The benefits of
hawthorn for a healthy heart
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.
"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
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."
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.