Schisandra Chinensis is famous in the herbal medicine world for being used for multiple systems in the body and overall general health. Most people believe herbs work on single systems, for example, milk thistle is a liver herb, and burdock is used for the skin. Schisandra bucks this trend and it is suitable. As you will learn, if you read that Schisandra is suitable for multiple systems in the body, making it one of the most versatile herbs in pharmacopeia. Every herbalist who makes up herbal tinctures has a Schisandra bottle on their shelf because it could find its way in almost every herbal formula.
While this review focuses on the last five years of scientific research, it is worth noting that Schisandra has been described in numerous medicinal textbooks and ancient manuscripts as a valuable herbal medicine for many thousands of years. The International Pharmacopeia and pharmacopeias’ in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, American, and Russian all record Schisandra exerts liver protection, neuroprotection, cardiovascular protection, glucose and lipid regulation, and other therapeutic effects according to modern medical science.
The last five years have been kind to Schisandra, and the medical evidence continues to grow. This article  will have a look back over the last five years and the studies that have looked into Schisandra.
Nrf2 = Antioxidant
Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2) like-2 (or as it is known to its friend, Nrf2) plays a pivotal role in the human body’s antioxidant defence. Nrf2 regulates the expression of multiple antioxidant factors such as heme oxygenase-1, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen, dehydrogenase quinone 1, catalase, and superoxide dismutase. The literature has found that Schisandra activates Nrf-2, which is the dominant mechanism by which Schisandra serves as an antioxidant.
This differs from traditional antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. These antioxidants absorb an electron which, by definition, makes this substance an antioxidant. They become a free radical themselves, but the free radical chemical they turn into isn’t as dangerous as the original radical. They then shuttle the electron onto other antioxidants. The Nrf2 activated antioxidants are various because, unlike the vitamins, the antioxidant systems driven by Schisandra are made within the body.
Schisandra inhibits excessive inflammation.
Excessive inflammation is the scourge of the human body. Localised and acute inflammation is a beneficial effect compared to chronic and uncontrolled inflammation that ravages the Western world. One example of excessive inflammation is a disease that kills more people than any other disease, and that is atherosclerosis or heart disease. The muscle that is the heart requires blood, and it doesn’t just grab blood as it is passing through the heart. The arteries that feed the heart blood can get blocked. It all begins via vascular damage to the wall of the artery and inflows immune cells. These immune cells then grab damaged/oxidised cholesterol particles from the bloodstream and form foam cells. These foam cells then form fatty streaks in the arteries. These arteries then clog up and if the fatty plaque ruptures, you get a clot forming and possibly occluding the artery feeding vital blood and oxygen to a part of the heart muscle. If that part of the heart is large enough and important enough, you die, unless you are rapidly treated. Thus, heart disease can be simply described as oxidation and inflammatory disease.
The good news is that Schisandra is a brilliant herb to reduce oxidation (as previously discussed) and is also anti-inflammatory. Both of these pathologies usually go hand in hand. The key driver for inflammation is nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-kB), and this chemical is driven by oxidative stress. NF-kB then goes on to drive inflammatory and immune factors throughout the body. One such inflammatory chemical often associated with pathologies includes Tumour Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a) and other nasty inflammatory substances. Keep in mind; it is only when inflammation occurs chronically.
Below are the mechanisms by which the lignans from Schisandra blocks inflammation. Note the multiple sites where the lignans come in to reduce the inflammation.
The neuroprotective effects of Schisandra
As we age, the risks of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). AD scares most people as they age because of the devastating consequences of the disease on individuals and their families. AD is characterised by memory loss, confused processing of thoughts, moods, and aphasia. This, unfortunately, gets worse and isn’t reversible. AD sufferers also get a build-up of plaques in the brain called Ab plaques. It leads to a progressive loss of mental function until the individual simply mentally at least, ceases to exist. There is no known cure for AD, and the treatments for AD are limited.
The best approach to this and pretty much every disease is to prevent it. Especially with neurodegenerative disease, there is no option but prevention. The good news is that once again, Schisandra has been found to protect against neurodegeneration. And while this doesn’t mean we have cured AD, we can help stave off this insidious disease.
The last 5 years of research into Schisandra have revealed some interesting mechanisms by which the ligands help prevent AD. Schisandra works at the neurotransmitter level, which improves the functioning of the brain. Another way Schisandra has a positive effect on the brain is via the metabolism of the important fatty acid that is found in the brain called linoleic acid. Scientists have also found that the build-up on Ab plaques in the rat Alzheimer model can be reduced when rats were given Schisandra. While this research is in its early stages, more extensive studies on humans are required.
The take-home message
Schisandra is a kick-ass herb. It has been used for thousands of years in many countries, and even today, it is popular amongst modern herbalists. The three areas discussed here and researched in the last five years drive many pathologies. Dietary antioxidants are vital to curbing many of the Western diseases that kill millions and put a lid on inflammation.
 Zhou Y, Meng L, Sun Y, Wei M, Fan X. Pharmacodynamic effects and molecular mechanisms of lignans from Schisandra Chinensis Turcz. (Baill.), a current review. Eur J Pharmacol. 2021 Feb 5;892:173796. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2020.173796. Epub 2020 Dec 17. PMID: 33345853.