Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) has been revered for thousands of years as one of 50 “fundamental herbs” in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) because of its adaptogen and tonic effects on the body; effects that prove beneficial for male and female fertility health.
The TCM text titled the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica, that dates back to the first century BC, was the first to outline the health benefits of Schisandra berries and seeds. Schisandra contains large amounts of lignans, volatile oils, glycosides and organic acids. Each active constituent working together as a whole to offer this herb’s medicine.
- Fun Fact: TCM values the relationship between an herbal medicine and its taste. Schisandra is one of those valued for its tastes indicated by its traditional Asian name Wu Wei Zi the “Five Flavor Fruit”. The berries and seeds are astringent (causing contraction of body tissues), yet demulcent (moistening) and possess five flavors. The whole fruit/berry is salty, but the flesh and peel taste both sweet and sour, and the seed is bitter and rather pungent.
TCM classifies herbs by both their energetic characteristics (hot, cold, aromatic, etc.) and tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, etc.). In TCM, it is believed that a combination of both energetic characteristics and tastes of the herbs influence balance of the body systems, the body’s yin and yang energy patterns, and organ health. That Schisandra possesses five flavors makes it impactful on a number of organs and body systems and is the reason why this herb offers so many balancing qualities.
The word adaptogen [adap·to·gen] is defined as “a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.” This stress can be physical, emotional, biological/physiological, or environmental.
Adaptogenic herbs help the body “adapt” to stress in order to:
- regulate stress hormone production to maintain normal organ function during stress
- increase resistance to stress
- restore homeostasis or balance after stressful events/experiences
- perform healthy metabolic functions
- reduce incidents of and prevent illness
How Schisandra May Help With Fertility
The list of modern uses of Schisandra exceeds those that I share here, those beneficial for boosting and supporting fertility health. In TCM is it believed to be beneficial for deficiencies of the five yin organs; the heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys and the liver. Schisandra imparts its balancing benefits on fertility by supporting the function of these organs, as they all play a vital role in reproductive health. Let’s dig a bit deeper to learn just how Schisandra can help to improve fertility by connecting the dots…
Nervous System and Immune System Function
Many couples experience a heightened state of stress while trying to conceive. Stress is even more profound for those diagnosed with infertility. Schisandra is helpful for managing stress through its action on the nervous and immune systems.
A depleted immune-system, as a result of stress, is believed to leave the body open to illness, infection and lowered healing time and response. It may also lead to chronic anxiety, depression, anger, and worry. Schisandra stimulates a healthy immune response within the body which decreases the chance of infection and speeds healing and recovery – to “guard against disease caused by over-stress”. Schisandra could also be considered by those experiencing immune-related infertility issues.
Schisandra also addresses stress through its action on the nervous system:
- it is a mildly stimulating nervine that enhances reflexes, performance and mental capacity
- it is calming to the nervous system helping to relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress-induced breathing problems and heart palpitations, depression, insomnia (sedative) and possibly dream-disturbed sleep
Endocrine Health and Hormonal Balance
Schisandra supports healthy endocrine system function. The endocrine system helps the body maintain hormonal balance, coordinating the delivery of hormones throughout the body.
Studies on male and female mice have shown the effects that Schisandra has on fertility. Results of the studies showed that male mice produced more sperm and female mice showed enhanced ovarian function when given Schisandra.
Schisandra may also be useful for two hormonal female health issues – night sweats during times of hormonal changes, especially during menopause and PMS.
Breakdown and Detoxify the Body of Excess Estrogen
The primary active constituents in Schisandra are lignans. Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen that are found in a variety of plant foods. Bacteria in the human intestines convert lignans to lignan precursors which are known to have weak, but beneficial estrogenic activity within the body. These lignan precursors and the plant’s fiber attach to excess estrogen so it can be removed via the body’s systems of elimination. Herbalist, Dalene Barton-Schuster, helps clarify why estrogenic herbs offer fertility health benefits in the article Herbs and Supplements with Estrogen Action Q&A.
