A native to China, Russia, Korea and Japan, schizandra is a highly valued herb in Oriental medicine. Its Chinese name, wu wei zi, means five flavored herb. This is because schizandra has all the five flavors recognized in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). These five flavors are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. This means schizandra balances all five of the Chinese “elements” (earth, wood, water, metal and fire).
In short, schizandra is a remedy that is thought to help balance the entire body and improve overall health. The many flavors signal the presence of a wide variety of phytochemicals, which do have numerous health benefits.
For starters, schizandra contains about 40 lignans, many of which have very positive effects on the liver. The lignans have a strong hepatoprotective effect, meaning they help protect the liver from chemical damage. Schizandra enhances glutathione production in the liver. Glutathione is a very important cellular antioxidant that helps the body get rid of heavy metals and other toxins.
The lignans in schizandra also stimulate liver glycogen and protein synthesis, inhibit lipid peroxidation, improve bile acid metabolism, promote blood flow to the liver and liver regeneration, and protect the liver against substances like alcohol, industrial solvents (like carbon tetrachloride) and drug medications. Like milk thistle, schizandra is a very good herb for reducing liver inflammation (hepatitis), whether the cause is viral, bacterial or chemical. It can be used in formulas with other hepatoprotective herbs to reduce liver damage when one has been exposed to chemicals.
Schizandra also contains volatile oils, organic acids (citric, malic and tartaric), Vitamins A, C, and E, and fixed oils containing linoleic, oleic, linolenic, lauric and plamitic fatty acids. All these substances give schizandra benefits on the nervous, glandular, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive and urinary systems, in addition to it’s benefits for the liver.
Schizandra is recognized as an adaptagen, a remedy that reduces the effect of stress on the body by reducing the production of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. But, schizandra goes beyond many other adaptagens in the fact that it also has a strong impact on the nervous system. In Chinese medicine, it is said to calm the shen (spirit or emotions) that lives in the heart. In Western terms, it enhances memory and reflexes and has antidepressant and anticonvulsive effects.
One can easily see why schizandra berries are the number one ingredient in Nervous Fatigue Formula, which is used to treat “burn-out” from chronic stress. The berries are also included in Nutri-Calm, Master-Gland, Energ-V, Adrenal Support, Adaptamax and Trigger Immune. All of these formulas enhance energy and aid the nervous and glandular systems.
The cardiovascular system also benefits from schizandra. It has antioxidant effects on the heart and reduces stress-induced heart palpitations. It has also been shown to improve athletic performance.
For the respiratory system, schizandra helps ease dry coughs, wheezing and allergic asthma. This is why it is an ingredient in Lung Support and Breathe EZ.
Schizandra also stimulates the uterus and can help strengthen uterine contractions. For this reason some herbalists caution its use during pregnancy. However, it is not found in high enough quantities in Nature’s Sunshine’s formulas to be a cause for concern in this regard.
In TCM, schizandra is also used to tonify the jing. The jing is the basic life energy that is thought to live in the kidneys. It’s sort of like the basic charge built into a battery.
In Western terms, this means schizandra is useful for rebuilding energy and preventing loss of bodily fluids. It is an effective herb for treating frequent urination, night sweats, early morning diarrhea and heavy menstrual bleeding. This is why it is present in both Urinary Maintenance, a tonic for the urinary system, and HY-C, a formula that helps hydrate the tissues.
Schizandra is also being used in China for rashes, eczema, diarrhea and failing eyesight and hearing. It can even help with a low sex drive. When the stresses of life take their toll on our body, we can be grateful we have schizandra as an herbal ally to balance the body and restore strength and vigor to the body.
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier.The Comprehensive Guide to Nature’s Sunshine Products by Tree of Light
Secrets of Chinese Herbs by Steven Horne and Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica compiled and translated by Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble
Winston & Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach by Merrily A. Kuhn and David Winston