Hawthorn (or hawthorne) is one of the most effective natural remedies for high blood pressure. The flowering tops and berries of the hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) are used are used in both traditional Chinese and western medicine to treat a variety of circulatory problems, such as angina, raised cholesterol, abnormal heart rhythms, and to strengthen the pumping action of the heart in chronic congestive heart failure. Hawthorn is also used to improve insomnia.
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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).
As a bonus, Crataegus (hawthorn) appears to protect heart muscle from the damaging effects of low blood and oxygen supply, and may also reduce the heart muscle thickening (hypertrophy) that can occur as a result of hypertension.
The effectiveness of hawthorn for high blood pressure
In one study, 36 people with high blood pressure had their blood pressures 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 berry extract, or a combination of both, or an inactive placebo. After ten weeks, there were significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure (lower reading) 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.
Hawthorn berry dose to lower blood pressure
Typically you take a hawthorn berry dose of 500–1200 mg a day (standardized to at least 1.8 per cent vitexin).
If you prefer not to take hawthorn supplements to lower blood pressure, you can enjoy some of the heart health benefits by drinking a tasty hawthorn tea. You can buy hawthorn tea in the UK and the US.
Side effects of hawthorn
Hawthorn does not contain cardiac glycosides (such as those found in the foxglove) and therefore have few side effects despite their beneficial actions. Hawthorn berry side effects are uncommon and only a few cases of mild nausea, dizziness, sweating and skin rashes have been reported.
A recent review of all the evidence suggests that Crataegus (hawthorn) has a long history of safe use in the treatment of heart failure and improves health-related quality of life. Clinical trials, including one that lasted for 2 years, show that hawthorn extracts have a good safety profile, either used alone or as add-on therapy together with digoxin or digitoxin, diuretics, beta-blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. While no drug interactions were observed, only use hawthorn supplements together with prescribed medicines under medical supervision.
Hawthorn is also available as a homeopathic remedy, Crataegus, so ensure you use the herbal medicine for greatest effect.
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