Botanical Description & Habitat
Chinese: Wu wei tzu Japanese: Gomishi Korean: Omicha Shisandra Schizandra Schisandra
Historical Properties & Uses
Shizandra is becoming ever more popular in the West, and is currently even aspiring to the status of a Guaranteed Potency Herb, i.e., it has been standardized to contain clinically significant amounts of what are presently felt to be the most active constituents. At this time, the standardized whole herb should be used instead of a simple purified extract.
Shizandra's introduction to the West follows a centuries-old tradition of use in the East, particularly in China and Japan.
The Chinese name for shizandra means five-flavored-fruit Wu (five) wei (flavored) tzu (seed, herb or fruit)) referring to varying tastes experienced in different parts of the plant. Thus, the skin or peel and pulp are sweet and sour, the kernels are pungent and bitter, and the whole has salty taste. Since these are the five major tastes in Chinese medicine and philosophy, shizandra is regarded in Chinese medicine as quintessence of the five elemental energies. The main tastes of shizandra are sour and salty and this herb therefore finds applications as both a Yin and a Yang treatment.
In Eastern medicine, shizandra is indicated mainly for the lungs, liver and kidneys and whatever ails them. It has a substantial reputation as an aphrodisiac (related to kidney function) and is said to increase the staying power in men and increase female libido.
In recent years, the plant has become more available for widespread public consumption, and the corresponding list of uses has steadily grown, both from folklore and from scientific sources.
In folklore and in Chinese Medicine, shizandra finds the following applications: neck and shoulder tension, to beautify skin and protect it from sun and wind, to develop basic life energy, mildly sedative, analgesic, increase digestion, antitussive, expectorant, forcirculation of blood, lung diseases, tonic, pectoral, for anger, astringent, blood pressure, lung tuberculosis, night sweats, frequent urination from deficient kidneys, asthmatic coughs, diarrhea of infants and pregnant women, dysentery in children, gonorrhea, neurasthenia, as neural tonic, stimulating in small doses, depressing and inhibiting in large doses, regulatory to cardiovascular system, urticaria, allergic dermatoses, fatigue, mental stimulant, arteriosclerosis, deficient kidney, spleen, and lungs, nocturnal emission, spermatorrhea, leukorrhea, excessive sweating, deficient Yang spontaneous sweating, deficient Yin night sweats, forgetfulness, insomnia, calming, premenstrual syndrome, stimulates immune system, and radioprotective.
Modern research has provided substantial support for many of the above uses, while others remain to be investigated. Even though we do not yet fully understand the pharmacology of this plant, there are common threads underlying its mechanism of action.
Method of Action
Shizandra as an Adaptogen
Shizandra probably contains substances meeting criteria for adaptogens, which means the herb has been found to regulate certain physiological processes or body functions in such a way as to increase resistance to the effects of stressors. For example, shizandra-fed animals perform significantly better than controls in swimming endurance tests.
Shizandra also regulates gastric acidity (both increases and decreases the concentration, depending on the immediate needs of the body). In humans, shizandra extract increases muscular endurance.
In spite of research along these lines, the ability of shizandra to mediate non-specific stress appears to be fairly weak when compared to ginseng species.
Shizandra has Important Action on the Liver
Many studies have investigated the marked ability of shizandra and its multiple constituents of the lignan class to prevent, treat, and cure various kinds of liver disease.
In one classic study, 102 patients with hepatitis were successfully treated with shizandra. A full 76% of the patients experienced complete recovery within a period of about one month. Such a high cure rate suggests strong activity, almost as high as that commonly seen with milk thistle extract.
Significant results have been obtained using wuweizisu C, a lignan component of shizandra, on liver damage induced by several toxins, including carbon tet, d-galactosamine and dl-ethionine. The shizandra extract not only prevented and inhibited liver damage, but actually cured liver injury caused by the repeated administration of toxins.
Among the conditions either prevented or cured were cell necrosis (death), fatty degeneration, inflammatory cell infiltration and hepatitis. Shizandra is a good antioxidant, which means it prevents liver damage through a variety of mechanisms. For example, it prevents lesions in liver tissue from the harmful by-products of lipid peroxidation.
Gomisin A (another lignan from shizandra) prevents carbon tet damage by facilitating the liver's ability to maintain normal bile production and flow.
A diet containing 5% schizandra fruit was found to be effective in inhibiting the toxicity of the highly carcinogenic and mutagenic benzo-pyrenes.
Not only does shizandra protect the liver, it also promotes normal liver functioning, including the production of bile, filtration of toxins and the flow of increased quantities of blood. Reported effects of shizandra on digestion may be direct result of such influences on liver function.
Shizandra Affects the Central Nervous System
The effect of schizandra on the CNS is gentle-stimulating but not exciting. In this regard it differs from caffeine and amphetamines. It is anti-convulsive. It strengthens and quickens reflexes, and increases work efficiency. The stimulating property appears to be adaptogenic, the more you need, the more you get, and when you don't need it, very little is felt. This property may be related to observed tendencies in shizandra to control anger and aggression.
