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9 Impressive Health Benefits of Hawthorn Berry

Health + Wellness
Hawthorn berries. yipengge / iStock / Getty Images

By SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

Hawthorn berries are tiny fruits that grow on trees and shrubs belonging to the Crataegusgenus.


The genus includes hundreds of species, which are commonly found in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Their berries are packed with nutrition and have a tart, tangy taste and mild sweetness, ranging in color from yellow to deep red or black (1).

For centuries, hawthorn berry has been used as an herbal remedy for digestive problems, heart failure, and high blood pressure. In fact, it's a key part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Here are 9 impressive health benefits of hawthorn berry.

1. Loaded with Antioxidants

Hawthorn berry is one of the most widely known sources of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidant compounds found in plants (2).

Antioxidants in your diet help neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can harm your body in high levels. These molecules can come from poor diet, as well as environmental toxins like air pollution and cigarette smoke (3).

Due to their antioxidant activity, polyphenols have been associated with numerous health benefits, including a lower risk of (4, 5):

  • some cancers
  • type 2 diabetes
  • asthma
  • some infections
  • heart problems
  • premature skin aging

Though initial research is promising, more studies are needed to assess the effects of hawthorn on lowering disease risk.

Summary

Hawthorn berry contains plant polyphenols that have been linked to numerous health benefits due to their antioxidant properties.

2. May Boost Your Immune System

Hawthorn berry may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that could strengthen your immune system.

In one test-tube study, hawthorn extract exhibited significant antibacterial action against Streptococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, even killing some of the harmful bacteria (6).

Another test-tube study found that hawthorn berry extract had moderate antibacterial potential against several bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, which causes foodborne illness(7).

Furthermore, some animal research indicates that the berry may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers (8).

In a study in mice with liver disease, hawthorn berry extract significantly reduced levels of inflammatory compounds (9).

What's more, research in mice with asthma showed that supplementing with hawthorn berry extract decreased inflammation enough to significantly reduce asthma symptoms (10).

Due to these promising results from animal and test-tube studies, scientists believe the supplement may offer immune-boosting benefits in humans. However, more research is needed.

Summary

In test-tube and animal studies, hawthorn shows antibacterial and anti-inflammatory potential that may boost the immune system. Still, more research in humans is needed.

3. May Lower Blood Pressure

In traditional Chinese medicine, hawthorn berry is one of the most commonly recommended foods to help treat high blood pressure (11).

Several studies in animals and humans show that hawthorn can act as a vasodilator, meaning it can relax constricted blood vessels, ultimately lowering blood pressure (12, 13, 14, 15).

In a 10-week study in 36 people with mildly elevated blood pressure, those taking 500 mg of hawthorn extract daily experienced a decrease in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading), while other groups showed no improvements (16).

Another study in 79 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure observed that those who took 1,200 mg of hawthorn extract daily had greater improvements in blood pressure than those in the placebo group (17).

Nonetheless, a similar study in 21 people with mildly elevated blood pressure noted no differences between the hawthorn-extract and placebo groups (18).

Summary

Some evidence suggests that hawthorn berry may reduce blood pressure by helping dilate blood vessels. However, not all studies agree.

4. May Decrease Blood Fats

Some data indicates that hawthorn extract may improve blood fat levels.

Cholesterol and triglycerides are two types of fats always present in your blood.

At normal levels, they're perfectly healthy and play a very important role in creating hormones and transporting nutrients throughout your body.

However, imbalanced blood fat levels, particularly high triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol, can lead to plaque buildup in your blood vessels (atherosclerosis) (19).

If the plaque continues to grow, it could completely block a blood vessel, leading to heart attack or stroke.

In one study, mice given two different doses of hawthorn extract had lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as 28–47% lower liver triglyceride levels than those not receiving the extract (20).

Similarly, in a study in mice on a high-cholesterol diet, both hawthorn extract and the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin reduced total cholesterol and triglycerides about equally, but the extract also decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol (21).

Though this research is promising, more human studies are needed to assess the effect of hawthorn extract on blood fats.

Summary

Hawthorn extract has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in animal studies. More research is needed to determine whether it has similar effects in humans.

5. Used to Aid Digestion

Hawthorn berries and hawthorn extract have been used for centuries to treat digestive issues, particularly indigestion and stomach pain.

The berries contain fiber, which has been proven to aid digestion by reducing constipation and acting as a prebiotic.

Prebiotics feed your healthy gut bacteria and are vital to maintaining healthy digestion (22).

One observational study in people with slow digestion found that each additional gram of dietary fiber decreased the time between bowel movements by approximately 30 minutes (23).

Additionally, a rat study observed that hawthorn extract dramatically increased the transit time of food in the stomach (24).

This means that food moves more quickly through your digestive system, which may alleviate indigestion.

Furthermore, in a study in rats with stomach ulcers, hawthorn extract exhibited the same protective effect on the stomach as an anti-ulcer medication (7).

