Getting to Know Hawthorn Berry and Its Amazing Health Benefits

This tiny fruit packs a punch with its numerous health benefits, including promoting cardiovascular health. Learn more about hawthorn berry here.

Dried hawthorn berry slices in a bowl on a wooden background

You may be surprised to learn that the hawthorn berry, a tangy yet sweet fruit, is packed with nutritional essentials and has many health benefits.

Many continents used hawthorn berry as a herbal remedy for various conditions before modern medicine. The Chinese medicinal encyclopedia, Compendium of Materia Medica (本草纲目) of the 16th century documented that these berries have many health benefits while not being toxic or harsh on the body. “It alleviates dyspepsia indigestion and promotes digestion, especially of meaty, fatty and oily foods,” explains Senior Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician at Real Health Medical, Brandon Yew.  

“It can also improve qi and blood circulation, dissipate stasis in the blood and stop diarrhoea when charred,” he says. Meanwhile, American doctors also used them to treat circulatory disorders at the beginning of the early 19th century. 

Closer to home, many consume this healthy fruit in various forms. The most common being haw flakes, a tangy snack that many who grew up in Asia are familiar with.

Here, we explore some hawthorn berry benefits. 

Hawthorn Berry Health Benefits 

Here are 6 health benefits of these tiny fruits that would surprise you: 

1. A natural source of antioxidants 

As we get on with our daily lives, our bodies are subjected to the inevitable process of ageing. Over decades, scientists have laid their eyes on reactive oxygen species (ROS), more commonly known as free radicals. These havoc-wreaking molecules damage our cells, and they come from many sources. Poor life habits like smoking and consumption of processed foods introduce them into our bodies. Even those who live the healthiest lifestyles cannot escape the effect of free radicals from environmental sources such as polluted air and ultraviolet radiation. Apart from these extrinsic sources, body cells constantly produce free radicals as we breathe in oxygen. Cells damaged by ROS may die or turn into tumour cells, resulting in ageing, diseases or cancer. 

Hawthorn berry contains polyphenols – a natural source of antioxidants – such as oligomeric procyanidins and quercetin. These molecules can neutralise ROS and prevent them from damaging our cells. Polyphenols are also associated with lower risks of some cancers, slowing down skin ageing and preventing diabetes

2. Lowers blood pressure for people with hypertension

An Asian doctor checks an old Asian woman’s blood pressure
The hawthorn berry contains ingredients that can lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, and lower cholesterol.

Active ingredients in hawthorn berries have shown vasodilating properties, which help to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension puts stress on the heart and is a major contributing factor to heart disease. In human studies, patients with mild hypertension showed improved blood pressure control when they are given the extract from the berries as a daily supplement for ten weeks. 

3. Lowers fats and cholesterols in the blood 

Serum lipid profile informs of a person’s risk of developing heart disease. You can measure it in almost every standard blood test. It is a reliable predictor of whether a person is likely to develop atherosclerosis. High triglyceride (TG) levels accompanied with a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is associated with a higher risk of atherosclerosis. Conversely, a low TG level with a low LDL level and a high HDL level associate with a lower risk of atherosclerosis. A hawthorn berry benefit is that its extract possesses serum lipid-lowering properties and provides potent cardiovascular protective action by lowering TG and LDL levels. 

4. Lowers the risk of heart failure 

The hawthorn berry may also help reduce the risk of heart failure. Numerous studies have shown that its extract, when taken alongside heart failure medications, showed overall improvement in cardiac functions. Another large study also suggested that patients with heart failure may reduce the risk of sudden heart-related deaths and improve the symptoms associated with heart failure when they take hawthorn berry supplements together with conventional therapies. 

5. Aids digestion 

A pair of female hands in the shape of a heart is placed on top of her stomach
Hawthorn berries contain properties that improve digestion by reducing constipation and acting as a prebiotic.

For centuries, people have used hawthorn berries to treat gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion. Apart from being high in dietary fibre, they also possess prebiotic properties that aid digestion by nourishing the good bacteria that live in our intestines and improving overall gut health. A study in rats showed that the extract could reduce the time taken for the food to pass through the digestive system. Indigestion is alleviated when food moves quickly through the digestive system. 

