Schizandra has reached a certain level of popularity over the last several decades, but its scientific support is relatively new in relationship to the ancient knowledge about this beloved herb that has been intertwined into Chinese culture for centuries. Known as the “herb that does it all” Schizandra was once coveted by Royal woman because of it’s incredible results as a beauty tonic. With woman holding this herb sacred, it was seen to also be used as a major support during childbirth. Once it came time to give birth, and the need arose to either bring labor on or speed it up, Schizandra was one of the first choices for induction.

Several modern experiments have recently been done in the west to support this theory. In one investigation, 20–25 drops of a Schizandra fruit tincture was administered to pregnant women who had reached or past their due date three times per day for 3 days. Induction of labor was observed after the second dose followed by an increase in active labor 2–3 hours after the initial induction. According to the study, 72 out of 80 women experiencing prolonged labor had great results after being treated. The activity was most pronounced in women who had previously given birth. Shortened labor times were reported, and no negative effects were seen regarding blood pressure, elimination of the placenta, or postnatal health of mother and infant. It was also seen through another investigation that the amplitude (or in other words, the strength) of contractions was increased substantially, which inevitably lead to a faster cervical opening and a faster labor. The activity was observed 1.5 hours after administration and persisted for 4 hours.

Since Schizandra’s affect on labor has to do with it’s uterine stimulating affect, most health care professionals will advice pregnant woman to avoid this herb during the duration of their pregnancy.  However, the use of adaptogens (to which Schizandra is widely known as one of the best) are widely used during pregnancy to help with fatigue and energy levels. A study conducted on women living in the Bryansk region of Ukraine, near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, assessed the effects of adaptogen administration on the health status of developing fetuses in pregnant women exposed to constant low-level radiation. In this study, “the symptoms of placental insufficiency improved, fetal protein status was stabilized, obstetric complications were reduced, and the health status of the newborn infants was improved.”  When using any herbal substance during pregnancy and childbirth, you should always work closely with healthcare professionals to be sure that you do not compromise safety.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing art with a history of over 3000 years. Traditional Chinese Medicine encompasses a unique system to diagnose and cure illness, but the depth of this philosophy and practice involves much more. TCM is based on some fundamental concepts that shape the way a practitioner sees and understands not only the human body, but the entire world.

TCM is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism. The beliefs on which TCM is based include the following:

  1. The human body is a dynamic system of functions and is understood through a holistic perspective of the larger, surrounding universe.
  2. Harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces called yin and yang supports health; disease results from an imbalance between these forces.
  3. Five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal, and water—symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.
  4. Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions and is integral to maintaining health.
  5. A complex system of “Meridians” act as the pathways to which Qi, bloods and vital fluids move through the body.

Since the philosophical origins of Taoism bases much of its thinking on observing the natural world in which it operates, it is no surprise to find that the Chinese medical system draws extensively on these natural metaphors.

Yin and Yang

Adaptogens
Yin and Yang are the opposing expressions of the same Qi energy, together they form the whole.

The meanings of Yin and Yang in Chinese Medicine are like the bright and dark sides of an object. Chinese philosophy uses Yin and Yang to represent a wide range of opposite properties in the universe such as cold and hot, slow and fast, still and moving, masculine and feminine, lower and upper, etc.

Yang

  • Moving
  • Ascending
  • Bright
  • Progressing
  • Hyperactive (including functional disease of the body)

Yin

  • Stillness
  • Descending
  • Darkness
  • Degeneration
  • Hypoactive (including tissue oriented disease)

Yin and Yang are opposing but at the same time they are mutually dependent. The nature of Yin and Yang is relative, with neither existing in isolation. Everything is a dynamic, flowing balance of both. As an example, day is Yang and night is Yin, but every moment throughout the cycle of a day is in constant change- early morning to mid day sees Yin ceasing, only to flow back again into late evening and then night. We see this within the changes of the seasons as well. Winter (Yin) transforms through the Spring and then into Summer (Yang), which in turn transforms through Autumn into Winter again. In nature we see seed (Yin) grow into the plant (Yang), which itself dies back to the earth (Yin).

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that human life is also a physiological process that is in constant motion and change. Under normal conditions, the waxing and waning of Yin and Yang are kept within flow and flux, reflecting a dynamic equilibrium. When the balance is broken- excess yin, excess yang, deficiency of yin or deficiency of yang- disease occurs.

For more information on Yin and Yang this article goes into detail.

The Theory of Five Elements

Similar to the theory of Yin Yang, the theory of five elements was an ancient philosophical concept used to explain the nature of the physical universe. In TCM the theory of five elements is used to interpret the relationship between the physiology and pathology of the human body and the natural environment. The visceral organs, as well as other organs and tissues, are classified by their characteristics of the five elements as they interact physiologically and pathologically. Based on the characteristics, forms, and functions of different phenomena, the complex links between physiology and pathology as well as the interconnection between the human body and the natural world are explained.

The five elements emerged from an observation of the various groups of dynamic processes, functions and characteristics observed in the natural world. The aspects involved in each of the five elements are follows:

five-element-smallFire: draught, heat, flaring, ascendance, movement, etc.

Wood: germination, extension, softness, harmony, flexibility, etc.

