Schizandra (Botanical Name: Schisandra Chinensis) is a woody vine with clusters of red berries that is found in northern and northeastern China and adjacent regions in Russia and Korea. It is also native to East Asia and its dried fruit is used medicinally. The berries of Schizandra chinensis are given the name wu wei zi in Chinese (五味子; pinyin: wǔ wèi zi), which translates as "five flavour fruit", due to the fact that they possess all five basic flavours in Chinese herbal medicine: salty, sweet, sour, pungent (spicy), and bitter.

Historical Medicinal Uses of Schizandra
This herb has been traditionally used to treat a variety of medical conditions and is widely known as a longevity herb and aphrodisiac. It is also used to treat lung and liver disorders, coughs, to relieve fatigue, depression and stress, increase stamina, and for insomnia and night sweats. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used as a remedy for many ailments: to resist infections, increase skin health, and combat insomnia, coughing, and thirst.

Medical uses of Schizandra
As mentioned, Schizandra has a long history of medical use in the oriental countries. In China, Schizandra is one of the components of the herbal medicine Shenmai San, which is used to treat coronary heart disease. Schizandra is used for the treatment of different diseases, including insomnia, irritation, palpitation and dyspnea. Schizandra is also used a general tonic for the treatment of skin disorders and as a sedative. The herbal properties of this amazing herb extend from being used as a brain tonic, to helping to detoxify the liver. It is even used for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. The more popular uses of this herb will be reviewed here.

Brain activity
One of the most important chemicals in the brain is Acetylcholine. This chemical is responsible for increasing alertness, learning, and attention span. This critical chemical is often broken down too quickly in the brain, thus the individual can suffer from ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, poor attention and brain fog. A recent study found that the fruit of Schizandra chinensis showed significant inhibition of the enzyme that breaks down Acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase) resulting in more of the beneficial Acetylcholine in the brain. A recent study found that Schizandra could potentially be a potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which means it could benefit sufferers of conditions such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, poor attention and brain fog.

Stress reduction
Schizandra is an excellent herb for reducing stress. When the body is stressed, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol. If you are stressed for a short period of time, the amount of cortisol released is not a problem. However, if you are stressed long term, then prolonged, elevated levels of cortisol can cause conditions such as heart disease, a suppressed immune system, obesity and can even shrink parts of your brain! While the elimination of the stress is always the best treatment, consuming Schizandra can reduce the damaging effects of the stress/elevated cortisol on your body.

Menopause and Cardiovascular disease
Schizandra fruit has long been used for the treatment of cardiovascular symptoms (associated especially with menopausal symptoms) in Korea. This versatile herb was recently investigated to determine how it may help menopausal women suffering from heart disease. When a woman goes through menopause, oestrogen levels drop. Oestrogen is a hormone that benefits women in many ways, including the prevention of heart disease. During menopause, this protective effect is lost, thus post menopausal women become more susceptible to heart disease.        
     A Korean study has found that Schizandra acts like a weak oestrogen (often called a phytoestrogen) in the body, thus not only reducing the symptoms of menopause, but also improving the cardiovascular health of women. The herb is popular for menopausal women because, as mentioned previously, it also reduces stress and improves brain power.

Detoxification of carcinogens
One of the biggest dangers facing the Western populations is exposure to chemicals which cause cancer (called Carcinogens). While it is obviously best to avoid them, we all consume them in our daily lifestyles, even if we eat healthy, organic foods and drink only purified water.
     One way we can prevent the nasty effects of these chemicals is to improve our detoxification of these agents. Schizandra has been found to speed up the detoxification of carcinogens via the liver and is a popular herb amongst herbalists because of its detoxification powers.

Improving Immunity
As mentioned previously, chronic stress adversely affects health in many ways. One of the worst effects of chronic stress is that it suppresses the immune system. Most people are aware of this and when they become stressed and run down, they often get a cold. Early studies have demonstrated that Schizandra can reverse the negative effects of stress on the immune system and prevent the immune suppression of chronic stress.

