Hawthorn

 

Introduction
Hawthorn (Latin: Crataegus species) is a common, thorny shrub that grows up to five feet on hillsides and in sunny wooded areas of North America, Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The Hawthorn plant produces small berries, called haws (hence the name ‘Hawthorn’), which sprout each May after the flowers of the Hawthorn plant bloom. Hawthorn berries are usually red when ripe, but may be much darker, which indicates higher levels of the main active and health promoting ingredients (the bioflavones).
Historical Medicinal Uses of Hawthorn
The bioflavonoid complexes in Hawthorn include oligomeric procyanidins (also found in red grapes), vitexin, quercetin, and hyperoside. These chemicals found in the leaves, flowers, and berries of hawthorn are believed to be responsible for the herb’s positive health benefits and current use as a cardiac and circulatory herb.

Medical uses of Hawthorn
Hawthorn is well known for the cardiac benefits it provides, including improved coronary artery blood flow (the arteries which supply the heart with blood) as well as improved blood flow to the extremities. Hawthorn may also be helpful when used with other conditions such as angina (reduced blood flow to the heart usually caused by clogged arteries), atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure) and some arrhythmias (irregular heart beats). It is believed by most herbalists and researchers that the chemicals in hawthorn may act directly on the heart muscle to increase the contractile force of heartbeats and to relax the arteries around the heart. Hawthorn may also work indirectly by widening blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. As a result, it may assist in stabilizing blood pressure.

Congestive Heart Failure
Hawthorn has also been evaluated in people with congestive heart failure. In a study of 132 individuals, standardized hawthorn extract compared favourably to captopril, a member of a class of prescription medications known as ACE-inhibitors often prescribed for heart failure. In another study involving 136 patients, the hawthorn group showed improvement in the areas of heart function evaluated, whereas the placebo group did not.

Peripheral Circulation

Hawthorn is an excellent herb for improving circulation throughout the body. A condition known as Raynaud’s disease is a disease where the circulation to the hands and sometimes the feet are so compromised that the individual usually suffers severe pain and extreme intolerance to cold weather. Because Hawthorn promotes healthy collagen production, supportive effects have been found to extend to such disorders as Raynaud’s disease and varicose veins.

Circulation to the heart

The most common cause of death in Australia is a sudden reduction of blood circulated to the heart. In its most severe form, this results in a heart attack. Life saving medications, such as nitro-glycerine are usually given if someone is having a heart attack. The nitro-glycerine works by dilating the blood vessels to the heart and the patient (hopefully) survives. Hawthorn also achieves this feat, while also being free of the nasty side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. If taken many months before the heart attack, it may also help to prevent the ensuing heart attack.

Atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries)
The leading causes of reduced circulation to the heart is the clogging of the arteries (termed Atherosclerosis).This is caused by diets high in refined carbohydrates (such as breads, pastas and cereals) and trans fats (found in baked goods, donuts and some margarines). The arteries are clogged by oxidised LDL (bad) cholesterol and other immune and muscle cells. Hawthorn has been found to reverse this build up in the arteries, however taking the herb for a long period of time is required for this to occur.

Improving heart strength
Along with exercise, Hawthorn is one of the best things you can do to help strengthen your heart muscle. We have already learnt how Hawthorn can increase blood flow to your heart by improving artery dilation and help to clean out your arteries. Hawthorn also directly acts on your heart muscle to strengthen it. More specifically, Hawthorn improves the contractions of the heart in failing human myocardium (heart muscle).

Blood Pressure
A randomised, double-blind trial investigated whether Hawthorn would produce greater hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) effects than a placebo in type 2 diabetic patients taking prescribed medication and consuming a typical western diet. Participants were given a placebo or standardised Hawthorn extract (equivalent to 6 g/day) for 16 weeks. Treatment with Hawthorn resulted in a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure from baseline. This reduction in blood pressure was also significant compared with the placebo group.

Arrhythmia
Arrhythmia is a distressing and sometimes fatal condition where the heart becomes out of rhythm. Hawthorn has been found to help with the rhythmic contraction of the heart.

Drug Interactions with Hawthorn

Although Hawthorn, like any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications, no significant herb/drug interactions with Hawthorn have been reported. However as a precaution it is advised that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, to consult your health care professional. It has been demonstrated that Hawthorn can alter blood pressure, thus it is essential that you inform your doctor when you take Hawthorn if you are on blood pressure medication.

