Herbs for Health: Schisandra, Dandelion and Saw Palmetto

New developments in herbal health for the liver, diabetes and BPH.

| June/July 1997

Schisandra for the liver

Numerous studies have shown that the fruit of schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) can lower serum levels of certain enzymes associated with liver disease, thus protecting the liver and promoting regeneration of liver tissue. A recent study in Argentina sought to determine whether the “five-flavor fruit” (wu-wei-zi in traditional Chinese medicine) would improve the performance of sluggish racehorses, which have high levels of these enzymes in their blood.

Two groups of twelve poorly performing racehorses of similar age, weight, temperament, and training at the San Isidro Sporting Club in Buenos Aires exhibited high levels of two liver enzymes and creatinine phosphokinase (CPK), an enzyme found in striated and heart muscles that is excreted during intense anaerobic exercise. High levels of this enzyme in association with high levels of serum lactic acid can lead to muscle damage.

One group of horses received a standardized schisandra extract while the other group received a placebo. After seven and fourteen days, levels of all three enzymes were significantly lower in the treated horses than in those in the placebo group. Fifty percent of the treated horses also performed better. Researchers attributed the improvement to a recovery from liver damage and lowered CPK levels due to decreased lactic acid.

The genus Schisandra, related to magnolias, comprises about twenty-five species of aromatic woody vines, all native to eastern Asia except S. coccinea, which grows in the southeastern United States. S. chinensis is grown as an ornamental in Europe for its showy, shiny red fruits, which have a combined sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent flavor, but is rarely seen in this country.(1)

Dandelion and diabetes

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), America’s most underappreciated weed, has been used in European traditional medicine to promote urination, stimulate the appetite and flow of bile, and in the treatment of diabetes mellitus (excess sugar in the blood). Now researchers at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Leuven, Belgium, are studying the effect of dandelion root extract on reducing the clumping of human blood platelets in blood vessels, a condition that is worsened in arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a common complication of diabetes.

A preliminary study showed that two chemical fractions extracted from dandelion root strongly inhibited platelet aggregation. Further studies are planned to isolate the active compounds and determine their mode of action.(2)

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