Metal: strength, firmness, killing, cutting, cleaning up, etc.

Earth: growing, changing, nourishing, producing, etc.

Water: moisture, cold, descending, flowing, etc.

Within the human system the elements exist (generally) in these ways:

Elements Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Flavor Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty
Zang Organ Liver Heart Spleen Lungs Kidneys
Fu Organ Gall Bladder Small Intestine Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder
Senses Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Tissue Tendon Vessel Muscle Hair Skin Bone
Directions East South Center West North
Changes Germinate Grow Transform Reap Store
Color Green Red Yellow White Black

 

The Zangfu (internal organs) System

The term “Zangfu” is a collective name for the various Yin and Yang organs identified in TCM. A Yin organ is called a Zang and a Yang organ is called a Fu. Each organ is considered to have its own functions, but these functions have a far wider scope than the purely physiological function described in Western medicine.

The Zang consists of the five solid (Yin) organs. They are:

  • Spleen
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Pericardium

A sixth organ called the Xin-Bao (Pericardium), not described in Western physiology, is also considered as a Yin organ (Zang). In general, TCM considers the Zang to stay deeply in the body and to be concerned with the manufacture, storage and regulation of the vital substances. For example, the Heart makes blood, the Lung governs Qi and the Kidney stores Jing or Essence. Each Zang is also correspondent to a sense organ and have an associated spiritual aspect. For example, the Liver connects to the eye and is associated with anger.

The Fu consists of the six hollow (Yang) organs. They are:

  • Small Intestine
  • Large Intestine
  • Gall Bladder
  • Bladder
  • Stomach
  • Triple Warmer or San Jiao (also not described in Western physiology)

In general, Fu organs have the functions of receiving, separating, distributing and excreting body substances.

All of these organs also have correlating meridians which central to Chinese medicine. This article explains the meridians in more detail.

Causes of Disharmony (pathogenesis)

TCM divides the causes of disharmony into three main areas:

Internal Causes: Illnesses caused by emotions. These primary emotions include anger, sadness, worry, fear, joy, grief, pensiveness and shock. While these emotions are normal and healthy responses to the many situations we encounter in daily life, they can cause disease and imbalance when they are prolonged or are not acknowledged over a long period of time.

External Causes: Disharmony that relates to climatic conditions. There are six of these conditions, usually known as the six pathogenic factors or the six outside evils. They are: wind, cold, damp, fire, dryness and summer heat. Different climatic conditions are appropriate during each season and we usually adapt to them as they come and go. However, extremes of weather such as a very cold winter or unseasoned weather such as a warm spell in winter make us more vulnerable to the effects of that climatic condition and we become ill if we do not seek balance in other ways. Also, people whose underlying energy is weak are more vulnerable to the effects of climatic conditions than those who have a strong constitution.

Miscellaneous Causes include work, exercise, diet, sexual activity and physical trauma. TCM thinks that these factors can have a profound influence on our bodies as well. For example, too much physical work can impair Qi, too much mental activity can damage the Spleen, someone who works outdoors is more liable to be at risk from the six outside evils, excessive sexual activity is considered to be damaging to the Kidney.

Diagnosis

In TCM, the diagnostic process is considered in four areas, known as the Four Examinations. These are:

Looking: complexion, eyes, tongue, nails, hair and stature.

Hearing and smelling: sound of voice and breath, odour of breath and skin.

Interrogation/asking: current complaints, health history, family health history, patterns of sleep, appetite, digestion, bowel movement, bladder, sweat, pain, emotional features and lifestyle features.

Touching: palpation of the body to discover body temperature, body moisture, pain and taking of the pulse.

Treatment modalities

Acupuncture, and the Meridian system

The practices of acupuncture is based on the theory of meridians. According to this theory, Qi (vital energy) and blood circulate in the body through a system of channels called meridians, connecting internal organs with external organs or tissues. By stimulating certain points of the body surface reached by meridians through needling, the flow of Qi and blood can be regulated and diseases are thus treated. These stimulation points are called acupuncture points, or acupoints.

Acupoints reside along more than a dozen of major meridians. There are 12 pairs (Yin and Yang) of regular meridians that are systematically distributed over both sides of the body, and two major extra meridians running along the midlines of the abdomen and back. Along these meridians more than three hundred acupoints are identified, each having its own therapeutic action. For example, the point Hegu (LI 4), located between the first and second metacarpal bones, can reduce pain in the head and mouth. The point Shenmen (HT 7), located on the medial end of the transverse crease of the wrist, can induce tranquilization.

In acupuncture clinics, the practitioner first selects appropriate acupoints along different meridians based on identified health problems. Then very fine and thin needles are inserted into these acupoints. The needles are usually left in situ for 15-30 minutes. Depending on the severity of the condition, practitioners could recommend multiple treatments in order to restore flow of Qi and permanent health of the organs and tissues.

Moxibustion

Acupuncture is often conducted in combination with Moxibustion. Moxibustion is the process where moxa sticks, made of dry moxa leaves (mugwort) is ignited and held about an inch above the patients’s skin over specific acupuncture points. Alternatively, moxa is packed and rolled in a long stick like a large cigar, about 15-20 cm long and about 1-2 cm in diameter. The purpose of this process is to warm the Qi and blood in the channels. Moxibustion is most commonly used when there is the requirement to expel cold and damp or to tonify the Qi and blood. A single treatment of moxibustion usually lasts 10-15 minutes.

