Native Americans, Europeans, and Chinese people have long used the hawthorn shrub, including its fruit, leaves, and flowers, as a remedy for health problems. Researchers are still looking into hawthorn as a treatment for disease.
Why do people take hawthorn?
People take hawthorn to try to treat conditions that include:
Heart problems. A common use for hawthorn has been to try to treat heart problems, especially heart failure.
During heart failure, the heart can't properly do its job of pumping blood around the body. Problems like coronary heart disease and high blood pressure can lead to heart failure.
In one study that combined the results of earlier studies on people with heart failure, hawthorn extract was linked to fewer symptoms of heart failure. People taking hawthorn had less fatigue and shortness of breath. But other studies have shown no benefit. There have also been reports of increased rates of death and hospitalization. More research is needed.
Cholesterol. Research on animals shows suggests that hawthorn extract lowers levels of total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. It is not known how hawthorn might affect cholesterol levels in humans.
Blood pressure. Hawthorn may lower blood pressure. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who took hawthorn extract for four months had a drop in diastolic blood pressure -- the bottom number in a blood pressure reading. But hawthorn can interact with many different types of blood pressure medications. More research is needed.
Optimal doses of hawthorn have not been set for any condition. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to set a standard dose.
Can you get hawthorn naturally from foods?
Hawthorn fruit can be eaten as food. The fruits are also canned and processed into jam, candy, and drinks.
What are the risks of taking hawthorn?
Side effects. Unwanted effects from hawthorn seem to be rare. Dizziness is the most common side effect. Other side effects include:
- Digestive distress
- Fast heart rate
- Skin rashes
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble sleeping
Risks. Avoid using if you are allergic to hawthorn or plants in the hawthorn family. Also avoid using hawthorn if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as little is known about its safety in these cases.
Interactions. Hawthorn may increase the effect of certain drugs. For instance, it may increase the effect of drugs that:
- Affect heart-muscle contraction, like digoxin
- Lower blood pressure
- Cause blood vessels to dilate, like nitrates
Hawthorn may also decrease the effect of drugs that cause blood vessels to contract. It may affect drugs and foods that lower cholesterol.
Supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way that medicines are. They are treated as foods and do not have to prove that they are safe or effective before being sold on the market.