Schizandra has been a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs and has been used to treat a host of conditions by millions and millions of people. It has a long history as a tonic herb to improve mental and physical health and well-being.
In general, Schizandra is an adaptogen. That means it promotes a healthy balance in the body, rather than tipping the balance one way or the other. That’s very different from the way a stimulant works. Both an adaptogen and a stimulant might increase a person’s energy levels. The adaptogen does it by supporting the body’s natural systems, such as the respiratory and circulatory systems. The stimulant, on the other hand, forces the body to work at an unsustainable level. Ultimately, there will be side effects from stimulants, as the body has to recover from this stress. But because Schizandra works with the body, it causes none of these ill effects. What it does cause are lots of good ones.
Modern science has proven the many benefits of Schizandra. These include enhanced:
- Mental Performance
- Endurance and Working Capacity
- Accuracy of Movement
- Stress Response: Heat/Cold, Altitude/Air Pressure
Benefits To Bodily Systems:
- Central Nervous System
- Endocrine System
- Immune System
- Gastrointestinal System
- Cardiovascular System
It’s hard to concentrate when you’re tired, and accidents are bound to happen. They can be serious, such as when drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Usually, we reach for a coffee or other mild stimulant to keep us going. But stimulants just delay the inevitable—they give you a temporary boost, but when they wear off, you are more tired than ever.
Schizandra was tested to see if it could reduce mistakes when people were tired or had been working for a long time. In two studies by Lapajev, Schizandra was shown to reduce mistakes in tired people. The studies also showed that Schizandra helps people to study effectively, even when tired. Since this is what most students do days before their exams, Schizandra could be quite beneficial to them!
Schizandra can also help people to concentrate, to remember visual concepts and verbal ones, and to maintain their balance. If you have ever felt a little wobbly after staying awake too long, you’ll know that tiredness can have a big effect on balance. Schizandra helps to counteract that!
Reading text on a screen can be tiring. Most of us spend some time on the Internet regularly, but there are some professions that require constantly staring at the screen, for 6 or more hours per day. Often this leads to eye fatigue, and can affect vision over time. This takes on an extra dimension when you consider that some professions, such as air traffic control, require high performance and cannot allow for mistakes. The studies showed that Schizandra increases resistance to visual fatigue, which makes it essential for people who must work with screens.
Endurance and Working Capacity
In terms of physical endurance, there are two factors to measure. Static load is when an animal or person is resisting a force without moving. An example would be holding up a weight. A dynamic load would be resisting a force while moving. Running is an example of a dynamic load (resisting gravity, friction and inertia). Sometimes an herb will help with one type of load, but not another.
Schizandra has been demonstrated to be effective in improving performance and endurance under both types of load. It appears to work by improving the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently, and also increasing the amount of hemoglobin (which carries the oxygen in the blood). These findings were published in papers by Lupandin and Lapajev, and also by East China Jiaotong University in Nanchang City.’
Accuracy of Movement
Learning new skills and performing with finesse require the ability to move the body accurately. Most people have pretty good coordination but surgeons, athletes, pilots, and performers typically have excellent coordination. It’s a variable quality between people, and also in one individual. Even athletes and brain surgeons have off days!
Schizandra was proven to aid the accuracy of movement in a study conducted by Lapajev in 1978. The best performance was seen when the subject took preparations made from the seed of the plant.
Stress is known to produce many reactions that seem unrelated to the source of the problem. For instance, a worker worried about his job security might start to develop stomach ulcers or lose weight. Stress attacks several important systems in the body, including the immune system; it attacks the tissues of the thymus, one of the immune system’s primary organs. That’s why stress is indicated as a major cause of many different illnesses and health conditions.
Stress leads to the release of chemicals in the body that cause adverse reactions. An example is adrenocorticotrophic hormone, which plays an essential role in metabolism and immune response. When too much is present in the body, it can start to have harmful effects, especially on the adrenal gland.
Other substances within the body increase blood flow, helping the muscles to perform more efficiently during times of danger. An example is nitric oxide, which also plays a role in immune responses and allergies.
Schizandra was demonstrated to increase the quantities of nitric oxide in athletes during a trial by Panossian in 1999. The athletes also had improved performance and increased stamina. Schizandra has been shown to be effective in combating the harmful buildup of these stress mediators in mice in trials by Lupandin and Lapajev in 1981, and Barnaulov and Shanin in 1991.
So Schizandra helps to release the chemicals needed to perform well under stress and then helps to prevent them from building up to toxic levels! This is clearly a case of the adaptogenic properties of Schizandra; adaptogens promote balance.