Herbal Therapy

Together with acupuncture, herbal medicine is a major pillar of Chinese medicine. The Chinese pharmacopoeia lists over 6,000 different medicinal substances in terms of their properties and the disharmonies that they were helpful with. There are about 600 different herbs in common use today.

Herbs are classified in two major dimensions. The first dimension refers to the energy characteristics of the herb, namely hot, warm, cold, neutral, and aromatic. The second dimension refers to the taste property of the herb, namely sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and salty.

Chinese herbs do not normally possess just one quality. They are a combination of properties and temperatures and may reach one to as many as twelve organ systems. Here are a few examples of how herb qualities can affect and heal the body system. Sweet herbs are sticky in nature and if they are mixed with a cold herb they are useful in creating a medicine that promotes fluids. Their Yin property allows the energy of the body to be restored and also cure stomach and urine problems. The bitter herbs possess the quality of dryness. Whenever there is a defiance of Yin in the body this herb is used to cure the problem. The pungent herbs assist in the movement functions of the body. When this herb is mixed with a cold herb it is useful in solving joint problems and regulating the other movements of the body. The salty herb poses the quality to codify and dissolve. It is mostly obtained from the marine world where salt content is high. Astringent herbs are useful in supplying the useful components to the body. Sour herbs are quite rare in the Chinese medical cabinet, but when used have a softening and moisturizing affect. Overall, Chinese herbalism is a complex and integral part of TCM and takes many, many years for a practioner to master.

Qigong Therapy

The concept of Qi

Similar to the theory of Yin-Yang, Qi was derived from ancient Chinese philosophy, which believes everything is inter-connected. In traditional Chinese medicine, Qi is treated as the fundamental substance of the human body, and its movements explain various life processes. In its physiological sense, Qi constitutes, replenishes and nourishes the human body. Qi is often classified according to what it acts on. For example, the heart-Qi refers to the force with which the heart works and the blood circulates, so it regulates the cardiac function; the stomach-Qi refers to the force with which food is simulated, so it regulates the gastric function. The qi that maintains normal functioning for resistance against disease is called zheng-Qi, which means genuine energy or body resistance (immunity). Metabolism of materials and energy also depends on the action of Qi, including metabolism of blood, fluids and other essential materials.

Qi is formed from the inhaled oxygen, dietary nutrients, and the inborn primordial Qi stored in the kidney, which is compared in western thought to genetics. Qi circulates along the meridians. A healthy body requires normal circulations of Qi, and disease occurs if the flow of Qi is stagnated. The circulation of Qi is also closely related to mental conditions, and emotional instability may cause the stagnation of Qi. On the other hand, the exercise of mind can help the circulation of Qi, which is the ultimate purpose qigong exercise.

Qigong is an exercise to regulate the mind and breathing in order to control or promote the flow of Qi. Since Qi plays such an important role in the vital processes of the human body, the regulation of Qi flow is used to preserve health and treat disease. Medical qigong, the Qi exercise practiced to prevent and treat disease, is different from general physical exercise. While physical exercise is aimed at building up health or restoring physical function by enhancing strength, medical qigong is focused on the mobilization of functional potentialities by regulating the mind. Where physical exercise is purely somatic, qigong exercise is generally psycho-somatic. Another important difference between physical exercise and qigong is that physical exercise expends energy by tensing the muscles and accelerating the heart beat, while qigong works to ease, smooth and regulate breathing to store up or accumulate energy in the body.

Medical qigong can be divided into two main categories: internal qigong, which is practiced by the patients themselves to preserve and promote their own health, and external qigong, which is performed by a qigong master on a person with health problems. Practicing internal qigong requires regulation of the mind, body and respiration. There are many kinds of internal qigong, some with motion and others without. Qigong can be practiced while sitting still, standing upright, or lying on the back or side. The basic requirement is to stay comfortable and relaxed.

Tuina

Tuina is Chinese therapeutic massage. The word ‘Tuina’ actually means ‘pushing & grabbing’. Some of the common techniques include rolling, pushing, grasping, kneading, rubbing, vibrating, chopping, pinching, pressing, etc. These techniques are used individually and combined together on specific acupuncture points, along a channel or meridian, or a whole area of the body. Although best known for its capacity to heal joint problems and create relaxation, Tuina can also help many other disorders resulting from various kinds of blockages and imbalances.

Yin and Yang (pronounced yong, as in ‘gong’) is one of the most fundamental concepts in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is at the foundation of all diagnosis and treatment within TCM. The earliest known reference to Yin and Yang is in the I Ching (Book of Changes) from approximately 700 BC. In this work, all phenomena are said to be reduced to Yin-Yang.

The Scholars of Ancient Chinese culture were greatly interested in the relationships and patterns that occurred in nature. Instead of studying isolated things, they viewed the world as one holistic and harmonious and entity. In their eyes, no single being or form could exist unless it was seen in relation to its surrounding environment. By simplifying these relationships, they developed explanations of complicated phenomena in the universe. One of these explanations developed as the Yin Yang theory.

