The herb for the heart

Introducing hawthorn, a botanical that promotes a healthy heart

Globally, cardiovascular diseases collectively remain as the leading causes of death. While genetics may play a role in increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, we cannot entirely put the blame on our genes.

“DNA is not destiny; it is not deterministic for familial hypercholesterolemia,” said Dr. Hayato Tada, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of cardiovascular medicine at Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Japan.

Tada et al conducted a retrospective study on 961 participants diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia or simply elevated cholesterol levels that is hereditary. Of the adult participants, 699 were positive for gene mutation related to familial hypercholesterolemia. Their study concluded that inherited risk for cardiovascular diseases can be mitigated by a healthy lifestyle.

“Our study demonstrated that a healthy lifestyle was associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) regardless of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) mutation status, suggesting that clinical and genetic diagnosis as FH is not deterministic for risk for CVD,” said Tada.

Since your DNA is not your destiny according to Tada, it is now time to take matters into our own hands and quit accepting our fate of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides due to our genes. You can do something about it. Cardiovascular diseases are preventable and reversible through a healthy lifestyle that involves a plant predominant diet composed of whole food and minimally processed food, low in trans fats and refined sugars; regular physical activities and exercise; stress management; and avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and substance abuse.

If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides, including elevated fasting blood glucose, a major risk factor for heart disease, your medications are probably doing their job in keeping your values normal. But without these drugs, your blood pressure could shoot up and this is fatal. Unfortunately, most medicines have side effects. While they are helpful in controlling and alleviating symptoms, they can never treat the root cause of your disease. This is because drugs cannot repair the damaged cells in your heart and arteries. Drugs can remove clots but it can never restore the elasticity of the arterial walls. If you don’t decide to modify your lifestyle, more plaques will form and will just clog up your arteries again, resulting in high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, or worse, death.

There are so many kinds of plant food that could help prevent and reverse cardiovascular diseases such as soy and psyllium husk. Both contain phytosterols that prevent the absorption of cholesterol and promote its excretion. Grapes, blueberries, green tea, plums, and chrysanthemum are high in antioxidants that are beneficial for the heart. Walnuts, chia, and kiwi seeds contain omega-3 that lowers inflammation and bad cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.

There is one herb that hasn’t been given the attention that it deserves—the hawthorn, a beautiful fruit-bearing shrub believed to promote marriage, fertility, and hope.

There is one herb, however, that hasn’t been given the attention it deserves—the hawthorn, a beautiful fruit-bearing shrub believed to promote marriage, fertility, and hope during the early Greek and Roman history. It is initially not used to treat illnesses until this herb found its way into the American herbal medicine in 19th century when American physicians prescribed hawthorn for heart ailments.

The hawthorn is abundant in oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). These are antioxidants that protect against cell damage and atherosclerosis or clogging of arteries that result in decreased blood flow and oxygenation. This leads to hypertension.

Flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which are also antioxidants, and plant nutrients protect the blood vessels from plaque formation. These compounds strengthen the collagen structure of arteries. They also prevent the oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol, which causes further damage in the heart and the network of blood vessels that allow blood, oxygen, and nutrients to be efficiently distributed in all parts of the body. In addition, hawthorn has substances that improve the heart’s ability to pump blood, thus regulating abnormal heart rates.

Is hawthorn safe for those who are on medication? If you are currently on medication to control blood pressure and lower blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), you are not supposed to discontinue against medical advice. You may safely take hawthorn in the form of pill, powdered, juice, or tea under the supervision of a registered nutritionist dietitian practicing functional nutrition.

Studies have shown that while various theoretical interactions between hawthorn and medications have been postulated or assumed, none have been substantiated or proven. In a research conducted by Mary C. Tassell et al entitled Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, they cited several researches using orthodox medications that were administered together with hawthorn as part of treatment for cardiovascular disease. None showed adverse reactions. Other studies have also suggested that hawthorn can be safely co-administered with heart medications like digoxin on doses and dosage that have been studied.

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