Hawthorn berries are small fruits that grow on the tree of the Crataegus genus.
The Crataegus genus comprises many species that are common in North America, Asia, and Europe.
Hawthorn berries are filled with nutrients. Their taste is tangy and tart, with some mild level of sweetness. They may be yellow in color, or red, or even black (1).
For hundreds of years, hawthorn berry has been used to treat heart failure, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. It is worth noting that Hawthorn berry is an essential component of traditional Chinese medicine.
In this article, we will review the 8 unique health benefits of hawthorn.
Hawthorn is rich in antioxidants
Hawthorn berry contains a lot of polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that can be found in plants (2).
It is important to note that antioxidants fight against the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause immense harm to your body when they accumulate to high levels. The origin of free radicals includes a poor diet and environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke and air pollution (3).
Because of their high antioxidant activity, polyphenols are linked to several health benefits, such as the decreased risk of the following conditions (4, 5):
- Some types of cancers
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart problems
- Certain infections
- Premature skin aging
Although results from initial research hold some promise, there is a need for more studies to verify its effects on disease risk.
Hawthorn may have anti-inflammatory properties
There is evidence that hawthorn berry may possess anti-inflammatory effects that could give your health a boost.
Inflammation, especially at the chronic stage is associated with several ailments, such as asthma, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes (8).
In a study involving mice with diseased livers, the administration of an extract from hawthorn berry caused a significant reduction in the levels of inflammatory markers (9).
Also, studies conducted on asthmatic mice showed that hawthorn extract caused a significant decrease in inflammation so much that it reduced symptoms of asthma (10).
Because of encouraging results from test tube and animal studies, researchers believe that supplementing with hawthorn may also be of immense benefit to humans.
However, there is a need for further research to verify this.
May have blood-pressure-lowering effects
Hawthorn berry is highly recommended in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of high blood pressure (11).
Some animal studies have proven that hawthorn has vasodilatory effects. This means that it can relax blood vessels, thus lowering your blood pressure (12, 13, 14, 15).
A 10-week study was conducted and involved 36 subjected with slightly elevated blood pressure. Subjects were given 500mg of hawthorn extract every day. The researchers at the end of the study observed no significant decreases in blood pressure (16).
Another study was conducted for 16 weeks. The study involved 79 subjects with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Results from the study showed that those who took at least 1200mg of hawthorn extract every day experienced significant improvements in blood pressure, as compared to those who took a placebo (17).
But then, a similar study involving 21 people with slightly elevated blood pressure did not observe any differences between the placebo and hawthorn-extract groups (18).
Decreases fatty content of blood
Results from current studies suggest that hawthorn may improve the fatty content of the blood.
Triglycerides and cholesterol are the two primary fats in your blood. They are always present.
At normal levels, they are okay and contribute to hormone production as well as transportation of nutrients throughout your body.
However, when there is an imbalance in the levels of blood fat, then you're bound to have health problems. For instance, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides contribute to atherosclerosis or buildup of plaque in your blood vessels (19).
Accumulation of plaque can block a blood vessel completely, thus leading to a stroke or a heart attack.
In a particular study, mice that received two doses of hawthorn extract had their LDL and total cholesterol levels reduced. Their liver triglyceride level also reduced by 28 – 47% compared with rodents that were not treated with the extract (20).
Also, in a study involving mice fed with high-cholesterol diet, it was discovered that the drug simvastatin and hawthorn extract significantly reduced triglycerides and total cholesterol levels (21).
It is promising research no doubt, but there is a need for more human studies to verify how hawthorn berry affects blood fats.
Hawthorn berry aids digestion
Hawthorn extract and hawthorn berries have been used to treat digestive problems (mostly stomach pain and indigestion) for many years.
Hawthorn berries are loaded with fiber, which aids digestion by serving as a prebiotic and also reducing constipation.
Prebiotics provide nutrients for your healthy gut flora and also maintain healthy digestion (22).
An observational study in people with digestion issues found that every extra gram of dietary fiber eaten caused a 30-minute decrease in the time between bowel movements (23).
Also, a rodent study observed that hawthorn drastically reduced the transit time of food in the gastrointestinal system (24).
The implication is that food moves faster through your digestive system, thus alleviating indigestion.
Another study involving rodents with stomach ulcers found that hawthorn extract had a protective effect on the stomach similar to an anti-ulcer drug (7).
It prevents hair loss
Do you know that hawthorn berry can prevent baldness? It is widely used in many hair growth creams.
A particular study involving rodents discovered that hawthorn extract stimulated the growth of hair and also increased the size and number of hair follicles (25).
Hawthorn berry contains polyphenol. It is believed that the polyphenol is responsible for this beneficial effect. However, there's limited research on this area and the need for more human studies.
Hawthorn is a mild sedative, so this effect helps to decrease anxiety symptoms (26).
A study investigating the effects of hawthorn on blood pressure found that while the extract did not cause any significant decrease in anxiety levels, there seemed to be a trend towards a reduction in anxiety levels (16).
In another study involving 264 anxiety patients, a combination of California poppy flower, magnesium, and hawthorn drastically reduced their anxiety levels, compared to a placebo. However, researchers do not have a full understanding of the role played by hawthorn (27).
Hawthorn has fewer side effects compared to conventional anti-anxiety medications. However, more research is still being done to evaluate its effectiveness as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety (1).
There is a need for more research. If you intend to manage your anxiety with hawthorn, discuss with your doctor, and be sure not to discard your current medications.
Hawthorn treats heart failure
One of the best-known uses of Hawthorn berry is its role in the treatment of heart failure. In this regard, it is combined with traditional heart failure medications.
A study review of 14 randomized studies involving over 850 participants found that hawthorn extract combined with heart failure medications improved exercise tolerance and heart function.
The participants also experienced less fatigue and shortness of breath (28).
Also, a 2-year study involving 952 participants with heart failure discovered that those who took hawthorn supplements had less fatigue, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath compared with those who did not take hawthorn supplements.
Also, the hawthorn group was able to manage their heart conditions with fewer medications (29).
Any side effects?
Intake of hawthorn berry is associated with very few side effects.
There have been complaints of dizziness and mild nausea (28).
Because of its effect on the heart, hawthorn can interfere with some medications. If you are taking any medications for cholesterol, blood pressure, or heart failure, please consult your doctor before taking the supplements.