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Hawthorn: The Safe Heart Tonic that Improves Blood Supply to the Heart

Long before most herbs are promoted in the United States, they are approved as medicines by the German government and are reviewed by Commission E, a group of experts and authorities responsible for the creation of monographs similar to the official summaries used to regulate drugs in the United States. Commission E monographs describe each herb, its applications, the appropriate dosage and contraindications. Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha, C. monogyna) is one of these herbs, and has been prescribed by European doctors for years to treat various heart conditions including hypertension and hypotension, elevated cholesterol levels, angina, congestive heart failure, and atherosclerosis12, and to improve breathing capacity, physical performance, and general heart function.

Although there are about 280 known species of hawthorn, the plant from which medicinal extracts is obtained is a spiny shrub native to the northern wooded temperate zones of eastern North America and Europe.3 

Hawthorn was initially documented by the first century Greek herbalist Dioscorides and later by the Swiss physician Paracelsus. According to Christian legend, the Crown of Thorns was believed to be made of hawthorn. Because of this, the herb was thought to possess miraculous healing properties. In ancient Greece, hawthorn was a symbol of hope and happiness, while in Rome, it was considered a potent charm.

Hawthorn berries are edible and the herb has an excellent safety record with plenty of clinical evidence to support its cardiovascular benefits. Clinical use of the herb for cardiovascular disease and heart ailments, however, didn't begin in Europe until the nineteenth century.45

Chemical composition

Hawthorn's health benefits are due to the active flavonoid compounds found in its leaves, berries and blossoms, particularly anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These flavonoids are powerful antioxidants and are responsible for the red-to-blue colors found in hawthorn berries and also blackberries, cherries, blueberries, grapes, and flowers.6

How does hawthorn support cardiovascular health?

  • Appears to improve the metabolism of the heart, thereby increasing strength and promoting regular contractions of the heart, helping to normalize arrhythmias8
  • Has a relaxing effect that helps regulate blood pressure and treat hypertension9
  • Can be useful in the recovery period after a heart attack by strengthening the heart muscle, and improving blood flow and oxygen to the heart, and in treating congestive heart failure1011 
  • Helps prevent free radical damage1213 
  • Improves blood flow, oxygen and nutrients to the heart by dilating blood vessels78, and helps alleviate the pain associated with angina

Lowers blood pressure

Hawthorn is thought to lower blood pressure and strengthen heart-muscle function by relaxing and dilating blood vessels, producing a mild diuretic effect, and acting as both a natural calcium channel blocker and an ACE inhibitor.8914 ACE, short for angiotensin converting enzyme, refers to an enzyme that reduces sodium retention and blood pressure. Be patient though. Hawthorn can take two to four weeks to lower blood pressure.

Helps prevent and treat atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis remains a major cause of death in the United States. The good new is the proanthocyanidins in hawthorn help reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the size of existing atherosclerotic plaques15, probably due to their ability to stabilize collagen, the most abundant protein in the body. Cholesterol is deposited within the artery when the collagen matrix of the artery is weakened, and scientists believe that atherosclerotic plaques will not form if the collagen matrix remains strong. Studies in which laboratory animals were fed proanthocyanidin extracts showed a decrease in serum cholesterol levels and the reversal of atherosclerotic lesions.15

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References

  1. Ammon HPT, Handel M. Crataegus: toxicology and pharmacology.Planta Medica 1981;43:318-22.

  2. Petkov V. Plants with hypotensive, antiatheromatous and coronary dilating action. A J Chin Med, 1979;7:197-236. 

  3. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP), British Herbal Medicine Association. Exeter, U.K. 1996. pp. 98-101. 

  4. Anschutz, E.P. New, Old and Forgotten Remedies. Boericke and Tafel. Philadelphia, PA, 1900. 

  5. Hobbs, C. and S. Foster. "Hawthorne-a literature review."Herbalgram,1990;22:19-33. 

  6. Murray, Michael T., N.D. The Healing Power of Herbs. Prima Health. Rocklin, CA. 1995; pp. 203-204. 

  7. Tyler, V.E. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicines. Pharmaceutical Products Press: New York. 1994. 

  8. Petkov V: Plants with hypotensive, antiatheromatuous and coronarodilating action. Am Chin Med, 1979;7,197-236. 

  9. Uchida S, et al. Inhibitory effects of condensed tannins on angiotensin converting enzyme. Jpn J Pharmacol, 1987; 42, 
    242-245. 

  10. Brown, D.J. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Prima Publishing: Rocklin, CA.1996. 

  11. Newall, C.A.; L.A. Anderson and J.D. Phillipson. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press: London.1996. 

  12. Kuhnau J: The flavonoids: A class of semi-essential food components: Their role in human nutrition. World Rev Nutr Diet, 1976; 24, 117-191. 

  13. Middleton E: The flavonoids. Trends Pharm Sci 5,335-338, 1984. 

  14. Ammon HPT, Handel M. Crataegus: toxicology and pharmacology.Planta Medica 1981;43:318-22.

  15. Wegrowski J, Roer AM, Moczar M: The effect of procyanidolic oligomers on the compoistion of normal and hypercholesterolemic rabbit aortas. Biochem Pharm 33, 3491-3497, 1984. 

  16. Horner, R., Eaton, J. Hawthorn. Hawthorn, Nutraceuticals World, April 2002. 

  17. New York Heart Association (NYHA). 1994. Revisions to Classification of functional Capacity and Objective Assessment of Patients with Diseases of the Heart. 

  18. Degenring FH, Suter A, Weber M, Saller R. A randomised double blind placebo controlled clinical trial of a standardised extract of fresh Crataegus berries (Crataegisan) in the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure NYHA II. Phytomedicine. 2003;10(5):363-9. 

  19. Weikl, A., et al. 1996. "Crataegus special extract WS 1442. Assessment of objective effectiveness in patients with heart failure."Forschr Med 114(24)291-296. 

  20.  Tauchert, M., M. Ploch, W.D. Hubner. 1994. "Effectiveness of hawthorne extract LI 132 compared with the ACE inhibitor Captopril: Multicenter double blind study with 132 NYHA Stage II."Muench Med Wochenschr 136 suppl:S27-S33.

  21. Harrison, D.G. (1997) J. Clin. Invest. 100:2153. 

  22. Kim SH, Kang KW, Kim KW, Kim ND. Procyanidins in crataegus extract evoke endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation in rat aorta. Life Sci. 2000;67(2):121-31. 

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