An interesting study was carried out on the effects of shizandra extract on neurasthenia. Alcohol extracts were used in 73 cases whose symptoms included headache, insomnia, dizziness and palpitations; 43 were cured, and 13 significantly improved.
Shizandra Affects the Peripheral Nervous System
Shizandra appears to be cholinergic in nature, at least as determined by investigation of its effects in the peripheral nervous system. What remains to be investigated is whether this cholinergic property also applies to the central nervous system. If it does, this would help explain reports of increased cognitive function following shizandra use, including increased memory.
Shizandra Affects Sensory Mechanisms
Shizandra, along with Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosis, was found by Soviet researchers to significantly prevent visual fatigue induced by extended work in color discrimination tasks.
Shizandra has also been found to increase visual acuity and visual fields in normal volunteers and in eye patients.
In one interesting study, shizandra helped volunteers more accurately discriminate between various shapes felt tactilely. These kind of results suggest shizandra has neural activating and stimulating properties we have just begun to understand.
Shizandra has Respiratory Effects
Shizandra stimulates respiration through a direct effect on central nervous system respiratory centers. Experimentally, shizandra helps patients resist respiratory depression brought on by the use of morphine. In practical settings, shizandra has been found useful in combating high altitude sickness and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) experienced at great heights.
Shizandra has Cardiovascular Effects
Taken orally, shizandra appears to have no affect on blood pressure, but intravenous doses produce a decrease in blood pressure. Alcohol extracts have a vasodilatory effect and several constituents have been found to increase peripheral circulation. These properties support shizandra's reputation as a good cardiotonic.
Additionally, the plant has been shown to decrease heart rate in normal people (non athletes) while prolonging diastole and increasing the amount of blood pumped during the diastolic phase. At least one study has found a significant oxygen sparing effect (may be a calcium blocker).
Shizandra has Uterine Properties
Shizandra extracts stimulate rabbit uterus preparations, whether the animal is pregnant or not pregnant or even post partum. Rhythmic contractions are stimulated and labor is induced and promoted. For this reason, pregnant women should probably be careful using shizandra.
Shizandra has Metabolic Properties
In experimental studies carried out in Japan and Europe, shizandra and its various constituents have been shown to increase usage of liver glycogen stores and serum glucose. Some studies have failed to find this property.
Shizandra may affect oxygen utilization in kidney, liver and brain. It also induces protein synthesis in liver cells and reduces the levels of circulating triglycerides.
Shizandra promotes nucleic acid synthesis in liver cells. One component of shizandra, schisanhenol, has been found to increase levels of microsomal mono-oxygenases, such as cytochrome P-450, in the liver of rats.
Drug Interactions & Precautions
This oxytocic-like action of Shizandra may produce neonatal jaundice which would interfere with serum bilirubin test results.
The cholinergic action of Shizandra may be antagonized by antihistamines, anticholinergics (atropine), nitrites, nitrates, pentaerythritol tetranitrate and tetraethylammonium chloride.
The cholinergic action of Shizandra may potentiate depolarizing muscle relaxants like decamethonium. If the interaction is severe, respiratory paralysis may result.
Adrenocortical responsiveness to Shizandra may be impaired by the use amphotericin b.
Shizandra and sparteine may have synergistic oxytocic activity. Cyclopropane or halogenated hydrocarbon anesthetics may sensitize the myocardium to the cardiotonic effects of Shizandra, though the chances are very few of this happening.
Shizandra is synergistic with parenteral calcium salts, pancuronium, succinylcholine, rauwolfia alkaloids, ephedrine, epinephrine, and other adrenergic agents.
The inotropic action of Shizandra may be reduced by propranolol, but the effects of the two substances on av are additive.
The oxytocic property of Shizandra in conjunction with vasoconstrictors such as ephedrine, methoxamine, phenylephrine orsympathomimetics may cause severe hypertension.
Citrates and tannates in conjunction with Shizandra may produce erratic and unpredictable results (because of oxytocic action).
To the extent Shizandra's action depends on the presence of cholinergic substances, to that extent its action will be affected by the decrease in cholinergic-receptor stimulation produced by anticholinergics.
There is evidence combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the '-static' variety. How this finding applies to herbal antibiotics is not known.
Safety Factors & Toxicity
In the several clinical studies reported to date, no significant side effects were observed. Orally administered, there appears to be no toxicity at normal levels. Severe overdose may produce restlessness, insomnia and dyspnea.
Some persons with peptic ulcers caused by high acidity may experience increased acidity, though the adaptogenic action should prevent this. Epileptics or those with abnormally high intracranial pressure should avoid using shizandra at this time.
Persons with high blood pressure should use caution, although a few studies have shown the plant has no adverse affect on blood pressure per se.
Preparation & Administration
Exact dosage requirements and standards have not been determined for shizandra in western medicine.
In China a standard dose = 1.5-9g of dried fruit.
Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.
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