Herbalists Simon Mill and Kerry Bone note in their text Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy that Schisandra, because of the support it offers the liver, may be beneficial for accelerating the breakdown of estrogen and “influence the underlying pathology of endometriosis.” They share that “taking a phytoestrogen helps to modify the effects of oestrogen.”
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Naturopathic Doctor Angela Hywood shares in Dr. Aviva Romm’s book Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, “that botanical PCOS treatments should first address stress and that adaptogenic herbs should be given primary consideration.” One helpful adaptogen herb for women living with PCOS is Schisandra which may also “counteract the effects of sugar… and normalize blood sugar[levels]”, two important benefits for those with insulin-resistant PCOS.
Schisandra is an aphrodisiac and tonic for both male and female sex organs and is commonly used for “increasing zest for life”. It has been found beneficial for men experiencing premature ejaculation and spermatorrhea which is involuntary ejaculation.
Schisandra is hepatoprotective, which means it helps to protect the liver from damage. It helps to regenerate liver cells and supports the liver’s ability to detoxify. “Schizandra berries contain both glutathione peroxidase and gomisin-A which are compounds that are highly beneficial for the liver and can help prevent liver inflammation and tissue destruction.” Liver health is a key component to hormonal balance and reproductive function.
Schisandra is a cholagogue, meaning it stimulates and increases the flow of bile into the intestines. Bile aids the digestion, breakdown, distribution and absorption of nutrients by the digestive system; particularly fats and fat-soluble vitamins. By stimulating bile flow, digestion is improved and the body can then properly utilize nutrients offered by foods, herbs and supplements. The building blocks for everything in our bodies come from the foods we eat. Having a healthy digestive system, one that can get the most nutrition from the foods it consumes is going to have better health.
As an antioxidant, Schisandra is known to “energize RNA-DNA molecules* to rebuild cells”. Remember those lignans I referred to earlier? Well, lignans are also anti-inflammatory and help protect healthy cells from free radicals (free radicals damage cells), but are also believed to activate enzymes in liver cells. These liver cells produce glutathione which is an important antioxidant in nearly every cell in the body that protects the cell from free radicals.
Antioxidants “play a key role in neutralizing the estimated 10,000 “oxidative hits” each cell suffers a day.” They destroy free radicals in cells before the free radicals can attack DNA causing damage to the cells or cell death, which may leave the body susceptible to disease and illness.
*DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the body’s blueprint that must be read properly in order for its cells to exist and remain functional. RNA (or ribonucleic acid) helps transcribe and translate the blueprint, and in turn guide the cell’s actions.
How to Use SchisandraGeneral Suggested Use:
Schisandra berries can be eaten raw, cooked or dried, purchased in capsule or tincture (liquid extract). It is best to follow the suggested use guidelines on the label of the Schisandra product you purchase, as the guidelines may vary…
Here are 3 fun and delicious ways to take Schisandra daily:
- Decoction – gently simmer 1 tsp. dried berries in 8 ounces of water for 5 -10 minutes and then steep for 30 minutes more, covered. Let cool some, strain, and squeeze the excess liquid from the berries into a mug. Drink 4 ounces, twice a day.
- Infusion in juice – Pour ½ cup dried berries into 1 gallon of dark fruit juice (fresh squeezed is best). Allow berries to soak for a day (24 hours) and strain. Store chilled and take 1 tsp. per day as needed.
- Glycerite (glycerin-based liquid extract) – Soak dry berries in glycerin for one month, strain and consume 1 tsp. per day.
The Botanical Safety Handbook classifies Schisandra as a class 1: History of safe traditional use and no case reports or clinical reports of significant adverse events.
- Not to be used during pregnancy unless otherwise directed by a qualified midwife, herbalist or healthcare provider. Schisandra has been used in pregnancy to assist childbirth due to its oxytocic and uterine contracting effects. It may also reduce postpartum hemorrhage.
- Schisandra is best avoided if experiencing peptic ulcers, epilepsy or high blood pressure.
- Schisandra allergies have presented in those allergic to it as a rash on hands, chest and lower back.
- High doses of Schisandra may lead to stomach pain and gastrointestinal upset which subside when the herb is stopped.