Does Hawthorn Extract Effect the Body?
Is Hawthorn Extract a Health Booster?
What Is Hawthorn Extract?
The Hawthorn plant, the Crataegus, is a Rosaceae (rose) family member and is also known as the May Tree. It is a thorny bush or tree that produces both flowers and berries. There are several species of hawthorn found in North America. The hawthorn bush has been used for hundreds of years and a hedge between properties. Most grow wild on the banks of sun-warmed hills in the inner layer of forests. However, hawthorn also thrives in Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
Crataegus is a word derived from the Greek word “Kratos” meaning power, referring to both the plant’s bark’s hardness and its strong medicinal virtues.
Hawthorn typically flowers in spring during May. In the old world, the blooming of pink, red, or white hawthorn flowers would signal to the Druids that it was time for the festival of Beltaine (May Day). The Greeks associated hawthorn with having warm properties. Meaning it could help balance the constitutional temperament of an individual who otherwise had a cold disposition. Hawthorn berries, which can be very small to the size of a small apple (depending on the type of plant, a bush or tree), appear after the flowers bloom. They are usually red but can be dark purple and almost black in appearance. For the most part, hawthorn berries taste sour with a bit of sweetness. For centuries now, hawthorn berries have been used to make medicinals, such as extracts, syrups, and teas.
There seems to be a great deal of debate about whether hawthorn berries are safe to eat directly from the plant due to the berries containing trace amounts of cyanide. However, according to the American Herbal Products Association, there is no scientific proof to back any need for precaution. While they contain this poison, the amount of cyanide in a regular serving is not considered enough to cause toxicity or cause any harm when eaten within reasonable amounts. No more so than other foods containing cyanide, such as nuts or rice. Therefore, it is considered safe to eat the berries whole and consume foods containing hawthorn berries, such as cereals, candied fruit slices, jams, jellies, and wines.
Hawthorn’s Health-Bosting Bioactive Compounds
- Flavonoids (apigenin, chlorogenic acid, epicatechin, isoquercitrin, hyperoside, hyperin, kaempferol, quercetin, naringenin, rutin)
- Minerals (calcium, iron, and phosphorus)
- Vitamins B1, B2, and C
These compounds have been shown to boost heart health. During the middle ages, hawthorn treated a condition called Dropsy, now referred to as congestive heart failure. In 1896, forty-three individuals suffering from heart conditions were treated with hawthorn. The results were promising.
In today’s world, hawthorn is widely available in various forms, as tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, and tinctures. Hawthorn berry supplements usually contain the berry along with leaves and flowers. However, some supplements include only the leaves and flowers, as they have a more concentrated source of antioxidants than the berry alone. For example, hawthorn teas, even though somewhat bitter, are made from a combination of dried hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers.
The Benefits of Hawthorn Extract
Hawthorn is primarily noted for treating the following heart-related conditions. However, the jury is out on whether hawthorn can help all heart and blood vessel-related issues. It appears hawthorn is more effective for symptom control than anything else as there are no studies that confirm a decrease in mortality rate. More research is needed.
- Angina, chest pain discomfort or pain that results when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a chronic, progressive disease caused the build-up of plaque in the arteries
- Congestive heart failure (CHF), a progressive condition that affects the pumping power of the heart muscle
- High blood pressure, when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is consistently too high
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol (and reduce levels of blood fats)
Hawthorn can also is used to treat the following conditions.
- Chronic inflammation
- Hair loss
- Stomach pain
- Water retention
- Tapeworm (and other intestinal infections)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Skin problems, such as acne, boils, sores, ulcers, itching, and frostbite (when applied topically) and skin aging
- Some cancers
How Does Hawthorn Extract Work?
Generally speaking, hawthorn works to improve blood flow. Specifically speaking, it improves the amount of blood pumped out of the heart after a contraction (heartbeat). It also helps to dilate blood vessels and to help nerves to transmit signals more efficiently.
