Hawthorn berries are small fruits that can be found on shrubs or trees that belong to the family Crataegus. This category of plants includes more than 100 trees and shrubs that are found throughout Europe, Asia and North America.
A distinctive feature of hawthorn is its high nutrient content, tart taste and relatively little sweetness. Color of hawthorn berries can vary from light yellow to black.
For a long time, hawthorn has been used as a medicinal plant that helps normalize digestion, heart muscle function and blood pressure levels. For the same reasons, fruits of hawthorn are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Let’s look further at what hawthorn is for and how to use it properly.
Contains an impressive amount of antioxidants
As we know, hawthorn berries contain a large amount of polyphenols, which are among the strong antioxidants of plant origin. When ingested by the human body, they allow to neutralize negative effects of free radicals – unstable molecules that lead to destruction of some cells. Concentrations of unwanted molecules can increase as a result of improper diet, negative environmental effects in the form of polluted air, and bad habits such as smoking.
Because of their high antioxidant activity, scientists have linked the inclusion of polyphenols in the diet to a reduced risk of diseases such as:
- Cardiovascular diseases;
- Infectious diseases;
- Type 2 diabetes;
- Premature skin aging.
And while initial studies in the above areas have shown encouraging results, scientists insist that more experiments are needed to determine effect of hawthorn on various diseases.
Has anti-inflammatory properties
Adding hawthorn berries to your diet can reduce inflammation, which can improve your body’s condition. According to research, chronic inflammation causes a number of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, asthma and many others.
In one experiment, it was found that in mice with liver disease, hawthorn was able to reduce inflammatory compounds. At the same time, in another group of rodents suffering from asthma, product eliminated symptoms of disease.
Corresponding results of animal studies have shown that supplement can have anti-inflammatory effects, including in humans. But more research is needed to confirm this property.
Reduces blood pressure levels
Hawthorn has been used for many years in Chinese medicine to lower blood pressure. Scientists attribute this use to berries’ ability to dilate blood vessels, which leads to blood pressure normalization.
In a 10-week study on people with high blood pressure, scientists found that regular consumption of 500 milligrams of hawthorn extract reduced diastolic blood pressure, but had no effect on blood pressure.
In another experiment involving 79 people with type 2 diabetes, researchers found that 1,200 milligrams of hawthorn extract was more effective at normalizing blood pressure than moderate amounts. In those with normal blood pressure, however, taking this substance did not result in any changes for worse or better.
Prevents hair loss
It is not uncommon to find hawthorn as one of ingredients in cosmetic products designed to protect against hair loss or to stimulate hair growth. For example, one of experiments on rats showed that adding hawthorn extract to diet increases size and number of hair follicles, which improves hair quality and ensures its enhanced growth.
According to scientists, effect described above is due to high content of polyphenols. Despite this, number of studies in this area of hawthorn use is relatively small. Therefore, a number of additional experiments are required to confirm this effect.
Reduces blood fat levels
Certain studies demonstrate that inclusion of hawthorn fruits in diet can normalize blood fat levels, namely triglycerides and cholesterol. These trace elements are responsible for transporting nutrients and hormones throughout body. However, this function is only respected if their levels are within normal limits.
Elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol with a parallel decrease in HDL (good cholesterol) can lead to the development of atherosclerosis and the accumulation of cholesterol plaques on vessel walls. The latter process can cause complete blockage of blood vessels and, consequently, lead to a stroke or heart attack.
During one of studies, scientists found that in mice with hawthorn extract in their diet, level of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) decreased by 28-47 percent, and with it, the amount of triglycerides decreased. At the same time, another study showed that effectiveness of plant is comparable to special drugs for normalizing cholesterol levels. However, unlike drug, fruit extract was more effective in lowering LDL levels.
Despite promising results, more research is needed to confirm product’s effectiveness.
Hawthorn fruits have been used in folk medicine for several hundred years to normalize gastrointestinal function. They can eliminate abdominal pain and upset stomach. Researchers attribute corresponding property to high content of fiber, which eliminates constipation, improves digestion and acts on the body as a probiotic.
