Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Hawthorn Berry in History and Today

Hawthorn berry extract is an old herbal remedy for heart conditions. Today, Hawthorne berries are used in some natural products designed to promote heart health.

Legends, historical evidence and scientific evaluation surround hawthorn berry extract. One Christian legend holds that the "Crown of Thorns" was made from the hawthorn berry tree or bush, which originally grew in Europe, Asia, Northern Africa and much of the Mediterranean region. Today, the shrub grows in many other areas of the world and the hawthorn berries are believed by some to have miraculous healing properties.

Archeologists have found evidence that appears to indicate that ancient Chinese people used hawthorn berries to make a fermented beverage. Remnants of the hawthorn berry have been found in pottery jars dating to pre-Christian times, around 7000 B.C. It is believed that these beverages were medically or religiously significant, even then.

The New York Medical Journal first published a report concerning the use of hawthorn berries in the treatment of heart disease in October 1896. A Dr. Green of Ennis, Ireland had developed a reputation for "curing" heart disease, but refused to share his secret with colleagues. After his death, his daughter revealed the name of the remedy used by her father. The name was Crataegus Oxycantha, the older botanical name for the Common Hawthorn. The official designation is now Crataegus monogyna, but the older name is often used. According to his notes, the doctor used an extract or a concentrated form of hawthorn berry.

Clinical trials and research continued on the medicinal value of hawthorn berries throughout the early 1900's and is still going on today. Scientific evaluation of the benefits of the hawthorn berry to human health has only been partially completed. It is believed that antioxidants, flavonoids or other compounds such as epicatechin, quercetin and rutin, are responsible for the beneficial effects of hawthorn berries. It is sometimes added to health supplements designed to promote heart health, reduce blood pressure and correct unhealthy cholesterol levels.

The most recent studies of the medicinal value of hawthorn berries are related to its affect on the liver, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system and as an anti-inflammatory. Numerous studies have been completed. These studies use a concentrated extract of the hawthorn berry.

The hawthorn berry extract used by scientists has natural anti-inflammatory action. Chronic inflammation has been associated with numerous life threatening conditions including cancer and heart disease, but use of the known anti-inflammatory drugs does not reduce the risk of developing these conditions. In fact, NSAIDs increase blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and can be damaging to other organs of the body, as well.

On the other hand, it is believed that natural anti-inflammatories, such as those found in hawthorn berries and other herbs, fruits and vegetables, can reduce cancer risks and the risk of heart disease. These natural compounds can also lower blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol levels, two major risk factors for heart disease.

Hawthorn berry extract has been shown to reduce ulcerative colitis, probably due, once again, to its anti-inflammatory activity. Ulcerative colitis is one of the inflammatory bowel diseases. While not life threatening, it is difficult to live with and the best known treatment for many years was surgical removal of the affected parts of the bowel and colon. Some herbalists recommend hawthorn berries for people suffering from ulcerative colitis and other digestive problems.

Hawthorn berry extract has been shown to protect the liver from damage usually associated with cardiac events in laboratory animals. After a heart attack, liver function is impaired. The exact reasons for the beneficial affects of hawthorn berries extract on the liver are unknown.

In the vascular system, hawthorn berry extract has been shown to reduce calcification. It is calcification of arterial plaques that leads to atherosclerosis, which is commonly referred to as a hardening or narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart. Calcification of arterial plaques can also cause blood clots, leading to strokes and heart attacks.

Even though some health care professionals have recognized the medicinal value of hawthorn berries for over 100 years, research related to them is still considered preliminary. Most scientific research is funded by pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical companies cannot patent naturally occurring substances. So, hawthorn berries and other natural remedies are of little interest to them.

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