Schisandra (or Schizandra) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times for promoting well-being and vitality. Today, Schisandra is used in a similar manner in a number of preparations for medicinal and nutraceutical use designed for antioxidant, as an adaptogen, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, CNS dysfunctions related to old age, and for a treatment in cancer and diabetes. The activity of Schisandra is thought to be due to a complimentary and potentiating action between its principal active components, including lignans (Opletal et al., 2001). This theory makes sense if Schisandra is viewed as an adaptogen, an herb thought to be able to balance the body functions and response to stress.
Schisandra is an ancient herb that is just becoming known by the larger world market. Numerous case reports have been documented in traditional Chinese medicine, but so far Schisandra is lacking for clinical support and little is known of its potential for adverse reactions.
Schisandra has been the subject of numerous uncontrolled clinical trials in China that are referred to in a Chinese materia medica, for the treatment of hepatic disorders (hepatitis), athletic performance, Parkinson’s disease, neuroses, and pregnancy and labor disorders (to strengthen uterine contraction) (McKenna et al., 2001). Additionally, Schisandra has been included in a couple clinical trials recently in herbal formulations, where it is not known how much Schisandra contributed to the result of the trials. One of these trials is included below because it only included one other active treatment.
Panossian et al. (1999) conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study on the effects of the adaptogens, Shisandra chinensis and Bryonia alba in athletes. It was shown that the treatment with adaptogens raised the concentration of nitric oxide and cortisol in the blood plasma and saliva in a similar manner to athletes that are undergoing heavy physical exercise. Furthermore, it was noted that after the treatment with the adaptogens, when the athletes underwent heavy physical exercise, the nitric oxide and cortisol were not elevated, in contrast to the placebo group who showed increased nitric oxide. The authors presented that due to this fact, nitric oxide could be used for the evaluation of physical loading as well as an adaptogen exhibiting stress protection.
Safety / Dosage
Usual dosage of Shisandra for liver health and adaptogenic support is between 200-800 mg daily.
Schisandra is generally regarded as safe, even though toxicity and adverse reaction testing has not been well-documented, with the only reported side effects being dizziness or diarrhea, which can be mitigated by reducing dosage. Schisandra may induce uterine contraction, and therefore should be avoided by pregnant women (McKenna et al., 2001).
1.McKenna DJ, Jones K, Hughes K (eds). Botanical Medicines: A Desktop Reference for the Major Herbal Supplements. 2001 Haworth Press: New York
2.Opletal L, Krenkova M, Havlickova P. Phytotherapeutic aspects of diseases of the circulatory system. 7. Schisandra chinensis (Turcz. Baill.): its composition and biological activity. Ceska Slov Farm. 2001 Jul;50(4):173-80.
3.Panossian AG, Oganessian AS, Ambartsumian M, Gabrielian ES, Wagner H, Wikman G. Effects of heavy physical exercise and adaptogens on nitric oxide content in human saliva. Phytomedicine. 1999 Mar;6(1):17-26.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This monograph can be found in The Health Professional's Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins) by Shawn M. Talbott, PhD and Kerry Hughes, MS.