The benefits of
hawthorn for a healthy heart
Ask any herbalist what's good for the heart
and you'll probably get a one-word answer:
For instance – noted herbalist Christopher
Hobbs writes that he has a special affection
for hawthorn because it helped his father
strengthen his heart after a heart attack
more than two decades ago.
Hobbs writes: "The extract of hawthorn can
increase blood flow to the heart muscle
itself, helping to counteract one of the
most common modern causes of death in
industrial countries – heart attack due to
lack of blood flow to the heart."
A team of German and US researchers recently
tested a hawthorn extract in a trial that
included more than 1,440 patients with
congestive heart failure.
Writing in the European Journal of Heart
Failure, the researchers note that hawthorn
preparations have been used for centuries in
Europe, but their use as a complementary
treatment, as an "add-on" with drug
treatment, has never been studied.
Subjects received either 900 mg of hawthorn
per day, or a placebo, for two years.
Researchers found that the average time to
first cardiac event was statistically the
same: an average of 620 days for hawthorn,
against 606 days for placebo. There was also
no statistical difference in mortality rates
between the two groups.
But one measure stood out. The researchers
write that hawthorn extract "can potentially
reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac
death, at least in patients with less
compromised left ventricular function."
The left ventricle is the lower chamber of
the heart that pumps blood to the rest of
the body. This function is typically
impaired in heart failure patients.
Improvements all around
In a previous study, more than 200 patients
with chronic congestive heart failure (CHF)
were divided into three groups to receive
either 900 mg or 1,800 mg of hawthorn
extract daily, or placebo.
After 16 weeks, maximum exercise tolerance
increased significantly in the high-dose
group compared to the other two groups, and
heart failure symptoms improved in both of
the extract groups, but not the placebo
group. In an 18-month follow up assessment,
patients who were taking the extract had a
20 per cent reduced risk of CHF-related
death compared to placebo
That study was very likely included in a
2008 meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials in
which hawthorn was tested on hundreds of
patients. Researchers found that adding
hawthorn as a complementary treatment along
with conventional CHF treatments,
significantly improved exercise tolerance,
maximal workload, fatigue, and
pressure-heart rate product (an index of
cardiac oxygen consumption).
Adverse side effects were described as
"infrequent, mild, and transient."
Talk to your doctor before adding hawthorn
to your daily regimen. CHF patients might
want to consult with an experienced
herbalist or natural health practitioner to
make sure they receive a potent, high-
quality hawthorn extract.
Crataegus, commonly called hawthorn, is a well-known herb in
traditional Chinese medicine and is an herb
remedy in cultures throughout much of the
world where there is a temperate climate
supporting growth of the trees, especially
in Europe. The species used in China,
Crataegus pinnatifida, differs from that
which is relied upon as a source of the
Western herb, obtained mainly from
Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus
oxycantha. Western herbalists primarily
use hawthorn for treatment of heart disease;
this application has been adopted by Chinese
herbalists as well. In ancient times, the
Chinese herbalists mainly used crataegus (shanzha)
to improve digestion; for the past thirty
years, Western applications of crataegus
have been verified by Chinese researchers
and added to its list of applications in
Chinese medicine. Numerous Chinese
formulations now incorporate the herb for
strengthening heart function, lowering blood
lipids, and dilating blood vessels to
promote blood circulation.
CRATAEGUS FOR CARDIAC DISEASE
In Western herbalism,
crataegus fruit, leaf, and flower have all
had a long history of use for treating
cardiac weakness, and this has become a
focus on modern research efforts (2).
Controlled clinical trials are in the early
stages, but evidence to date indicates that
crataegus is an aid to persons with chronic
heart failure. It appears to improve the
left ventricular function and, as a result,
improve exercise capacity and tolerance (3).
In addition, crataegus provides many of the
benefits attributed to Chinese herbs that
are "blood vitalizers:" reducing blood
lipids, improving blood circulation, and
alleviating hypertension (via vasodilation).
These effects may be attributed primarily to
the flavonoids of crataegus.