Summary

Hawthorn berry has been used as a digestive aid for centuries. It can decrease the transit time of food in your digestive system. What's more, its fiber content is a prebiotic and may help relieve constipation.

6. Helps Prevent Hair Loss

Hawthorn berry may even prevent hair loss and is a common ingredient in commercial hair growth products.

One study in rats found that hawthorn stimulated hair growth and increased the number and size of hair follicles, promoting healthier hair (25).

It's believed that the polyphenol content in hawthorn berry causes this beneficial effect. Nevertheless, research in this area is limited, and human studies are needed.

Summary

Hawthorn berry is an ingredient in some hair growth products. Its polyphenol content may promote healthy hair growth, but more research is needed.

7. May Reduce Anxiety

Hawthorn has a very mild sedative effect, which may help decrease anxiety symptoms (26).

In a study on hawthorn's effect on blood pressure, people taking hawthorn extract also reported lower levels of anxiety (16).

In another study in 264 people with anxiety, a combination of hawthorn, magnesium, and California poppy flower significantly reduced anxiety levels, compared to a placebo. Still, it's unclear what role hawthorn played, specifically (27).

Given that it has few side effects compared to traditional anti-anxiety medications, hawthorn continues to be researched as a potential treatment for disorders of the central nervous system, such as anxiety and depression (1).

However, more research is needed. If you want to try a hawthorn supplement to manage your anxiety, don't discontinue any of your current medications and be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider.

Summary

Some studies indicate that hawthorn supplements may reduce anxiety. Still, more research is needed before recommendations can be made.

8. Used to Treat Heart Failure

Hawthorn berry is best known for its use alongside traditional medications in the treatment of heart failure.

A review of 14 randomized studies in more than 850 people concluded that those who took hawthorn extract along with their heart failure medications had improved heart function and exercise tolerance.

They also experienced less shortness of breath and fatigue (28).

What's more, a 2-year observational study in 952 people with heart failure found that those supplementing with hawthorn berry extract had less fatigue, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations than people who did not supplement.

The group taking hawthorn berry also required fewer medications to manage their heart failure (29).

Finally, another large study in over 2,600 people with heart failure suggested that supplementing with hawthorn berry may reduce the risk of sudden heart-related death (30).

People with heart failure are often encouraged to take hawthorn berry in addition to their current medications, as the supplement is considered safe with few side effects (28).

Summary

Hawthorn berry is beneficial for people with heart failure, as it has been shown to improve heart function and decrease symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue.

9. Easy to Add to Your Diet

Hawthorn berry may be difficult to find at your local grocery store. However, you should be able to find it at farmers' markets, specialty health food stores, and online.

You can add hawthorn to your diet in many ways:

  • Raw. Raw hawthorn berries have a tart, slightly sweet taste and make a great on-the-go snack.
  • Tea. You can buy premade hawthorn tea or make your own using the dried berries, flowers, and leaves of the plant.
  • Jams and desserts. In the Southeastern United States, hawthorn berries are commonly made into jam, pie filling, and syrup.
  • Wine and vinegar. Hawthorn berries can be fermented into a tasty adult beverage or a flavorful vinegar that can be used to make salad dressing.
  • Supplements. You can take hawthorn berry supplements in a convenient powder, pill, or liquid form.

Hawthorn berry supplements usually contain the berry along with the leaves and flowers. Although, some include only the leaves and flowers, as they're a more concentrated source of antioxidants than the berry itself.

Different brands and forms of hawthorn supplements have different dosing recommendations.

According to one report, the minimum effective dose of hawthorn extract for heart failure is 300 mg daily (31).

Typical doses are 250–500 mg, taken three times daily.

Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other governing body.

Therefore, it's nearly impossible to know the true effectiveness or safety of a supplement. Always purchase them from reputable sources.

Look for products that have received a seal of approval from independent organizations that assess supplement effectiveness and quality, such as United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Summary

Hawthorn berries can be eaten in many different ways or taken as a supplement. Supplements are not regulated, so it's important to buy them from sources you trust.

Side Effects and Precautions

Very few side effects have been reported from taking hawthorn berry.

However, some people have complained of mild nausea or dizziness (28).

Due to its potent effect on the heart, it can affect certain medications. If you're taking drugs for your heart, blood pressure, or cholesterol, speak with your healthcare provider before using hawthorn berry supplements.

Summary

Hawthorn berry is safe with few side effects. Speak with your healthcare professional before starting this supplement if you're on any heart medications.

The Bottom Line

Primarily due to its antioxidant content, hawthorn berry has numerous health effects, especially for your heart.

Studies indicate that it may improve blood pressure and blood fat levels, as well as treat heart failure when combined with standard medications.

In addition, it may boost your immune system, promote hair growth, reduce anxiety, and aid digestion.

If you want to give this powerful berry a try, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking it as a supplement.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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