Hawthorn (Crataegus species) is a small tree that is part of the rose family. It has small, white flowers that bloom in early summer, and bright red berries in the fall. Extracts from the hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are widely used to prevent and treat heart disease and stroke, improve the circulatory system, and stimulate and protect the blood vessels.
Hawthorn extracts have many active compounds, but the two found to be most active in protecting the heart are flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs). Flavonoids, as well as OPCs, are found to be high in antioxidant properties. Free radicals are unstable molecules that oxidise in the body, causing the breakdown of cells and leading to damage and eventual cell death. Antioxidants help to prevent this process by stabilising the free radical molecules and keeping cells healthy. This process can act to reverse signs of damage and ageing.
Hawthorn is most widely known as a cardiotonic, or heart tonic, used to prevent heart disease and stroke. It can reduce chest pain and prevent plaque from forming in the blood vessels and arteries. Hawthorn can help control high blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart. It also has carminative effects, eliminating gas from the gastrointestinal tract, and acts as a diuretic. Hawthorn also has astringent and antispasmodic properties.
Hawthorn extracts come from the leaf, flower or berries of the hawthorn tree. According to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn tree have more active compounds than the berries. Hawthorn is available as capsules or liquid extractions and can be found in standardised and non-standardised forms. The leaves and flowers can be made into a tea, which, though bitter tasting, has many of the health benefits associated with hawthorn. Tinctures made from hawthorn berries are found to be particularly beneficial for preventing the harmful LDL cholesterol.
History of Medicinal Use
In ancient Greek healing, hawthorn was used to treat heart problems and chest pain. In ancient Chinese medicine, it was used to improve the circulatory system and aid in digestion. Europeans have long used hawthorn as a tonic as well as a diuretic and astringent. In the United States, doctors have been using hawthorn for circulatory and respiratory conditions since the 18th century. Hawthorn continues to be widely studied and prescribed for its heart strengthening and protecting properties.
Hawthorn extract is one of the safer herbal treatments. According to the UMMC, taking 160-900 mg of hawthorn extract a day for six weeks will reduce the symptoms of heart disease. People taking medication for hypertension should find no adverse drug interactions by taking hawthorn extract.
When taking any medication, interactions and side effects are possible, and though hawthorn is considered safe, it is advised to consult a physician before taking hawthorn for heart conditions.
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