Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) can stimulate the heart and arterial circulation and is considered by herbalists to be a potent cardiac tonic. Hawthorn promotes healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels by relaxing blood vessels, increasing metabolism in the heart muscle and improving blood supply. This herb is also used to treat insomnia, nervousness, poor digestion, and obesity.
Hawthorn is a thorny shrub that belongs to the rose family. Its flowers bloom in May and appear as small white, red or pink clusters. Small berries, called haws, form after the flowers are gone. The berries are usually red when ripe, but they may also be black. Hawthorn leaves are shiny and grow in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Hawthorn side effects
Herbs contain components that may result in side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements or medicines. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care professional.
Hawthorn is considered a safe herb. Side effects are rare, but may include headache, nausea and palpitations. A recent review of 29 clinical studies with more than 5,500 patients found that hawthorn was safe when used in doses that ranged from 160 to 1800 mg daily and from 3 to 24 weeks in duration.
If pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use hawthorn.
Possible hawthorn drug interactions
If taking prescription or non-prescription drugs talk to a health care professional before taking herbal supplements. If being treated with any of the following medications, hawthorn should not be taken without first talking to a health care professional. Drugs that hawthorn can interact with include the following:
Beta-blockers: These drugs are used to lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Hawthorn can boost the effects of these drugs.
Calcium channel blockers: These drugs are used to treat high blood pressure and angina by dilating blood vessels. Hawthorn can enhance the effects of these drugs.
Digoxin: Hawthorn may enhance the effects of digoxin, a drug used to treat irregular heart rhythms.
Phenylephrine: Hawthorn has been found to reduced the activity of phenylephrine, a drug that constricts blood vessels and that is commonly included in nasal decongestant products.
About 160 to 900 mg of hawthorn leaf and flower extract is suggested to be taken daily for six weeks.
Hawthorn should not be given to children.
Hawthorn can be purchased in non-standardized and standardized capsules and liquid extracts, and as tinctures and solid extracts. A tea can also be brewed from dried hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries.
How does hawthorn work?
Hawthorn contains antioxidants, including oligomeric procyandins and quercetin. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals – reactive compounds in the body that can damage cell membranes, DNA, and in extreme circumstances initiate cell death. Free radicals are now known to contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of diseases including cancer and heart disease.
Hawthorn can dilate arteries and improve coronary blood flow, thus reducing blood pressure. It can widen blood vessels, especially the coronary arteries. Some of the flavonoids in Hawthorn can help in preventing the narrowing of blood vessels. Hawthorn also acts as a mild diuretic that reduces blood volume. Many patients that take hawthorn experience a drop in blood pressure of 10 to 15 points over 8 weeks. Once blood pressure has decreased, it may be possible to reduce the dosage or to stop taking hawthorn altogether.
Hawthorn contains many substances that may benefit the heart. These antioxidant flavonoids that include OPCs may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow and protect the blood vessels from damage.
The berries, leaves and flowers of the hawthorn plant have been used for medicinal purposes. Most modern preparations use the leaves and flowers, which are believed to contain more of the flavonoids than the berries.
Hawthorn is considered a safe herb. Side effects are rare, but may include headache, nausea, and palpitations (a feeling of a racing heart). A recent review of 29 clinical studies with more than 5,500 patients found that hawthorn was safe when used in recommended dosages. Doses found to be safe were from 160 – 1,800 mg daily and from 3 – 24 weeks in length.
Heart disease is a serious condition. Do not self-treat heart conditions without telling your doctor. You should use hawthorn only under your doctor’s supervision.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use hawthorn.
It is important to note any changes you feel while you are taking hawthorn. People experiencing more pain, more angina attacks, or more exhaustion while walking or exercising should stop taking hawthorn and seek emergency medical attention. Even if you don’t experience any of these symptoms, see your health care provider if your condition hasn’t improved after 6 weeks of hawthorn treatment. Your progress should always be monitored by your doctor.
Medicinal uses of hawthorn
Hawthorn and blood pressure
Hawthorn has been used for many centuries as a remedy for cardiovascular disease. Traditionally, the berries were used to treat health problems that included high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, hardening of the arteries and heart failure. Today, the leaves and flowers are used medicinally, and there is scientific evidence that hawthorn can treat mild-to-moderate heart failure.
In one study, a hawthorn extract was found to be effective in treating hypertension in patients with type 2 diabetes that were also taking their prescribed medicines. Participants took 1,200 mg hawthorn extract daily or placebo for 16 weeks. Patients taking hawthorn had lower blood pressures than those taking the placebo.
You should talk with your doctor before taking hawthorn for high blood pressure.
A number of studies have concluded that hawthorn can improve heart function. Clinical studies have reported that hawthorn significantly improved symptoms of heart disease such as shortness of breath and fatigue. One study demonstrated that hawthorn extract (900 mg/day) taken for 2 months was as effective as low doses of Captopril (a prescription heart drug) in improving heart function.
Chest pain (Angina)
Some preliminary scientific evidence suggests that hawthorn may help combat chest pain (angina), which is caused by a reduction in blood flow to the heart. In one preliminary study, 60 patients with angina were given either 180 mg/day of hawthorn berry-leaf-flower extract or placebo for 3 weeks. Those who received hawthorn experienced improved blood flow to the heart and were also able to exercise for longer periods of time without experiencing chest pain.
The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.