Meet The Humble Hawthorn Berry: Delicious And Nutritious

Hawthorn berry can provide many health benefits, including helping heart health. Learn more here.

Fresh hawthorn berries in a bowl and a cup of tea, with dried hawthorn berries in the background

Sweet and tangy, the bright red hawthorn berry contains nutritional essentials and has many health benefits. 

The hawthorn plant has been a staple of many traditional healing practices around the world for centuries. In fact, the 16th-century Chinese medicinal encyclopedia, Compendium of Materia Medica noted that hawthorn berries have many health benefits while not being toxic or harsh on the body.

Meanwhile, American doctors also used hawthorn berries to treat circulatory disorders at the beginning of the early 19th century.

“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 clinic in Singapore, Brandon Yew.

“It can also improve qi and blood circulation, dissipate stasis in the blood and stop diarrhea when charred,” he says.

You can consume this flavorful fruit in many forms, including as a supplement. Learn more about some of the health benefits that the hawthorn berry has to offer.

Important Health Benefits of Hawthorn Berry

Here are 6 surprising health benefits of this mighty little fruit.

1. A natural source of antioxidants

Scientists have studied reactive oxygen species (ROS), more commonly known as free radicals, for decades. These havoc-wreaking molecules damage our cells, and they come from many sources. Certain lifestyle choices like smoking and consuming processed foods introduce free radicals into our bodies. But 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 external sources, the body also produces free radicals within the cells as a byproduct of metabolism. Cells damaged by ROS may die or turn into tumor cells, resulting in aging, diseases, or cancer.

To lessen the effects of free radicals, the body needs antioxidants. Hawthorn berry contains polyphenols – a natural source of antioxidants – such as oligomeric procyanidins and quercetin. These molecules can neutralize ROS and prevent them from damaging cells. Polyphenols are also associated with lower risks of some cancers, slowing down skin aging and preventing diabetes.

2. Lowers blood pressure for individuals with hypertension

A nurse checks a 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, blood pressure has shown improvement in patients with mild hypertension.

3. Lowers fats and cholesterols in the blood

A helpful indicator of heart disease risk is a serum lipid profile. A standard blood test usually includes a serum lipid profile. It is a reliable predictor of whether a person is likely to develop atherosclerosis or hardening of the blood vessels. High triglyceride (TG) levels accompanied by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are associated with a higher risk of atherosclerosis. Conversely, a low TG level accompanied by a low LDL level and a high HDL level is associated with a lower risk of atherosclerosis. Hawthorn 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 is also known to reduce the risk of heart failure. Numerous studies have shown that its extract, when taken alongside heart failure medications, showed overall improvement in cardiac function. 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, our ancestors used hawthorn berries to help with gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion. Apart from being high in dietary fiber, 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 improves when food moves quickly through the digestive system.

6. Anti-inflammatory properties

Chronic inflammation is the culprit that is linked with many modern-day diseases, including asthma, allergies, arthritis, diabetes, and many cancers. A study on 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

These bright red berries offer holistic health benefits to help support your overall wellness.

Snacked on and used medicinally over centuries, there is little reason not to include the tasty hawthorn fruit as part of your diet and reap its long list of health benefits. Start whipping up delicious meals with hawthorn vinegar. Enjoy sipping a sweet and sour cup of hawthorn berry tea. Or, if you’re looking for something more convenient, you can consume hawthorn berry in the form of enzyme powder drink or capsules.

Precautions When Consuming Hawthorn Berry

Although there are many hawthorn berry benefits, please exercise caution before dumping truckloads of these fruits into your lunch! Physician Yew encourages a more cautious approach for some and awareness of some hawthorn berry side 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, it could still be prescribed in very measured amounts by TCM professionals based on their assessment and diagnosis of the 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, it is strongly recommended to always consume them only after meals.”

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

Despite a few side effects to note, the hawthorn berry offers many health benefits. It can be especially good for your heart. Try this powerful fruit and discover the benefits for yourself. As with all supplements, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before adding a hawthorn berry supplement to your diet.

References

  1. Malekinejad, H., et al. J Medicinal Food. 2013. Comparative Protective Effect of Hawthorn Berry Hydroalcoholic Extract, Atorvastatin, and Mesalamine on Experimentally Induced Colitis in Rats [Accessed 27 October 2021]
  2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. N.d. Hawthorn [Accessed 27 October 2021]
  3. 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 27 October 2021]
  4. Wu, M., Liu, L., Xing, Y., et al. Front Pharmacol. 2020. Roles and Mechanisms of Hawthorn and Its Extracts on Atherosclerosis: A Review [Accessed 27 October 2021]
  5. 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 27 October 2021]

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