Schisandra chinensis is a herb that has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. And for good reason. This herb might just do it all!
Schisandra has long been used in the traditional medicines of China and Russia for a wide variety of ailments, including respiratory disease, asthma, insomnia, kidney problems and diarrhoea. Also classed as a herbal adaptogen, hunters and athletes would use this bright red berry to combat fatigue and to increase endurance.
What is Schisandra Chinensis?
Schisandra goes by a few aliases including Chinese magnolia vine and Wu Wei Zi which translates to five-flavour fruit. As you can imagine, the name refers to the five flavours of Schisandra: sour, bitter, sweet, acidic and salty, which correspond to the five elements in Chinese medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine classified Wu Wei Zi as a harmonising substance due to its balanced energy from the five key elements.
Historically in Traditional Chinese medicine, Schisandra was used to promote a balance between yin and yang. It’s said to ‘calm the heart and quiet the spirit’ by positively affecting the brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.
Therapeutic actions of Schisandra
Schisandra’s medicinal properties come from its vibrant red berries. These berries contain powerful constituents that have multiple healing properties that are well known to improve liver functioning and adrenal fatigue. But its benefits go further, traditional and modern uses for Schisandra include:
- Increasing energy
- Liver disease
- Liver protection
- Heart protection
- Cholesterol lowering
- May prevent growth of tumours
- Protects brain function and prevents neurodegeneration
- Diabetes and regulation of blood glucose levels
- Regulates blood pressure
- Improve mental health (depression, brain fog, concentration)
- Improves immune function
As you can see, Schisandra has a long list of therapeutic actions but there are a few in particular I’d like to highlight.
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory effects
Schisandra’s antioxidant activity underlies many of its therapeutic benefits.
Research has shown that Schisandra helps stall the process of oxidative stress and lowers inflammatory responses which are at the root of modern diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease. Free radicals threaten our health because they turn on and off certain genes, cause cellular and tissue damage and speed up the aging process.
Studies have shown that Schisandra increases levels of glutathione the body’s ‘master antioxidant’ and increases the activity of Nrf2 (Nuclear Factor Erythroid 2-Related Factor) which is a transcription factor that regulates the expression of numerous antioxidant and cell protective proteins and enzymes throughout the body. Nrf2 plays a really important role in protection against oxidative damage and inflammation.
Schisandra has traditionally been used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Its cardioprotective and blood pressure lowering activity is due to its ability to relax blood vessels, prevent fibrosis or scarring of the heart, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which can cause damage to the heart and heart valves and suppress apoptosis or death of heart cells.
Diabetes and Metabolic syndrome
Numerous animal studies with Schisandra have shown that it has the ability to improve pancreatic function, stimulate insulin secretion, improve blood glucose levels and protect against complications of diabetes including diabetic nephropathy.
A 2015 study published by the Department of Korean Medicine found that Schisandra also positively influences the balance of bacteria in the gut in a way that helps prevent various metabolic syndrome risk factors.
A randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled study found that Schisandra improved the balance of gut bacteria which resulted in a decrease in waist circumference, fat mass, fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels in a group of women.
Schisandra has long been known as a liver tonic in Traditional Chinese medicine.
Schisandra is used for treating both acute and chronic liver damage from conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and to improve liver function.
Administration of Schisandra has been shown to reduce liver enzymes, boost glutathione, suppress oxidative damage and inflammation and improve fatty liver.
Stress and adrenal function
Schisandra is an adaptogen, which means it helps your body protect itself against physical and mental stress. Stress is inevitable, but stress induced adrenal dysfunction and elevated cortisol can cause plenty of uncomfortable and dangerous physical symptoms.
Apoptogenic herbs have been used for thousands of years to naturally raise the body’s resistance to environmental stress, anxiety, toxin exposure, emotional trauma, mental fatigue and mental illness.
Because Schisandra helps nurture the adrenal glands and turns down an overproduction of ‘stress hormones’ like cortisol, it’s linked with better mental capabilities, physical endurance and metabolic health.
Don’t forget there’s also a link between lower amounts of stress and better immune function. The more stress we’re under, the less capable we are of defending ourselves against disease.
Research surrounding Schisandra is fairly conclusive in the fact that it is a powerful anti-anxiety herb, in addition to its ability to boost ones mood through lowering stress (and cortisol) levels and enhancing mental performance. Its adaptogenic qualities mean that it specifically reduces both mental and physical stress, exerting a normalising effect on the whole body.
Now here’s the part I’m sure you’re the most interested in, the benefits of Schisandra for kidney health!
Schisandra has a beneficial effect on kidney health largely through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Remember that inflammation and oxidative stress are involved in the development and progression of kidney disease regardless of the cause.
There have been a number of animal studies showing that Schisandra exerts a kidney protective effect against nephrotoxic medications including cyclosporine, gentamicin, cyclophosphamide and cisplatin and kidney damage from mercury. It does this by inhibiting oxidative stress, reducing inflammation and inhibiting cell death in the kidneys.
Schisandra has also been shown to protect the kidneys from damage due to diabetes. In diabetic nephropathy, factors such as elevated blood glucose and oxidative stress lead to damage of the filtering units of the kidneys, leading to protein leakage into urine and reduced filtering ability of the kidneys.
Studies with Schisandra have shown that it prevents damage to the glomeruli and reduces levels of protein in urine. The fact that it also lowers blood glucose levels and improves insulin resistance further reduces the risk of diabetic damage to the kidneys.
Schisandra may also prove to be beneficial in cases of IgA nephropathy. Animal studies have shown that it significantly improved kidney function in rats with IgA nephropathy which resulted in decreased levels of protein in urine, blood in urine, and reduced BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine levels. Schisandra also reduced serum levels of IgA and renal IgA deposits.
How to Use
The therapeutic dose of Schisandra is 1.5gm to 5gm a day.
Schisandra is available as a supplement in multiple forms from dried berries, to powder, to liquid extracts to tablets or capsules. I recommend using tablets/capsules or pre-prepared herbal liquid extracts of Schisandra as this ensures you get the correct therapeutic dose.
Cautions and Contraindications
Schisandra is contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Caution should be taken if Schisandra is administered with immunosuppressant medications as it may increase drug levels. Schisandra may also have an effect on Warfarin levels so may need to be avoided or require closer monitoring of INR when commencing supplementation.
And don’t forget….
Before introducing any new supplement, make sure you consult your doctor or naturopath. Because of Schisandra’s ability to lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels it may increase the effect of anti-hypertensive and diabetic medications so close monitoring of blood pressure and blood sugar is advised.
Schisandra is a great kidney protective herb that has the added benefits of lowering blood pressure and treating diabetes, the two most common causes of kidney disease.
Add to that its liver protective effects and ability to improve immune function, improve mood and reduce the negative effects stress has on your system and I think we really can call it a herb that just might do it all!
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Until next time, take care and have a great week!