Hawthorn is one of the most effective natural remedies for high blood pressure. The flowering tops and berries of the hawthorn (Crataegus) are used as medicinal herbs to treat a variety of circulatory problems, and to ‘strengthen’ a heart in people with heart failure.
How hawthorn lowers a high blood pressure
Hawthorn extracts contain antioxidant flavonoids, such as vitexin, which are used to lower a high blood pressure, relieve angina, improve heart pump efficiency and reduce abnormal heart rhythms as well as reducing stress, anxiety and insomnia.
Hawthorn is believed to reduce blood pressure by relaxing peripheral blood vessels and dilating arteries in the same way as ACE inhibitor antihypertensive drugs – by blocking the action of ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme). Hawthorn may also increase levels of nitric oxide (a powerful blood vessel dilator) and has a mild diuretic action which discourages fluid retention. Its antioxidant action may reduce hardening and furring up of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
The effectiveness of hawthorn for high blood pressure
In one study, 36 people with high blood pressure had their baseline blood pressure measured at rest, after exercise and after a stressful computer test. The volunteers then took daily supplements for 10 weeks which consisted of either: 600 mg magnesium or 500 mg hawthorn extract, or a combination of both, or an inactive placebo. After ten weeks, there were significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure in those taking hawthorn extracts compared with the other two groups. They also had lower anxiety scores. Given how well magnesium can reduce a high blood pressure, this study suggests that hawthorn may be even more effective.
In another study, 79 people with type 2 diabetes, who were taking an average of 4.4 medications to control their glucose levels and blood pressure, were divided into two groups; one group received 1200 mg hawthorn extract while the other took inactive placebo. Those taking hawthorn showed greater reduction in blood pressure (3.6/2.6 mmHg) compared with the placebo group (in whom systolic BP fell by 0.8 mmHg but diastolic blood pressure increased by 0.5 mmHg).
Hawthorn and heart failure
Heart failure is a possible complication of persistent, uncontrolled high blood pressure. The results from 10 trials, involving 855 people, show that taking hawthorn extracts can reduce the work load of the heart, improve shortness of breath and fatigue, and increase exercise tolerance more than placebo.
Typically 500–1200 mg a day (standardized to at least 1.8 per cent vitexin). However, hawthorn is best taken under the supervision of a medical herbalist. Side effects are uncommon and include nausea, dizziness, sweating and skin rashes.
Hawthorn does not contain cardiac glycosides (such as those found in the foxglove) and therefore have few side effects despite their beneficial actions. Even so, it is a powerful herbal medicine and is best used under the supervision of a medical herbalist if you are taking other prescribed medications.
If you prefer not to take hawthorn in supplement form, you can enjoy some of the heart health benefits by drinking a tasty hawthorn tea.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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