Drug Interactions with Schizandra
Although Schizandra, like any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications, no significant herb/drug interactions with Schizandra have been reported. However, as a precaution it is advised that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, to consult your health care professional as it has been demonstrated that Schizandra can speed up liver detoxification and thus may detoxify medications at an accelerated rate reducing their effectiveness.

Pregnancy warning
This herb should never be taken during pregnancy (except under close professional supervision during labour when Schizandra is occasionally employed to promote uterine contractions).

Therapeutic/safe dosages of Schizandra
The most commonly recommended therapeutic dosage for Schizandra is 2,000 - 3,000 mg per day and the usual therapeutic dosage of 1:1 fluid extract of Schizandra is 2 - 3 ml per day. Studies have found that short and long term consumption is beneficial for the treatment of all of the benefits listed above. Longer intake of Schizandra has been associated with enhanced circulation to the heart in menopausal women. Doses of up to 3.5 grams have been taken for extended periods of time (years) without adverse effects.

Other herbs that can be used with Schizandra
As with many herbs, combinations can be used to add to the therapeutic value. The following is a list of herbs that can be prescribed with Schizandra to boost its therapeutic properties:

  • Black Cohosh. Black Cohosh is brilliant for the treatment of menopause because it increases ‘feel good’ serotonin levels in the brain. This will combine brilliantly with Schizandra as they both work in different areas of the body to benefit menopausal women.
  • Milk Thistle. This is one of the greatest and well researched herbs for helping with people who have liver problems. It not only helps to detoxify carcinogens, but also helps to rebuild the liver if it is damaged.
  • Ginkgo. Ginkgo is best combined with Schizandra if there is a need to improve circulation. Ginkgo works by improving the function of the brain by increasing blood flow to the brain and improving neurotransmitter function in the brain.
  • Withania. One of the best all round herbal adaptogens, Withania is a brilliant anti-stress herb. It will also help to improve sporting performance and reduce cardiovascular disease and help with blood pressure. This is an excellent herb to take if you are suffering from any type of stress.
  • Panax Ginseng. Once only thought to be a stimulant, panax ginseng has been found to also help with stress. It would be especially useful for individuals suffering depressed energy associated with stress. Again, this herb in combination not only with Schizandra but with Ginkgo would be brilliant for this purpose.

Schizandra is a very good herbal medicine to consider when under stress, to assist with the elimination of toxins, or for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Schizandra is a highly-prised herb, simply because it benefits us in so many ways, and because we all suffer from toxins and stress in our lives and Schizandra will help us with both.

Hung TM, Na M, Min BS, Ngoc TM, Lee I, Zhang X, Bae K.
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitory effect of lignans isolated from Schizandra chinensis.
Arch Pharm Res. 2007 Jun;30(6):685-90.

Lee S, Kim DH, Jung JW, Oh JH, Park HJ, Park C, Huh Y, Cheong JH, Oh TH, Ryu JH.
Schizandra chinensis and Scutellaria baicalensis counter stress behaviors in mice.
Phytother Res. 2007 Dec;21(12):1187-92.

Lee YJ, Cho JY, Kim JH, Park WK, Kim DK, Rhyu MR.
Extracts from Schizandra chinensis fruit activate estrogen receptors: a possible clue to its effects on nitric oxide-mediated vasorelaxation.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2004 Jul;27(7):1066-9.

Hendrich S, Bjeldanes LF. Effects of dietary Schizandra chinensis, brussels sprouts and Illicium verum extracts on carcinogen metabolism systems in mouse liver. Food Chem Toxicol. 1986 Sep;24(9):903-12.

Long ZZ, Xie SS. [Experimental study on the enhancement of the immunosuppressive effect of cortisone by wurenchun, an extract of Schizandra chinensis Baill. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1985 Jun;5(6):361-2, 325.

Trifonova, A. T.  Stimulation of labor activity using Schizandra chinensis.  Obst Gyn.  4:19-22, 1954.

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