Source: The Amazing Healing Powers of Nature, Reader’s Digest
Hawthorn for a healthy heart
Hawthorn is taken as a tincture or in capsule form, and is included in some herbal remedies, to protect against atherosclerosis and heart failure and to reduce blood pressure. Together with garlic, hawthorn has become one of the most popular traditional treatments for heart disease. Hawthorn extract is available from some health food stores. Always follow package instructions carefully. You can also make tea from dried hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries.
Who should take hawthorn?
Hawthorn has many possible side effects’which include nausea, headache and palpitations. There may be adverse interactions with other medicines, notably conventional medications for heart disease and high cholesterol. It is advised to use caution when administering hawthorn at home. If you are taking other medications, it is best to ask your doctor if hawthorn is safe in combination.
Medical experts advise against giving hawthorn extract to children or pregnant women.
Medical studies and research on hawthorn
With more people dying every year from cardiovascular disease than from any other cause, hawthorn’s ancient pedigree has prompted much recent research into how it can be used in relation to heart health. Some of the most interesting findings have emerged from a study at the University of Cincinnati, in which the ‘guinea pigs’ were not humans or mice but baby zebrafish. (Zebrafish embryos are widely used in medical research as ‘model organisms’ for testing compounds in vivo, prior to human trials.)
The Cincinnati researchers fed zebrafish larvae high-cholesterol diets. Then they divided the fish into three groups: one fed with regular food, one given a high-cholesterol diet and one on a high-cholesterol diet plus an extract of hawthorn leaves and flowers. The results? As noted in the researcher’s 2012 report, the high-cholesterol diet significantly reduced cardiac output, as expected; and cholesterol was reduced, and cardiac output increased, in the fortunate fish that had been fed the hawthorn extract. As well as highlighting the fact that hawthorn extract can reduce cholesterol and increase cardiac output, the zebrafish study found that in fish that did not have high cholesterol, hawthorn actually reduced cardiac output.
Another study, carried out at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009, involving mice on a high-cholesterol diet, found that hawthorn extract was as good as simvastatin a standard treatment for high cholesterol.
Several studies have been carried out on humans, too. In one trial, people received either a hawthorn extract or a placebo daily for three weeks. Among those who took hawthorn, the blood flow to the heart was improved and symptoms of chest pain (angina) were reduced.
In a 2004 German study involving 900 people suffering heart failure (decreased cardiac output), half were treated with 900 milligrams per day of hawthorn extract over 2 years; at the end of the trial, all the classic symptoms of heart failure’fatigue, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat’were significantly improved in those patients.
What do the studies mean?
All of the studies to date involved an extract of hawthorn’a complex mixture of compounds. So, what are the active compounds, which might be having an effect? Most researchers put it down to a class of antioxidants called flavonoids’once dubbed ‘vitamin P”present in many plants, and in abundance in hawthorn.
Hawthorn in conventional heart medicine
For now, the creation of a hawthorn-based medicine remains tantalizingly out of reach. But further research may change that, and this ancient ally may yet extend its reach to benefit millions more people.
Did you know?
‘ Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) are members of the rose family and grow widely in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere
‘ Hawthorn is also called Thorn-apple tree, May bush, May tree, May flower and whitethorn.
‘ Hawthorn was first used to treat heart disease around 1600, when a court physician prescribed it for French king Henry IV.
‘ Medicinal use of hawthorn dates back to the Middle Ages, as herbal medicine books of that time suggest hawthorn as a treatment for diarrhea and stomach cramps.