Herbs for the Heart

Hawthorn Berry Benefits for your Heart

| July/August 1998

  • Illustrations by Doree Pitkin

People of ancient cultures thought the heart was the center of intelligence, creativity, and emotion. Today we know it’s central to our health. We also know more about keeping this vital organ in good shape: A growing body of scientific and clinical evidence shows that herbs, vitamins, and other nutritional elements can help prevent heart disease. So, focusing on nutrition is one of the best places to start when you’re aiming to keep your heart and circulatory system healthy.

Hawthorn is the key herb to use in heart disease prevention. It can also benefit, to various degrees, people already suffering from heart disease, including those with angina and early-stage congestive heart failure (CHF). In some cases, hawthorn can complement drug therapy or be used alone both to improve quality of life for people with stable angina and slow the progression of early-stage CHF. And, as we’ll see, there are some nutritional supplements, including coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), that must be mentioned when addressing prevention and management of heart disease.

As you learn about these nutritional elements, remember that the key to using them successfully is to work closely with your naturopathic doctor or herbally informed physician. And the hallmark of an optimal program begins with a sound diagnosis and regular evaluation by your health-care professional.

The Benefits of Hawthorn

Hawthorn can protect against developing heart disease, provided it’s used along with other healthy habits such as eating a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise. Hawthorn helps blood circulate efficiently through the body and reduces the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream.

These same actions make it useful for some people who already have heart problems. Hawthorn, particularly extracts made from its leaves and flowers, exerts a gentle, measured effect on the heart and circulation, good initial therapy for people with weakened hearts. It’s especially effective during the early stages of congestive heart failure, before stronger drugs such as digitalis are required. Using hawthorn not only gives the heart a fighting chance at recovery, it may also slow the progression of heart disease.

Modern development of hawthorn extracts began with the discovery of a group of compounds in the plant’s leaves, flowers, and berries. These compounds are flavonoids—pigments that protect plants from harmful sun rays and fight free ­radical damage—and include vitexin, quercetin, hyperoside, and oligomeric ­procyanidins. The leaves and flowers seem to have more of these constituents, so ­extracts made from leaves and flowers have largely replaced berry preparations in Europe, where hawthorn is widely prescribed by doctors.



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