In addition to such tests examining the general stress mechanisms, several studies also have documented the effectiveness of Schizandra against specific types of stress:
Hot and Cold
Hot and cold are environmental factors that can exert great stress on the body. Both can kill, but they affect the body in completely different ways. The question is, can Schizandra help with either or both of these stresses?
To answer this question, scientists would have to test both hot and cold separately. Lupandin and Lapajev tested Schizandra’s usefulness in hot conditions in 1981, and Lebedev and Kamilov followed up in 1966.
They learned that Schizandra could help us to survive under extreme heat, reducing the death rate. Also, it helps to maintain endurance in hot conditions. It’s possible to keep swimming for longer after taking Schizandra.
Separate studies (again by Lupandin and Lapajev) looked at cold conditions. Schizandra can help to prevent damage from cold and it can also improve performance under cold conditions. To get the most benefit, the Schizandra must be taken before exposure to cold conditions.
It can even help to combat frostbite. In frostbite, cell death is caused by a lack of oxygen, as well as damage caused by the expansion of water in freezing cells. Schizandra reduces the cells’ demands for oxygen, which means they can last longer with less. That helps to reduce the damage caused by frostbite.
High and low air pressure are another source of environmental stress. Schizandra dramatically increases the body’s resilience to high air pressure, making you more likely to survive pressures that would otherwise kill you. Scientists think this happens because the brain and liver require less oxygen after taking Schizandra.
Under low-pressure conditions, Schizandra improves stamina by almost three times! It’s possible to keep swimming or running under low air pressure with Schizandra. These results were published by Konstantinov and Belonosov in the Fifties, and by Lupandin and Fruentov in 1968.
Pressure changes can be a factor in extreme sports. Climbing, diving, skydiving, and aerobatics all involve changes in air pressure. One of the great dangers is blacking out under pressure, and suffering injuries or death because of accidents. It would be beneficial for athletes and extreme sports enthusiasts to use Schizandra to improve their resistance to high and low pressure.
As recognized by Western science, the body is made up of many different systems that cooperate to keep us alive and functioning well. Schizandra was examined to see if it helped these systems. The results support the history and modern use of Schizandra as an adaptogen and all-around health tonic.
Central Nervous System
The central nervous system plays the critical role of relaying messages to and from the brain. Without it, you cannot move or feel. When the central nervous system is impaired, you feel clumsy and uncoordinated. You may feel numb or experience strange pains. Your nervous system can also be overstimulated, causing twitches or over-sensitive reflexes. These are typical drug effects, but illnesses and exhaustion can produce similar effects.
Schizandra was shown to have a beneficial effect in balancing the nervous system to produce a healthy, normal response, even after traumatic conditions.
The endocrine system comprises the various glands responsible for controlling organic function in the body. They release hormones into the blood and control the way your organs function. When they are working well, the body is healthy and efficient. Endocrine problems can cause strange organic effects, illness and disease. Eventually, they can lead to death.
Schizandra supports several parts of the endocrine system. It helps the adrenal glands to resist harm from physical stress and the side effects of testosterone and hydrocortisone.
It also helps to balance blood sugar levels and blood acidity. Researchers believe this is due to the effects that Schizandra has on the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. It is the byproducts of these metabolic processes that alter the blood sugar and acidity.
Schizandra has been shown to reduce excessive inflammation and fever, both of which are immune system functions. Excessive inflammation is a factor in a host of immune-system-related illnesses, allergies, and other conditions. It can be very painful or even life-threatening. Schizandra was effective as a treatment (after the inflammation began) and as a prevention (it stopped the inflammation from happening).
Also, Schizandra is a powerful anti-oxidant. Oxygen free radicals can harm the body and the immune system. By reducing them, Schizandra aids the immune system and reduces possible illnesses caused by radicals.
Too much stomach acid or too little are both bad conditions, and can cause problems if they are not remedied. Schizandra was shown to reduce excessive acid, and to increase acid when there wasn’t enough.
As an adaptogen, Schizandra works to maintain a healthy balance in the gastrointestinal system.
The cardiovascular system is essential to the continued functioning of the organs in the body. Therefore, any problem with the cardiovascular system can affect organs all over the body, causing a variety of problems to arise.
Schizandra aids breathing, blood flow and heart action. It reduces blood pressure and promotes healthy circulation.
Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2008). Pharmacology of Schisandra chinensis Bail.: An overview of Russian research and uses in medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, (2008)