One of the active components of hawthorn is Proanthocyanidin, which can relax blood vessels located far from the heart. The result is a reduction in blood pressure making hawthorn an excellent herb to reduce high blood pressure, although not all studies back this theory.
Studies show that hawthorn extract can lower “bad cholesterol” (Low-Density Lipoprotein, known as LDL) as well as to reduce the number of fats in the bloodstream (triglycerides).
Hawthorn extract may also lower the number of fats in the aorta (the largest artery in the body closest to the heart).
Research suggests that hawthorn can improve exercise tolerance by reducing shortness of breath and fatigue, which is hugely beneficial to heart patients.
One study showed that nineteen individuals who took hawthorn extract for ten weeks experienced less anxiety and depression.
Typical Daily Dosages
Generally speaking, to prepare an infusion (a tea), use two teaspoons of berries or crushed hawthorn leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep for twenty minutes and drink up to two cups a day for several weeks.
Daily dosages are dependent on the form and brand of the hawthorn product itself. Typical daily dosages for adults are 250-500 mg taken up to three times each day. According to one report, an effective dose for heart failure is 300 mg of hawthorn extract daily. Another report shows 900 milligrams of hawthorn extract daily to be safe. However, this amount showed no better results than a placebo. It is speculated that the higher the dose, the better the hawthorn works. Doses between 160 mg to 1,800 mg daily for three to twenty-four weeks in length are deemed safe. The most effective dosage is not currently understood.
It is essential to speak with an expert health care provider trained in herbal medicine to determine the right dose. Herbs, while natural, may cause adverse side effects or contradict certain medications.
Hawthorn is not intended for children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.
Possible Side Effects
Hawthorn is generally safe when used as recommended and only short term (up to sixteen weeks). Because hawthorn is a slow-acting herb, it should be taken for at least four to twelve weeks to determine any benefit from its use.
Studies show no significant side effects. However, the side effects do exist. The most common side effects are light-headedness, dizziness, including vertigo. Less common side effects are as follows.
- Mild nausea (and other stomach complaints)
- A headache or migraines
- Palpitations or racing heart
Hawthorn overdose can cause low blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias.
Hawthorn extracts may increase some medications’ effectiveness, such as heart medications. For example, hawthorn can enhance the activity of Digitalis. Furthermore, hawthorn extract should not be used in conjunction with other herbs or supplements that affect the cardiovascular system, including heart, blood pressure, or cholesterol. It is essential to carefully read product labels to discern whether any added ingredients might enhance or negate a medication’s effectiveness.
Hawthorn may enhance the activity of digoxin, which is a medication used to regulate heart rhythms.
Hawthorn can make the effects of Beta-blockers, such as Atenolol (Tenormin), Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL), and Propranolol (Inderal, Inderal LA) stronger. These drugs lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels to help the heart work more efficiently.
Hawthorn can also make the effects of calcium channel blockers stronger. CCBs, such as Norvasc, Cardizem, and Procardia, are used to treat angina and high blood pressure by dilating blood vessels.
When medications for male sexual dysfunction are used together with hawthorn, it may result in a significant drop in blood pressure.
Taking hawthorn with nitrates (medications to increase blood flow to the heart) may increase the chance of becoming lightheaded or dizzy.
Again, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and those with medical conditions or taking medications should not use hawthorn without expert guidance.
The Bottom Line
Taking into account the science behind the plant, it appears hawthorn’s health benefits are many, especially where the heart is concerned. Hawthorn has even been approved for congestive heart failure in Germany. Still, heart disease is extremely serious and should never be taken lightly. It is imperative not to self-medicate a heart problem or any other serious condition with hawthorn extract (or any other herbal remedy).
In conclusion, while hawthorn has not yet been proven to extend one’s life, it appears to improve one’s quality of life with little to no adverse side-effects when taken as directed by a qualified herbalist.
The Herbal Apothecary, 2015. Pages111-112.
Secret Medicines from Your Garden, 2016. Pages 15, 158, 172-173, and 226.