This theory was systematically expanded and written down by Tsou Yen of the Yin Yang (Naturalist) School in the Warring States Period of between 476-221 BC. The 5 Element Theory was developed around this same time. The Naturalist school focused on and promoted ideas of living in harmony with natural laws. Scholars of this school interpreted natural phenomena and observed how these are reflected in the human body in health and disease. From this, Yin and Yang and the Five Elements became an integral part of Chinese philosophy.

4 main aspects of the Yin-Yang relationship.

  1. Yin-Yang are opposites
    They are either on the opposite ends of a cycle, like the seasons of the year or the opposites on a continuum of energy or matter. This opposition is relative, and can only be spoken of in relationships. For example, water is Yin relative to steam but Yang relative to ice. Yin and Yang are never static but in a constantly changing balance.
  2. Yin and Yang are Interdependent and cannot exist without each other
    The Tai Ji diagram, shown below, attempts to show the relationship and interdependence of Yin & Yang. A static image cannot fully portray a notion that is never static in and of itself, and it is important to remember that nothing is totally Yin or totally Yang. Just as a state of total Yin is reached, Yang begins to grow. Yin contains seed of Yang and vise versa. They constantly transform into each other. For Example, there is no energy without matter, and no day without night. The classics state: “Yin creates Yang and Yang activates Yin”.
  3. Consumption of Yin and Yang through imbalance
    Relative levels of Yin Yang are continuously changing. In a healthy state this is a harmonious change, but when Yin or Yang are out of balance they affect each other, and too much of one can eventually weaken and consume the other. 
    There are 4 possible states of imbalance: Excess of Yin, Excess of Yang, Deficiency of Yin, Deficiency of Yang.
  4. Inter-transformation of Yin and Yang.
    One can change into the other when the timing is right. For example: Spring only comes when winter is finished.

24 Hour Yin Yang Cycle

On this Tai Ji diagram, 12 PM corresponds to Utmost Yang, while 12AM corresponds to Utmost Yin. The ancients observed 2 phases of constant cyclical change where Yin changes into Yang & back into Yin again. As always this is a continuous movement, and never static. Examples are the changes of four seasons, and the changes throughout a single day as seen below.

Yin and Yang 24 hour diagram

General Qualities of Yin and Yang

Yin Yang

Darkness Light

Moon Sun

Feminine Masculine

Shade Brightness

Produces form Produces energy

Grows Generates

Substantial Non-Substantial

Matter Energy

Contraction Expansion

Decending Rising

Below Above

Water Fire

Every one of these characteristics represents one of the 2 states of a continuum. For example Liquid water is in a Yin state, moves toward it’s Yang state of vapour with heat, and then moves back to liquid Yin as it cools. Even the qualities that appear absolute and static such as Masculine and Feminine are seen to be moving, flowing aspects of 1 thing.

Yin and Yang and the human body

Front and Back

The front of the human body is more soft and vulnerable and holds Yin qualities. The back, containing the spine that holds the ribs works as protection, which is more Yang in nature. All Yang channels within the body (except the Stomach channel) flow on the dorsal surface of the trunk and limbs, and all Yin channels flow on the anterior surface of the trunk and limbs.

Body and Head

Yang channels either end or begin on the head. Acupuncture points on the head can be used to raise Yang energy. When Yang energy is not cooled by Yin, it may rise to the head, causing signs such as red face and eyes. The head is easily affected by Yang pathogens such as heat and wind. The chest and abdomen (Yin) areas are more easily affected by Yin pathogens such as Cold and Dampness.

Interior and Exterior

The exterior of the body such as the skin and muscles are Yang. The exterior protects body from attack by external pathogenic influences such as Cold, Wind, etc. Classic texts simplify this theorem by saying: “Yang is on the outside and protects Yin”.

Below the waist and Above the Waist

Below waist on the human body is closer to earth carries more Yin. Above the waist is closer to Heaven and is Yang. The Upper body is more affected by Yang pathogens, and the lower part is more affected by Yin pathogens such as the cold and damp.

Blood, Body Fluids, and Qi

Qi can be described as Energy, which is primarily Yang. Blood is more material and is therefore Yin. However, there are several types of Qi and each is relatively more Yin or Yang. Ancestral QI is more Yin, and is slow moving. Ying Qi is more Yang than Ancestral Qi and moves with Blood with which it is closely related. Ying Qi is more Yin than Wei Qi. Wei Qi the most Yang form of Qi. It circulates in the exterior in the daytime to protect us from pathogenic influences, and regulates opening/closing of pores.

Yin Yang Organs

Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung, Kidney are described as the Yin Organs. The yang organs are the Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Gall Bladder, Urinary Bladder, and Stomach.

Yin Organs are “Solid”, constantly active, involved in production and storage of the body’s vital Substances such as Qi, Blood and Body Fluids. Yang Organs are “Hollow”, receive and circulate, transform, and are involved in digestion, transformation and excretion.

Inter-transformation of Yin and Yang in Medicine

Yin and Yang theory sees prevention of disease by living a balanced lifestyle. The following are several major examples:

  • Excessive work (Yang) without rest leads to deficiency of Yin energy.
  • Excessive consumption of cold food (Yin) leads to deficiency of body’s Yang energy.
  • Smoking (adding heat ‘Yang’ into Lungs) leads to deficiency of Yin of Lungs and eventually Kidneys.
  • Exterior cold (cold weather) can invade body and can change to heat (sore throat).
  • Deficiency of Spleen Yang can lead to Excess Interior Dampness (Yin), because the Spleen Yang is unable to properly transform fluids.

Adaptogens are a natural substance, mostly found in various herbs, considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes. In general, they are a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of the adrenal system, the system that is in charge of managing the body’s hormonal response to stress. Since hormones in the body are connected to practically every process that goes on throughout the day, this is a pretty big deal. Adaptogens help strengthen the body’s response to stress and enhance its ability to cope with anxiety and fight fatigue, increasing both vitality and stamina. A very common way to deal with fatigue and stress in our culture is to keep a steady flow caffeine and sugar in the diet. The problem with these popular products is that they don’t actually work in the long term and have heavy affects on health. A very interesting thing about Caffeine that most people don’t know is that it doesn’t actually make you more energetic, but rather makes you less able to feel that you are tired. It does this by inhibiting the binding of a chemical called adenosine to its receptors. Normally, when the adenosine hits certain receptors in your body, they relay this info back to your brain, giving it a sleepy message. If you decide to ignore this message and drink a cup of coffee, the Caffeine will actually prevent the binding of these receptors with adenosine,  and the message of fatique just doesn’t make it to the brain.

Adaptogens on the other hand, not only boost energy and stamina without jolts or crashes, but they take care of the whole picture but tackling long-term stress and hormonal balance as well. They’re called Adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the body’s specific needs. By acting directly within the adrenal system and balancing out the hormonal responses to a wide variety of stressors, Adaptogens greatly improve the body’s ability to deal with stress and premature fatigue that occurs very often in our day to day lives. They help to increase a person’s energy and ability to work by way of normalizing the body and enabling the energy to be used more productively.

What qualifies an herb as an Adaptogen? The term Adaptogen was coined in Russia in 1968 and was classified by three characteristics. First, Adaptogens are nontoxic, which means they can be safely taken for extended periods of time. Second, an Adaptogen produces a nonspecific biological response that improves the body’s ability to resist multiple forms of stress, including physical, chemical and biological. Third, they have a normalizing influence, meaning that whatever direction the stressors are throwing the body out of balance, Adaptogens help to bring the system back to centre. In keeping with the definition, modern herbalists say Adaptogenic herbs are plants with properties that exert a normalizing influence on the body, neither over-stimulating nor inhibiting normal body function, but simply exert a generalized tonifying effect.

Balance
Adaptogens promote a consistant state of balance and well being to your body and mind

 

What are the benefits of Adaptogens? For starters, Adaptogens provide an incredible benefit by normalizing the production of stress hormones. In addition to this basic stress-reducing action, or even because of it, Adaptogens have the following benefits as well.

Enhancing Energy: One of the positive effects of Adaptogens is that they help to increase a person’s energy and ability to work. As we saw earlier, they don’t act like stimulants, but through the process of hormone regulation they increase the body’s energy reserves, giving a person more stamina and endurance. Adaptogens also help people sleep better when they are under stress, allowing a person to have more energy during the day. This makes them particularly helpful for adrenal exhaustion from long-term stress.

They Normalize Immune Function: This means that they can boost the body’s ability to fight infection and can also reduce hyperactive immune reactions in allergies and auto-immune disorders. In China, Adaptogenic herbs are given to people undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer.

Improving Athletic Performance: Early research on Adaptogens demonstrated that they can enhance athletic performance. The experiments showed that these special herbs helped to reduce fatigue, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function and aid in building strength. Adaptogens such as rhodiola, eleuthero and cordyceps have been used in Olympic competition for their athletic benefits, and due to having no side affects, they have not been banned.

Enhancing Mood and Mental Performance: Long-term stress contributes to both anxiety and depression. High stress levels also tend to shut down higher brain function, which can make it difficult to think clearly. Whats even worse is that high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol actually destroy brain cells and inhibit memory. A greater ability to deal with stress will directly translate to mental success, a better mood and a stronger brain.

Protecting Cardiovascular Health: Adaptogens have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, helping to protect the heart and regulate blood pressure. Here again, they work both directions. Adaptogens have been seen to raise low blood pressure and reduce high blood pressure. There have also been studies showing that they have a moderate cholesterol balancing effect.

Balancing Blood Sugar: The hormone Cortisol causes the body to convert proteins from the muscles into sugars, which affects blood sugar levels. As a hormone balancer, Adaptogens help to regulate blood sugar levels and may help with insulin resistance in diabetes.

Balancing Reproductive Hormones: Adaptogens have positive benefits on the reproductive health of both men and women. In men, Adaptogens can enhance sexual desire, performance and fertility. In women they can enhance desire, improve fertility and relieve menstrual irregularities as well as ease menopausal symptoms.

Our bodies were designed to deal with stress for survival and longevity. The irony is that our modern society experiences prolonged and excessive stress and this overload can actually destroy our body, health and quality of life on the long term. Becoming aware of how to deal with this is integral to improving our experience of living. Adaptogens are a great supplement on the road to total health.

