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Hawthorn

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Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is a cardiovascular tonic that strengthens the heart, reduces arrhythmia, lowers cholesterol, circulation resistance and blood pressu.

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is a cardiovascular tonic that strengthens the heart, reduces arrhythmia, lowers cholesterol, circulation resistance and blood pressure, as well as acts as an antioxidant.

What Is It?

Hawthorn refers to the berries, flowers, twigs and leaves of a shrub or small tree that grows in temperate climates of North America and Europe. It has been traditionally used as a heart medicine for hundreds of years

How Does it Work?

A group of constituents (mostly flavonoids and oligomer porcyanidins) gives hawthorn its pharmacological effect, and no single component can be considered the active compound. Hawthorn is a clear example of the whole herb being more useful than a fractionated extract. There have been many clinical studies showing that hawthorn is a useful treatment for New York Heart Association (NYHA) class I and II cardiac insufficiency. This international standard represents: class I fatigue or shortness of breath when engaging in heavy physical activities; class II fatigue or shortness of breath on heavy and normal activities.

What Evidence Supports its Use?

The primary activity of hawthorn is its ability to increase coronary blood flow. Hawthorn has been shown to:

  • increase oxygen utilization by the heart
  • increase enzyme metabolism in heart muscle
  • increase contraction and relaxation velocities, thus increasing resting time for the heart muscle
  • mildly dilate the heart muscle
  • increase cardiac nerve conductivity
  • be a peripheral vasodilator.

It can be further shown that some of the flavonoids (catechin, vitexin and kaempferol) create a tonic condition for the heart. Hawthorn also has a cardioprotective effect due to its ability to decrease oxygen demand of cardiac tissue. It has been shown to prolong effective refractory period, thus reducing risk of arrhythmias.

One hawthorn study evaluated 1,476 patients with class I and class II cardiac insufficiency for four and eight weeks. Symptom scores decreased by a mean of 66 per cent, with most of the class I becoming largely symptom-free. It was shown that the hypertension, tachycardia and cardiac arrhythmias were all significantly reduced. Another controlled study of 132 patients compared hawthorn (300 milligrams three times daily) with low-dose captopril (12.5 mg three times daily) in class II cardiac insufficiency. Exercise tolerance significantly increased in both test groups by about the same amount.

Hawthorn has also been shown to have antioxidant properties due to the flavonoids and procyanidins. It has a mild to marked sedative action.

How Should I Take It?

It is best to get a mixture of leaves and flowers. The straight berries are not as effective for cardiac tonic action. Hawthorn can be taken in the following ways:

  • powdered herb - 200 to 1,000 mg daily
  • one cup of infused tea - two to three times daily
  • tincture 20 drops - two to three times daily
  • solid extract - (4-7:1) 160 to 900 mg corresponding to 3.5 to 19.8 mg total flavonoids, two to three times daily.

Caveats

This herb is safe to consume in the suggested dosage range. Hawthorn is known to increase the effectiveness of digitalis medication and possibly other cardiac glycosides. It has been used for years in Europe along with pharmaceutical drugs, and usually aids in reducing the dosage of pharmaceuticals needed. It is best to use hawthorn between digitalis preparations. If you decide to use hawthorn while on other heart medication, consult with your health-care provider.

The Bottom Line

Hawthorn has proved itself to be an excellent heart tonic and can be safely taken along with many pharmaceuticals.

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