Hawthorn

Hawthorn (latin : Crataegus oxyacantha L) is bushy tree commonly found in Europe, western Asia, North America and North Africa.In traditional Chinese medicine it comes with the name shan zha (chin. 山楂) In China it is grown in northeastern and northern provinces,Shaanxi, Henan, Shandong and Jiangsu in particular. Mainly produced in Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Liaoning provinces.

Also comes with the names Eenstijlige Meidoom, Espino Albar, Haw, Maybush , Mayflower, Whitethorn. It has many thorns and is a close relative to the well known pyracanthus. The tree reaches up to 5 meters height. In medieval times people used to hang leaves at the threshold to ward off evil spirits.

The Greek herbalist Dioscouridis, refers to its benefits in cardiovascular round 1st century A.D. The plant is normally found near fences, sunny wooded areas, hillside, thin areas and mountainside. It can nourish everywhere, but the plant favors cool and clay soil.

Its leaves and flowers are used for therapeutic purposes. Some times its red tasteless seeds and root are used. The dry fruits are used for decoctions to alleviate diarrhea. Its bark is used as antipyretic. Its flowers, which may possess greater therapeutic value, make heart tonic tea (10grams in 1000 water).Its fruit make a tea too good for sore throat. Apart from its antispasmodic properties, it regulates the heart beat rate and reduces hot flushes during menopause as well as the accompanying insomnia (either alone or in conjunction with other sedative plants)

Uses

Well documented applications of Hawthorn are the following: congenital heart failure ( stage II NYHA ), chronic cor pulmonale and slow heart rate. Its uses as heart tonic, ischemia, sedative, regulating action against the joint collagen, reduction of capillary fragility, are under investigation. In Chinese medicine it is used to reduce the positioning of food in the peptic tube (hydrogastria) as well as reducing peristatic hyperemia while in Homeopathy, for cognitive heart failure, heart rate disorders and angina.

Cognitive Heart Failure ( early stage II )

Hawthorn has primarily been studied in people with congestive heart failure (a health condition in which the heart is unable to pump adequate amounts of blood to other organs in the body). Of six well-designed trials, four studies concluded that hawthorn significantly improved heart function and three found that the herb improved patients’ ability to exercise. Patients in five of the six studies reported that hawthorn significantly improved symptoms of the disease (such as shortness of breath and fatigue). One study found that hawthorn extract (900 mg/day) taken for 2 months was as effective as low doses of captropril (a leading heart medication) in improving symptoms of congestive heart failure.

Atherosclerosis

Animal and laboratory studies demonstrate that this herb has antioxidant properties that help protect against the formation of plaques, which leads to a health problem known as atherosclerosis. Plaque buildup in the vessels that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood may cause chest pain (angina) and heart attacks while plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the brain may result in stroke.

Angina

Hawthorn berry preparations have been shown to combat chest pain (angina), a health problem caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart. In one early study, 60 angina patients were given either 180 mg/day of hawthorn berry-leaf-flower extract or placebo for 3 weeks. Those who received the hawthorn preparation experienced improved blood flow to the heart and were also able to exercise for longer periods of time without suffering from chest pain.

High cholesterol

Studies using rats suggest that a hawthorn tincture (made from the berries) may be a powerful agent for the removal of LDL ("bad") cholesterol from the bloodstream. The tincture of hawthorn berries also reduced the production of cholesterol in the liver of rats who were being fed a high-cholesterol diet. Studies to determine if hawthorn will confer the same effects in people are needed.

High blood pressure

Although hawthorn has not been studied specifically in people with high blood pressure, considerable evidence supports the cardiovascular benefits of this herb. Studies suggest that hawthorn can be taken safely by people with hypertension who are also taking blood pressure medications.

Active constituents and mechanism

The berries, leaves, and flowers of the hawthorn plant are used for medicinal purposes. The leaves and flowers are believed to contain substantially more of the active compounds than the berries.

Hawthorn contains many substances that may benefit the heart. However, it appears that two substances in particular – flavonoids(vitexin,quercetin,hyperoside) and oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs)—are most likely to contribute to hawthorn’s beneficial effects on the heart. Flavonoids and OPCshelp dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and increase heart rate. Both flavonoids and OPCs have potent antioxidant effects[3].Those ingredients are standardised in extracts from leaves and flowers. 

Dosage and directions

Hawthorn is available in capsules, tinctures, standardized fluid extracts, or solid extracts. A bitter-tasting tea can also be made from dried hawthorn leaves, flowers, and berries.
To decrease symptoms of congestive heart failure (which has been the most studied use for hawthorn):
• 160 to 900 mg standardized (4 to 20 mg flavonoids/30 to 160 mg oligomeric procyanidins) fluid crude extract daily for at least six weeks
• 120 to 240 mg extract standardized to 1.8% vitexin rhamnoside/10% procyanidins three times per day for at least six weeks. 

Hawthorn for heart failure or angina may require at least six weeks of use, three times per day before an effect is noticed.

Precautions, side effects and contraindications

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives hawthorn a class 1 safety rating, which indicates that it is a very safe herb with a wide dosage range. Even so, it is always wise to follow recommended dosages. Side effects are rare, but may include headache, nausea, and palpitations (a feeling of a racing heart). If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use hawthorn. It is extremely important for you to note any changes you feel while you are taking hawthorn. People experiencing more pain, more angina attacks, more exhaustion while walking or exercising should stop taking hawthorn and seek immediate medical attention. Even if you don’t experience any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider if your condition hasn’t improved after six weeks of hawthorn treatment. Your progress should always be monitored by your healthcare provider.

It may enhance the action of digoxin so one should reduce the dose of the latter.

Avoid its use along with antiarythmic medications ( type III in particular ) as it has the same action.

Always be careful when using Hawthorn with anti-platelet medications.