Qi (pronounced chee) is a word that we hear whenever we find ourselves in the vicinity any kind of Traditional Chinese Medicine and philosophy. Most people know the word and know a little bit about how the word is used. However, most people outside of intimate TCM circles are not entirely clear on what it means. One of the reasons for this is due to some major discrepancies within translations of Chinese texts about what the world actually is in English. Strictly speaking, there simply isn’t a word that directly translates or describes Qi accurately to the English language. The Chinese character “Qi” is the same word for air or gas, and yet we often describe Qi as “energy”.

The ancient Chinese people believed Qi was the most fundamental entity making up the world. They thought everything in the universe resulted from the movement and change of Qi. Having this apparent connection to air or gas, it is thought to have similar properties as these substances. Looking at it this way, Qi can be more easily understood through its interpretation as the “life energy” or “life force” of the body. Without air we would die within minutes. In TCM theory, Qi is the vital substance constituting the human body, but it also refers to the physiological functions of organs and meridians. Since it is difficult to find one equivalent English word or phrase that completely describes the nature of Qi, it is best defined according to its functions and properties.

Human Qi comes from two main sources. The first source is inherited from our parents at conception. It is known as the “innate vital substance”. The second source is obtained from essential substances such as the air we breathe, food and water. Both the inherited and the acquired vital energies are further processed and transformed by the organs. The kidney first sends the innate vital substance upwards where it combines with food essence derived from the spleen. It further mixes with the fresh air from the lungs where it finally forms into Qi of the body. By understanding how Qi is formed, TCM has identified two important factors necessary for maintaining health. By eating a healthy diet and breathing fresh air, the body extracts valuable essences and uses them to help form the energies of life.

Qi is seen to have 5 major functions in the body. The first is its function of promoting growth and function. Just as wind provides energy to push the sails of a boat, Qi provides the active, vital force necessary for the growth and development of the human body and to perform the physiological functions of the organs, meridians and tissues. In addition, Qi promotes the formation and circulation of blood and supports the metabolism of body fluid. If there is a deficiency of Qi, these functions are weakened. The second function is that of warming. In a gaseous state, air contains more kinetic heat energy than in its liquid state. Like air, Qi also contains heat energy for the body. Being a heat source, Qi warms the body and keeps it at a constant temperature so normal physiological functions can take place. Deficiency of Qi can lead to a lowered body temperature, intolerance of cold and cold hands and feet.  The third function of Qi is that of defense. In TCM, one of the main causes of disease is the invasion of “Evils”. “Evils” are environmental factors that lead to illness. They are classified as wind, summer heat, dampness, dryness, cold and fire. By resisting the entry of ‘ illness evils” into the body, Qi defends against their attack and maintains healthy physiological functions. In western terms, this function is the immune system. The fourth function of Qi is consolidation and retention. Qi consolidates and retains the body’s substances and organs by holding everything in its proper place. Qi keeps the blood flowing within the vessels and controls and adjusts the secretion of sweat, urine and saliva. Qi consolidates the organs and stops them from descending into a position where they cannot function properly. Lastly, Qi has a transforming function that is important for the metabolism of fundamental substances. Qi can “vaporize” substances in the body and transform them into essence or vital energy. Certain actions of Qi allow food to be changed into food essence, which is in turn transformed further into different types of Qi and blood. Indigestible food and waste are also transformed by Qi into urine and stools for excretion.

Qi is a complex substance that can be compared to many processes and classifications within western medicine and belief systems. Primarily, it’s depth is routed so heavily in the ancient ideas of TCM, that when attempting to understand and apply it, it is important to see it through the eyes of these traditional teachings.

The concept of a Meridian in TCM is slightly foreign to western medical ideas and thinking, they are quite different to other internal pathways such as blood vessels or the lymphatic system. So, what are Meridians and what is their function?

What are Meridians?

Simply put, Meridians are energy channels that exist throughout the body, carrying the fundamental substances of Qi, blood and body fluids. This distribution network called the Meridian System looks like a giant web, linking different areas of our body together. Its pathways make up a comprehensive yet complex map.

Philosophically, the Meridian System explains how we live and why we become sick, because if these pathways are blocked, energy and life is depleted. By connecting and uniting different parts of our body, Meridians provide the transport service for the fundamental substances of Qi, blood, and body fluids.

The flow of Qi in the Meridian System concentrates or “injects” in certain areas of the skin’s surface. These areas are very small points, otherwise known as the “acupuncture points”. Acupuncture points are located externally, and they affect the internal functions of our body by way of the Meridians. There are 365 acupuncture points, and each point belongs to a particular meridian channel that connects to specific organs.

The TCM Meridian System has 12 principal meridians that correspond to the yin and yang organs.

Yin organs are usually those without an empty cavity, they are:

  1. Liver
  2. Heart
  3. Spleen
  4. Lungs
  5. Kidneys
  6. Triple Warmer

Yang organs are organs with an empty cavity, they are:

  1. Gall Bladder
  2. Small Intestine
  3. Stomach
  4. Large Intestine
  5. Bladder
  6. Pericardium

Meridians linked with yin organs are known as yin meridians, and those linked to yang organs are known as yang meridians. In addition to the 12 principal meridians, there are eight extra meridians with further specified functions. Among these eight extra meridians, the Governing Vessel and the Conception Vessel are considered the most important channels, because they contain acupuncture points that are independent of the twelve principal meridians.

