Widely recognized as a cardiovascular tonic, hawthorn berry relaxes the heart while supporting its ability to produce and sustain energetic output. Since the heart never gets a vacation, the rejuvenating effect of hawthorn may be the next best thing. Hawthorn berries are used in traditional medicine in the treatment of chronic heart failure, high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and digestive problems. They also have mild diuretic properties and a beneficial impact on cholesterol.
Hawthorn berries contain a wide range of flavonoids, which are responsible for their diverse mechanisms of operation. These flavonoids include hyperoside, rutin, quercetin, vitexin, epicatechin, catechin, and proanthocyanidins. Hawthorn also contains germ-controlling phenols such as chlorogenic acid.
There are several varieties of hawthorn. The preferred form for nutritional supplementation is Crataegus oxyacantha, which is standardized at 1.8% to contain the heart-friendly flavonoid vitexin. Common doses used in hawthorn studies range from 160-1800 mg, with the most common doses tested in the range of 600-900 mg per day.
Hawthorn and Heart Failure
Hawthorn is widely used in Europe as an approved treatment for the initial stages of heart failure (Class I and II), with the goal of improving patients without the use of drugs. It has also been used to help patients with Class III heart failure, in conjunction with medical treatment.
Heart failure implies that the heart is not fit enough to supply blood for the body’s needs. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, fluid retention (especially ankle swelling), fatigue, and a reduced ability to exercise. The severity of the problem is classified by the heart’s performance based on a four-class scale known as the New York Heart Association Functional Classification.
• Class I: no limitation is experienced in any activities; there are no symptoms from ordinary activities.
• Class II: slight, mild limitation of activity; the patient is comfortable at rest or with mild exertion.
• Class III: marked limitation of any activity; the patient is comfortable only at rest.
• Class IV: any physical activity brings on discomfort and symptoms occur at rest.
A recent scientific review of all double-blind controlled studies on hawthorn2 (of which there are many) found a “significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes from hawthorn extract as an adjunctive treatment for chronic heart failure.” Hawthorn was shown to improve the heart’s maximum workload, which resulted in improved exercise tolerance. Shortness of breath and fatigue were significantly improved, and the heart’s ability to use oxygen was enhanced. These are very significant findings for a dietary supplement.
Hawthorn Berry In Action
Hawthorn has a relaxing effect3 on the arteries, improving circulation and facilitating healthy blood pressure. Hawthorn has been shown to enhance the flow of blood4 through the heart, while helping the heart beat tone up (inotropic effect). In fact, hawthorn was found to be far friendlier and more energy efficient than drugs in helping the heart muscle contract5 to produce an effective beat. A randomized controlled trial showed that hawthorn lowered diastolic blood pressure6 (the lower number) in patients with type II diabetes.
A flavonoid contained in hawthorn has been shown to have a natural regulating effect on angiotensin converting enzyme7, acting as a natural ACE inhibitor. ACE converts the inactive form of angiotensin (angiotensin I) into the active vasoconstrictor (angiotensin II). A system with inadequate brakes leads to higher blood pressure. Better tone in this system also supports kidney health.
During times of circulatory stress, immune cells may release an enzyme called human neutrophil elastase8 (HNE). While this is a normal enzyme, excess amounts can induce wear and tear. Hawthorn berry helps to modulate the release of HNE, thereby supporting cardiovascular health.
Hawthorn has also been shown to protect animals from experimentally induced heart attack by maintaining antioxidant status and boosting oxygen utilization within the heart. In another experiment, researchers showed that hawthorn protected the liver from adverse changes during a heart attack, indicating hawthorn’s protective effect beyond just the heart and circulation.
In a study of rabbits fed a high cholesterol diet, those on hawthorn had a 23% reduction in total cholesterol and a 22% reduction in triglycerides. Researchers believed hawthorn helped reduce cholesterol absorption from the diet. This finding is similar to another animal study, which not only found similar reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides, but also found that damage to the liver did not occur at the same rate with hawthorn supplementation. Yet another animal study found that hawthorn helped activate LDL receptors in the liver, promoting the natural clearance of cholesterol through the bile.
Hawthorn helps prevent free radical-induced oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a step that must occur before LDL can form plaque in arteries. It was also shown to protect vitamin E from damage and synergistically boost vitamin E status by 18%-20%.
While hawthorn has been extensively studied and widely used in Europe for heart failure, its general effect on the heart is relaxing and toning, improving overall fitness. Furthermore, hawthorn’s multiple actions in the circulatory system are synergistic with many other cardio-friendly nutrients toward the goal of improved cardiovascular health.