mental performance.

In fact, this herb is preferred over ginseng, another qi tonic, which may be too heaty for some.

The cold nature of the roseroot can also clear "heaty" lungs, as this depletes qi and leads to prolonged cough, which is sometimes accompanied by blood-tinged phlegm.

For this purpose, roseroot is prescribed alongside herbs such as lily bulb, glehnia root and thunberg fritillary bulb, she added.

Roseroot is also used to resolve poor blood circulation, which occurs due to external injuries that lead to soreness, bruises and swollen parts of the body.

WHO IT IS FOR: Roseroot is suitable for people who place high physical demands on their bodies, such as athletes, scuba divers and mountain climbers.

Those who need help to cope with the low oxygen levels in high-altitude regions can also benefit from consuming this herb.

Ms Jie said roseroot has also been prescribed for those in the early stages of diabetes and cancer, to complement their mainstream medical treatments.

WHO SHOULD AVOID IT: Pregnant women should not use roseroot without first discussing it with their TCM physicians, Ms Jie warned.

WHAT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: A review of 11 studies, published in the BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine journal in 2012, reported that there is a lack of evidence to determine the effectiveness of roseroot on physical or mental fatigue.

However, the herb is shown to rarely cause side effects, a testament to its "low clinical toxicity", noted the review.

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