Although meridians work as a channel system carrying and distributing Qi and blood, they are not blood vessels and have no anatomical channel structure. Much Meridian research has been carried out over the years testing different hypotheses of how this system works. Hypotheses have been put forward, but western researchers have not yet come up with a definitive model that can give a complete anatomical description of the Meridian System in a language that is entirely understood by Western Medicine.

How The Meridian System Developed

According to the ancient literature of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the meridian theory developed in the following ways:

At first, it was simply the observation of a “needle” feeling projected elsewhere in the body when certain points on the skin were pierced by fine needles. It was found these “needle’ feelings were always felt on a particular skin area, following a certain direction and pathway. Over many centuries, ancient Chinese medicine philosophers worked out the patterns of the needle points (acupuncture points) in the body, which later formed the basis of the meridian theory.

Next, the observation of the effects of these new found acupuncture points was experimented with and tested.  Practitioners would stimulate different acupuncture points to get symptomatic relief from a particular ailment. As they practiced these acupuncture trials, they found points with similar effects were always distributed in an organized pattern. After classification and analysis, a meridian map was created.

Later on, the correlation of certain illnesses with acupuncture points was developed. The people gradually recognized when a particular disease or organ disorder occurred, they would feel pain in a particular part of their skin, which was often associated with a rash or skin color changes. These correlations were analyzed according to the ancient philosophies such as the yin-yang and the five elements theories and further developed into an integrated scientific and artistic model, which became the fundamentals of TCM.

Schizandra is the only adaptogen in all of TCM to activate all 12 primary meridians. That whole body balancing and purifying benefit is why Schizandra was placed in the superior class of Chinese herbs.

Schizandra is considered an alternative herbal supplement in North America, having experienced a growth in popularity in recent years. In Chinese medicine it has been an important medicine for thousands of years, engrained deeply into the fabric of it’s culture. More recently, within the last century in Russia, the mass of post war clinical studies have provided a scientific basis for Schizandra’s healing properties to be accepted into the medical mainstream.

The established medicinal use of Schizandra is reflected in Russia’s major pharmacological guides and medical textbooks, dating from the former USSR (but still presently used). The most authoritative work on Russian medicine is a manual created for doctors, called the “Medicinal Drugs Manual on Pharmacotherapy”. This manual has been updated regularly and covers every drug approved by the Ministry of Health. The manual lists Schizandra as a stimulant and anti-fatigue drug, and states that it has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. It further explains that in the event of mental exhaustion it increases the capacity of work, and should be taken under physical strain, physical and mental fatigue, or the event of extreme drowsiness. The reference to Schizandra has remained unchanged since the 8th edition of 1978 to the most recent volume of 2000.

Another important and frequently used textbook of Russian medicine is “Pharmacognosy: With Fundamentals of Biochemistry of Medicinal Herbs(1978)”. This book provides the following information: “Stimulating effects of Schizandra fruits and seeds are widely known. They are used to produce tinctures. Working capacity increases “softly” without subjectively felt excitement.” It goes further to describe the general strengthening effect of Schizandra on the human organism, including increased muscular force, vital lung capacity, and an increase in resistance to unfavorable factors of the environment.

A third source is “Medicinal Plants of the USSR and their Use by Turova (1974)”. Here, the following paragraph appears: “Clinical studies of Schizandra’s effect on visual functions of the eye are of special interest. Acuteness of vision increased to some extent in all patients with different visual disorders under the effect of Schizandra tincture. Since more than half of the patients had complicated progressive myopia with very low acuteness of vision, this therapy can be considered highly effective.” This particular study being referred to was carried out at the Ophthalmologic Department of the Area Hospital in Ulianovsk. Based on clinical studies it was concluded that Schizandra has a tonic and stimulatory effect during fatigue and increases the mental and physical work capacity. The absence of any essential side effect allowed for placing Schizandra in the category of the most valuable stimulating drugs.

Throughout the extensive body of Russian scientific research published in these books, alongside other sources like articles in Russian scientific journals, there runs a consistent theme regarding the effectiveness of Schizandra. This has spearheaded the extensive use of the herb for more than 30 years in the official Russian medical system.

A great deal of scientific evidence has been documented showing that Schizandra increases endurance and mental performance in patients with mild fatigue and weakness. It has also been shown to increase all of these things in healthy, high functioning individuals. Like the long popular herb ginkgo, Schizandra optimizes norepinephrine and dopamine levels, increasing the brain’s ability to maintain focus and concentration. Overall endurance has been shown to improve in all ways with both short term and prolonged use of this super tonic.

As an adaptogen, Schizandra normalizes and balances pathways in the body to bring about greater overall stability in the face of mental, emotional, physical, or environmental stress that might otherwise cause fatigue. The general definition of endurance is the ability to maintain efficiency during physically stressful activities, which is why Schizdandra works to heavily increase endurance on many levels. Schizandra balances levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, maintaining immune and organ function. It’s unique ability to protect the body from intense stress damage helps to provide a more resilient endocrine, immune, and central nervous system. Because of it’s phenomenal ability of sharpening mental focus, enhancing memory skills, and increasing concentration, endurance is supported from every angle. These factors well explain its reputation among athletes and those doing other physically demanding activities to help increase their physical endurance and stamina.