Probiotics are substances that are needed to promote healthy gut bacteria and normalize digestion. One study found that in individuals with delayed digestion, regular intake of fiber shortened period between defecation by an average of 30 minutes.
What’s more, scientists have found that hawthorn extract can shorten time it takes for food to pass through GI tract. This helps to speed up a number of processes and eliminate symptoms of upset stomach in a shorter period of time. In addition, this product has been able to protect stomach from damage in participants suffering from ulcers.
One of distinctive properties of hawthorn is its mild sedative effect on body, which allows you to reduce feelings of anxiety. In spite of this, research on effect of hawthorn on blood pressure has shown that this product has a negligible effect on anxiety levels. In another experiment, however, combining the berries of this plant with magnesium and maca led to significant reductions in feelings of anxiety and worry.
Based on fact that taking hawthorn has minimal side effects compared to anti-anxiety medications, scientists continue to study its effects on central nervous system. Moreover, researchers suggest that this product can be used to treat CNS disorders and depression.
If you wish to use hawthorn extract or fruits of this plant to reduce anxiety, restlessness, or treat depression, you should stop taking other medications first and consult your physician.
May be used to treat heart failure
Often benefits of hawthorn are compared to traditional medications for treating heart failure. An analysis of 14 different experiments conducted on different age groups showed that use of hawthorn in combination with medication for heart failure improved heart function and its ability to withstand high physical activity. At same time, participants of experiment had a decrease in shortness of breath and an increase in endurance.
One two-year study, which included approximately 950 people with heart failure, found that hawthorn berries could normalize heart rhythm and relieve dyspnea more effectively than placebo. Moreover, group that took hawthorn required less medication to treat heart disease.
Another study involving more than 2,600 people with heart failure symptoms demonstrated that hawthorn extract can reduce risk of death caused by heart disease.
Because of health benefits of hawthorn described above, doctors strongly recommend using this product in conjunction with medications to treat heart failure. They also note that supplement is not dangerous to human health and has minimal side effects.
Easy to incorporate into diet
Hawthorn berries are extremely rare to find in grocery stores. However, they can be purchased effortlessly in specialized online stores.
Doctors note that you can add this product to your diet in several variations, viz:
- Raw form – berries have a pleasant tart taste and can be used as an additional ingredient in various dishes;
- Tea – hawthorn is often sold as a tea, but dried berries of plant, flowers or leaves can also be used for brewing if necessary;
- As jams and desserts – jams and even syrups of hawthorn berries are often found in online stores;
- Form of vinegar or wine – if desired, hawthorn berries can be used to create wine or vinegar that will be suitable for dressing salads;
- In form of food additives – differ in convenience of consumption and are sold as powders, liquid extracts, tablets and capsules.
As a rule, hawthorn tablets contain not only berries of plant, but also leaves and flowers. This is due to fact that concentration of useful substances in latter two products is much higher than in fruit.
Recommendations for use of hawthorn can vary depending on form. So, for example, for treatment of heart failure, extract should be used in the amount of 300 milligrams per day, while in natural form, recommended amount of consumption is from 250 to 500 milligrams.
It is worth noting that composition of dietary supplements in most cases is not regulated by Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, it is impossible to know effectiveness or safety of a particular supplement.
When buying supplements, you should look for products that have been quality-assured by independent sources such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab or NSF International.
Potential side effects
Although the number of side effects when taking hawthorn is relatively low, doctors recommend including this product in diet with extreme caution. This is due to fact that some people have experienced dizziness and nausea when consuming extract of this plant.
Also, scientists have noted that because of strong effect on the heart muscle, hawthorn can somehow affect effect of some medications. Therefore, before including it in the diet, you should definitely consult with your doctor.
Doctors often attribute useful properties of hawthorn to the high content of antioxidants. Including them in diet can have a positive effect on health and heart muscle function. Studies show that this product, among other things, can normalize blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol in blood. Also, its intake can improve hair growth and eliminate inflammatory processes that lead to the development of dangerous diseases.
If you wish to include hawthorn fruit or supplements of same name in your diet, consult your doctor beforehand.