Therapeutic/safe dosages of Hawthorn
The most commonly recommended therapeutic dosage for Hawthorn is 6,000-12,000 mg per day (taken as three divided doses of 2,000-4,000 mg each) and the usual therapeutic dosage of 1:1 fluid extract of Hawthorn is 6-12 ml per day (taken as three divided doses of 2-4 ml each). Studies have found that short and long term consumption is beneficial for the treatment of all of the cardiovascular benefits listed above. Longer intake of Hawthorn has been associated with enhanced circulation to the heart. Doses of up to 12 grams have been taken for extended periods of time (years) without adverse effects.

Other herbs that can be used with Hawthorn
As with many herbs, combinations can be used to add to the therapeutic value. The following is a list of herbs that can be prescribed with Hawthorn to boost its therapeutic properties:

  • Ginkgo. Ginkgo is best combined with Hawthorn if is there is a need to improve circulation. Ginkgo works by improving the function of the brain by increasing blood flow to the brain and improving neurotransmitter function in the brain. It will also help in peripheral circulation and in conditions such as Reynaud’s disease.
  • Withania. One of the best all round herbal adaptogens, Withania is a brilliant anti-fatigue herb. It will also help to improve sporting performance, reduce cardiovascular disease, and help with blood pressure. Withania is an excellent herb to take if you have heart or circulation problems.
  • Panax Ginseng. Once only thought to be a stimulant, panax ginseng has been found to also reduce blood pressure and is especially useful for individuals suffering depressed energy associated with cardiovascular disease. Again, this herb in combination not only with Hawthorn but with Ginkgo would be brilliant for this purpose.
  • Skullcap. Best known for the treatment of stress, Skullcap is excellent for those individuals that have high blood pressure due to stress in their life.

Conclusion
Hawthorn is a highly popular herbal medicine for those of us who find ourselves having pretty much any sort of cardiovascular problem, including poor circulation, heart disease or arrhythmias. Probably the description of someone needing Hawthorn is someone who has a poor lifestyle, has blood pressure problems or any other circulation problem. As we all live in an environment that seems geared towards an early coronary, Hawthorn is an important herb for anyone who wants to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system for years to come.

REFERENCES
Tauchert M, Ploch M, Huebner WD. Effectiveness of Hawthorn Extract LI132 Compared with the ACE Inhibitor Captopril: Multicenter double-blind study with 132 NYHA Stage II. Muench Med Wochenschr. 1994;136(supp):S27-S33.

2 Kuhnau J. The Flavonoids. A Class of Semi-essential Food Components. Their Role in Human Nutrition. Wld Rev Nutr Diet. 1976;24:117-91.

3 Schussler, M., et al.  Myocardial effects of flavonoids from Crataegus species.  Arzneimittelforschungen.  45:842-845, 1995.

4Wegrowski, J., et al.  The effect of procyanidolic oligomers on the composition of normal and hypercholesterolemic rabbit aortas.  Biochem Pharm.  33(21):3491-3497, 1984.

5 Schwinger, R. H., et al.  Crataegus special extract WS 1442 increases force of contraction in human myocardium cAMP-independently.  J Cardiovasc Pharmacol.  35(5):700-707, 2000.

6 Walker AF, Marakis G, Simpson E et al. Hypotensive effects of hawthorn for patients with diabetes taking
randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract 2006; 56(527): 437-443

7 Miller, A. L.  Botanical influences on cardiovascular disease.  Alt Med Rev.  3(6):422-431, 1998.

 

Tauchert M, Ploch M, Huebner WD. Effectiveness of Hawthorn Extract LI132 Compared with the ACE Inhibitor Captopril: Multicenter double-blind study with 132 NYHA Stage II. Muench Med Wochenschr. 1994;136(supp):S27-S33.

Kuhnau J. The Flavonoids. A Class of Semi-essential Food Components. Their Role in Human Nutrition. Wld Rev Nutr Diet. 1976;24:117-91.

Schussler, M., et al.  Myocardial effects of flavonoids from Crataegus species.  Arzneimittelforschungen.  45:842-845, 1995.

Wegrowski, J., et al.  The effect of procyanidolic oligomers on the composition of normal and hypercholesterolemic rabbit aortas.  Biochem Pharm.  33(21):3491-3497, 1984.

Schwinger, R. H., et al.  Crataegus special extract WS 1442 increases force of contraction in human myocardium cAMP-independently.  J Cardiovasc Pharmacol.  35(5):700-707, 2000.

Walker AF, Marakis G, Simpson E et al. Hypotensive effects of hawthorn for patients with diabetes taking
randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract 2006; 56(527): 437-443

Miller, A. L.  Botanical influences on cardiovascular disease.  Alt Med Rev.  3(6):422-431, 1998.




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