In addition to modulating stress hormones in the blood, Schizandra also increases physical endurance by exciting the adrenergic (adrenaline) system, which leads to deeper breathing with an increase in both the consumption of oxygen and the production of carbon dioxide. Further pharmacological studies have also shown that Schizandra increases physical endurance and affords a stress-protective effect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors including heat shock, skin burn, cooling, frostbite and immobilization. Numerous clinical trials have also demonstrated the efficiency of Schizandra in epidemic waves of influenza, in chronic sinusitis, in pneumonia, acute gastrointestinal diseases, chronic gastritis, and wound healing.

In a previous post we looked at the 5 elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how Schizandra is one of the only natural herbs that balances and tones all of them together. The 5 elemental theory is not only a way to categorize the major organs and systems in the body, but is a theory that is used to describe the movement and the relationship between different elements, functions and phenomena in nature; both inside and outside of the body.

In Chinese medicine, the emotional body is a major factor in health and healing. The major emotions are connected intimately to each of the major organs in the body, as well as everything connected to it’s associated element. For example, if a major organ in the body is sick or under functioning, the emotional body related to that organ is seen as imbalanced and is treated accordingly to facilitate overall healing.

When treating illness, TCM looks at the body as a complex system which is intimately connected to the mind, emotions and outer environment. Healing therefor cannot happen effectively without dealing with the whole picture. This is one of the major differences between TCM and western medicine.

Emotional Signs Of An Elemental Imbalance

  1. Under the Wood element is the Liver and gallbladder. The sense organ is the eyes and the energy is associated with the function of wood in nature. The unbalanced emotion of the Liver is Anger. When someone has chronic or longstanding issues with Anger, the Liver and gallbladder are most definitely suffering.
  2. Under the Fire element are the heart and the small intestine, and the sense organ is the tongue. The unbalanced emotion is anxiety and depression. To become balanced in this element is to experience a steady feeling of joy.
  3. Under the Earth element are the spleen and stomach. The sense organ is the mouth, and the unbalanced emotion is primarily worry. This is a very large issue in our current society, because chronic stress is related intimately to chronic worry.
  4. Under the Metal element are the Lung and large intestine and the sense organ is the nose. The unbalanced emotion is grief and sadness.
  5. Under the Water element are the kidneys and the sense organ is the ears. The unbalanced emotion is fear.

An unhealthy mind and soul leads to an unhealthy physical body, and vise versa. Anger, depression, anxiety, worry, grief and fear have been addressed by traditional Chinese medicine for over 5 thousand years. They are the major emotional imbalances for humanity. The connection between the emotional body and the physical body has always been understood and used in diagnosis and treatment of TCM. This connection is shown clearly by the various organs tissues, and unbalanced emotions belonging to each of the five elements. Looking at health this way gives us a holistic approach to healing and is often the answer to chronic conditions that conventional medicine does not seem to have a cure for.

Schizandra was recently rated among the top 10 best herbal supplements for women, based on it’s ability to provide substantial detoxification and anti-aging affects. Schizandra berries have gained this significant reputation as an anti-aging herb because they are particularly high in anti-oxidant compounds and other phytonutrients.

In its traditional use in China, Schizandra was an herb only for royalty, and most every Royal Woman had an intimate relationship with it. It was believed to contain all three primary life energies: Jing, Qi and Shen, and was used to restore vitality and extend life. It was also quite often included in other herbal formulas in order to smooth and strengthen the effect of the accompanying herbs.

Schizandra is not a simple medicine. It contains multiple active ingredients, including the enzyme called Schizandrin B, which enhances glutathione production from the liver. Glutathione is the bodies naturally produced anti-oxidant and is critical to protect the body from every day chemicals and toxins. Schizandra contains lignans that help restore a stressed nervous system, and even a mild phytoestrogen that protects the heart in post-menopausal women.

Internal health is vital, and when it is high functioning, we get to experience outer beauty. Schizandra is renowned for its beauty effects. In particular, it has been shown to maintain collagen production and moisture in the skin. This super tonic is widely recommended for those who have been exposed to things that accelerate the aging process such as stress, smoking and environmental pollutants.

These vital berries also improve memory, prevent deterioration of eyesight, and have a mildly calming effect. Quite simply, it is an anti-aging herb that keeps on giving. For an added tip: Schizandra is very valuable for those who rely on long-term use of pain-killers or other pharmaceuticals. Because it protects and supports liver cells, Schizandra can be used to prevent the mild liver damage that occurs with chronic use of drugs. At the same time, it is so gentle, that it will not interfere with the action of the drug itself. At Lucidera we believe in the importance of choosing optimally sourced, organic Shizandra, because being a fruit, Schizandra is particularly vulnerable to contamination from chemicals or pesticides.

A pure and powerful herb, Shizandra is a gift from nature for inner and outer health and beauty, prolonging youthful vitality and strength. It is no wonder that it was kept a secret for so long by the Royal and the wise.