Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) of the family Schisandraceae is a creeping vine with small red berries that is native to Northern China. In ancient China Schisandra was used as a staple food for hunting and gathering tribes. As a traditional medicinal herb, Schisandra, called Wu-wei-tzu in China, has been used as an astringent for a treatment for dry cough, asthma, night sweats, nocturnal seminal emissions and chronic diarrhea It is also used as a tonic for the treatment of chronic fatigue.
During the early 1980’s Chinese doctors began researching Schisandra as a treatment for hepatitis, based on its potential for liver-protective effects and the nature of its active constituents. Schisandra is now a recognized “adaptogen,” capable of increasing the body’s resistance to disease, stress, and other debilitating processes.
In Asia, this adaptogenic property is said to “stimulate immune defenses, balance body function, normalize body systems, boost recovery after surgery, protect against radiation, counteract the effects of sugar, optimize energy in times of stress, increase stamina, protect against motion sickness, normalize blood sugar and blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol, shield against infection, improve the health of the adrenals, energize RNA-DNA molecules to rebuild cells and produces energy comparable to that of a young athlete.”
Studies conducted on Schisandra’s effects have noted that the drug has a stimulating effect in low doses, but this effect disappeared with larger doses. The compounds thought responsible for the liver-protective effects of Schisandra are lignans composed of two phenylpropanoid. More than 30 of these have been isolated in Schisandra and some 22 of which were tested in 1984 by the Japanese scientist H. Hikino for their ability to reduce the cytotoxic effects of carbon tetrachloride and galactosamine on cultured rat liver cells.
Most lignans were found to be effective, and some were extremely active (schisandrins A and B, gomisin A, B-bisabolne). Subsequent Japanese studies have found that two of the lignans, wuweizisu C and gomisin A, exert their liver protective effects by functioning as antioxidants to prevent the lipid peroxidation produced by harmful substances such as carbon tetrachloride. Since lipid peroxidation leads to the formation of liver damage the two compounds did indeed exert a protective influence.
Western herbalists commonly recommend Schisandra for the lungs, liver and kidneys, and to help with depression due to andrenergic exhaustion. In Russia Schisandra is used to treat eye fatigue and increase acuity.
CAUTION: Schisandra should not be used during pregnancy except under medical supervision to promote uterine contractions during labor. Schisandra should be avoided by persons with peptic ulcers, epilepsy and high blood pressure.