Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha)
Used in England during the Agricultural Revolution to enclose open fields along fences, the hawthorn shrub produces small berries that have been found to possess medicinal properties. Safer than digitalis, it works to increase cardiovascular health by dilating the blood vessels, and by increasing heart muscle metabolism. Because hawthorn does not appear to contain any active ingredients, it is not considered a drug.
The Romans used hawthorn as a heart drug during the first century A.D. During the Middle Ages, hawthorn was used to treat dropsy, which is known to us today as congestive heart failure. It was also used to treat other ailments of the heart and Sore Throats.
Part of the plant used: BERRY.
Standardised extract containing about 2 to 3% flavonoids or 18 to 20% procyanidins.
100 to 300 mg 3 times daily.
Signs of improvement may take several weeks or months to appear.
Hawthorn may be effective for maintaining the overall health of the heart. Benefits may include improved blood supply to the heart and lowered blood pressure. Hawthorn may also help improve conditions of Angina and Atherosclerosis. However, significant scientific evidence has not yet been established (1,2).
Congestive heart failure:
Significant well-designed research has been conducted on the use of hawthorn for congestive heart failure (3,4). Widely used in Europe, hawthorn is a safe and effective treatment for the early stages of congestive heart failure. It is considered much safer than the more potent herb foxglove. Like foxglove, hawthorn works by improving the pumping ability of the heart. The advantage of hawthorn is that unlike other herbs with similar action (i.e. digitalis), hawthorn does not increase risk of developing arrthymias. This is because hawthorn increases the refractory period, the period following a heartbeat when another beat cannot occur (5,6,7). The resulting effect is stabilisation of the heart. Digitalis tends to decrease the refractory period. Another advantage of hawthorn is its large range of safe dosing (8). Digitalis and other similar herbs have small differences between the safe and toxic dosages. Hawthorn has been shown to be as effective as low doses of the drug captopril, although it is unknown whether hawthorn possesses the same long-term benefits (9).
Benign heart palpitations:
It is extremely important that heart palpitations be evaluated thoroughly to ensure that they are not signs of a more serious illness. When occasional episodes of thumping and racing heartbeat are the only apparent symptoms, the heart palpitations may be benign. In this case, hawthorn is commonly used to relieve discomfort, although little scientific support exists. Signs of improvement make take one to two months to appear.
SAFETY AND PRECAUTIONS
Hawthorn appears to be quite safe. Studies in which rats and mice were given extremely high doses did not reveal any sign of toxicity (10). Side effects are rare, generally limited to mild stomach upset and allergic reactions.
It is strongly advised that patients seek professional guidance for the treatment of congestive heart failure, whether seeking conventional or alternative treatment. Individuals with very low blood pressure should also exercise caution.
Safety in young children, nursing or pregnant women, and patients with severe liver or kidney disease has not been determined.
INTERACTIONS AND CONTRA-INDICATIONS
Users should exercise extreme caution before using hawthorn berry in combination with other cardiac drugs.
1. Ammon HTP, et al. Crataegus, toxicology, and pharmacology. Planta Med 43: 105-120, 209-239, 313-322, 1981.
2. Schulz V, et al. Rational phytotherapy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998: 97.
3. Tauchert M, et al. Crataegi folium cum flore bei herzinsuffizienz. As cited in Loew D, Tietbrock N (eds.). Phytopharmaka in Forschung und klinischer Anwendung. Darmstadt: Steinkopff Verlag, 1995: 37-44.
4. Schulz V, et al. Rational phytotherapy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998: 90-98.
5. Popping S, et al. Effect of a hawthorn extract on contraction and energy turnover of isolated rat cardiomyocytes. Arzneimittelforschung Drug Res 45: 1157-1161, 1995.
6. Joseph G. Pharmacologic action profile of crataegus extract in comparison to epinephrine, amirinone, milrinone and digoxin in the isolated perfused guinea pig heart. Arzneimittelforschung 45(12): 1261-1265, 1995.
7. Schulz V, et al. Rational phytotherapy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998: 91-94.
8. Schulz V, et al. Rational phytotherapy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998: 91-95.
9. Tauchert M, et al. Weissdorn Extrakt als pflanzliches Cardiacum (Vorwort). Neubewertung der therapeutischen Wirksamkeit. Munch Med Wschr 136(Suppl. 1): 3-5, 1994.
10. Schulz V, et al. Rational phytotherapy. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998: 95.
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