6. Anti-inflammatory properties 

Chronic inflammation is the culprit linked to many modern-day diseases, including asthma, allergies, arthritis, diabetes, and many cancers. A study in mice demonstrated that hawthorn extracts markedly reduced the levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, which alleviated the symptoms of diseases such as asthma. Other animal studies have also shown that the extract can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis by regulating inflammation. 

Supplementing Your Diet with Hawthorn Berries 

Although the various hawthorn berry benefits discussed here may seem to cater to different aspects of our bodily health, these bright red berries offer holistic health benefits in the grand scheme of wellness.  

Given that many snacks upon and uses these small berries medicinally over centuries, there is little reason not to include this tasty fruit as part of our diet so that we can all reap from its long list of health benefits. Start whipping up delicious meals with hawthorn vinegar, which will give your palate a pleasant aftertaste. Adding dried slices to your cup of tea will give it a sweet and sour taste. If you’re looking for something more convenient, you can find the extract in capsules. 

Precautions When Consuming Hawthorn Berry 

Nevertheless, please exercise caution before dumping truckloads of these fruits into your lunch. Physician Yew urges everyone to be cautious and aware of its significant effects. “From the perspective of TCM, people with weak digestive function due to spleen deficiency should refrain from regularly consuming hawthorn berries solely to aid digestion. This is because hawthorn berries lack Spleen-tonifying properties. Hence their usage is merely a stop-gap symptomatic treatment. Prolonged and over-consumption of hawthorn berries can further weaken the spleen, propagating a vicious cycle as an unexpected result,” he says.  

“However, TCM professionals could still prescribe them in very measured amounts based on their assessment and diagnosis of a patient’s body constitution and medical condition. As it is acidic, they could damage the stomach lining and cause or worsen gastric ulcers in the long run if taken with an empty stomach. Thus, you should always consume them only after meals.”  

Physician Yew also strongly advises that pregnant women avoid them because their potent qi and blood-circulatory effects could potentially cause a miscarriage. The same applies to women with unusually heavy and prolonged menstruation. As such, it helps to promote menstrual flow and relieve menstrual pain and cramps.  

Hawthorn berry benefits your health and could be especially good for your heart. Give this powerful fruit a try and discover the benefits it can give you. Most importantly, remember to consult with your healthcare provider before taking this as a supplement.

References

  1. Tadić, VM., Dobrić, S., Marković, GM., et al. J Agric Food Chem. 2008. Anti-inflammatory, Gastroprotective, Free-Radical-Scavenging, and Antimicrobial Activities of Hawthorn Berries Ethanol Extract. [Accessed 13 September 2021]
  2. Walker, AF., Marakis, G., Morris, AP., et al. Phytother Res. 2002. Promising hypotensive effect of hawthorn extract: a randomized double-blind pilot study of mild, essential hypertension. [Accessed 13 September 2021]
  3. Wu, M., Liu, L., Xing, Y., et al. Front Pharmacol. 2020. Roles and Mechanisms of Hawthorn and Its Extracts on Atherosclerosis: A Review. [Accessed 13 September 2021]
  4. Pittler, MH., Guo, R., Ernst, E. Am J Med. 2003. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. [Accessed 13 September 2021] 
  5. Rigelsky, JM., Sweet, BV. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2002. Hawthorn: pharmacology and therapeutic uses. [Accessed 13 September 2021]
  6. Wang, X., Zhang, C., Peng, Y., et al. Food Chem. 2018. Chemical constituents, antioxidant and gastrointestinal transit accelerating activities of dried fruit of Crataegus dahurica. [Accessed 13 September 2021]
  7. Zhang, Y., Zhang, L., Geng, Y., & Geng Y. 2014. Hawthorn Fruit Attenuates Atherosclerosis by Improving the Hypolipidemic and Antioxidant Activities in Apolipoprotein E-Deficient Mice. [Accessed 13 September 2021]

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