Cardiovascular disease is running rampant in our society, impacting both men and women. Heart disease is a serious condition and negatively impacted by a large variety of lifestyle choices from reduced exercise to poor eating choices. For many with cardiac disease, medications are a part of their daily lives, however, quality of life is often still impaired. In truth, cardiac disease is a progressive condition, usually resulting in one medication being added to another to help control symptoms rather than helping to resolve or improve the condition. The good news is that there is an herb called Hawthorn, which has demonstrated encouraging results in research in improving heart health on many levels. Let’s dive into this incredible herb!
Cardiac or heart disease can come in many forms, often resulting in heart failure, but associated with poor vascular health in general. In many cases, there are concerns regarding high or even low blood pressure, elevated lipids, abnormal heart rhythms, valvular problems, contractile problems, and overall endothelial dysfunction. Many experience clogged arteries, which may be directly associated with the heart or found in other locations such as ‘deep vein thrombosis’. All of these are associated with cardiovascular health on various levels and indicate there is cellular dysfunction, inflammation, and altered cellular pathways, including clot formation and contractility of the heart muscle itself.
Cardiac disease is often not an isolated diagnosis, but commonly found with other health conditions including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, elevated lipids, pulmonary problems, and reduced sexual function or sexual hormone levels. It is also noted in many instances of fluid retention in the extremities and associated with kidney conditions.
The truth is that in most instances, medications are the primary option for patients. There are medications to impact heart rate, relax blood vessels, impact clotting, remove fluid from the body (diuretics), and impact blood lipids. Despite the growing list of medications used to manage the various aspects of cardiovascular disease, they truthfully do very little to regain cardiac function and health. They are essentially managing the clinical symptoms, not the condition itself.
Enter Hawthorn Leaf and Berry!
Hawthorn Leaf and Berry Extract for Supporting Heart Health
Crataegus oxycantha or Hawthorn is an herb used for centuries to tonify and support heart health. Hawthorn has actually been recognized by some countries as a primary or alternative therapy for heart failure, being research supported to be an alternative for cardiac conditions including angina, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, arrhythmia, and functional class II congestive heart failure. (Wang, 2013)
The herb Hawthorn contains both leaves and berries. Traditionally, many have used the berry aspect primarily, however, the leaves have demonstrated equal if not more effective properties. Hawthorn contains many active phytochemicals which can impact heart health but the main focus in research is on the flavonoids which include vitexin and OPC. (Wang, 2013)
Mechanisms of Hawthorn action on heart health: (Alt Med Rev, 2010) (Wang, 2013)
- High Flavonoid and antioxidant content which is protective to heart and vascular health
- Increases cardiac blood flow
- Increases cardiac and tissue oxygenation and utilization
- Positive inotropic effect (increase strength and contractility)
- Dilates blood vessels (reduces pressures) and improves vascular health
- Impacts and lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL)
- Improved exercise tolerance, fatigue, blood pressure and ejection fraction (Tauchert, 1999)
- Reduced cardiac mortality by 20% and sudden death by 39.7 percent (Holubarsch, 2008)
- Mild blood pressure reducing effect similar to ACE inhibitor medication
- Anti-platelet or clotting effect
- Reduced cardiac tissue remodeling (degenerative) effect
- Anti-arrhythmia effect
Considering the vast amount of research performed with Hawthorn on cardiovascular health in addition to the extensive historical usage, it may prove valuable for many individuals. It has been used for quite some time in addition to cardiac medications, adjunctive therapy, although in some cases dosages of medications may need to be altered. It is always wise to consult with your physician when adding an herb to any medication regimen.
The wonderful thing from my perspective is that Hawthorn has potential not just as a therapeutic intervention in cardiac conditions, but could also be used for preventative purposes. Due to the high flavonoid and antioxidant capabilities, it has the potential to provide protection on many cellular levels. Considering the high stress loads we all endure everyday, our cardiovascular system is often on overtime, so any protective measure we can put in place may provide some benefit to our overall health and well being.
I take Hawthorn berry and leaf every day, twice daily, not just for cardiovascular support but interestingly enough, in the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is viewed as benefitting digestion by reducing food accumulation or stagnation. This is the feeling you get when you overeat and feel bloated or excessively full. Hawthorn helps in this regard, more than likely by relaxing the intestines and improving circulation.
There is no ‘cure’ for heart health, but in combination with an improved lifestyle, diet, and exercise, Hawthorn could provide some real benefits!
How to get your Hawthorn Leaf & Berry
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN