Hawthorn Extract Improves Exercise Tolerance in People with Congestive Heart Failure
An extract made from hawthorn leaves and flowers (Crataegus sp.) may help improve exercise tolerance in people with moderate congestive heart failure, according to a study in Phytomedicine (2001;8:262–66).
Heart failure may be caused by many different factors, but the end result is a weakened heart that has difficulty adequately pumping blood to the rest of the body. People with heart failure often experience shortness of breath or fatigue with exertion, fast heart rate, intolerance to cold, swelling in the legs and ankles, or, in severe cases, pressure in the chest.
Conventional medications include digoxin (Lanoxin®), diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix®) or hydrochlorothiazide, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) designed to stimulate heart contractions, reduce excess fluid accumulation, or dilate arteries to take the strain off the heart. While these medications can be effective, some have toxic side effects and must be monitored very closely. Hawthorn may be a safer substance to consider in cases of mild to moderate heart failure, as an alternative to, or in addition to, prescription medications.
German scientists studied the effect of 240 mg per day of a hawthorn extract or placebo for three months in 39 people with moderate heart failure. None of these participants were taking other medications for their heart condition. In the group taking hawthorn, exercise tolerance on a stationary bicycle improved by almost 11%, but decreased by about 17% in those taking a placebo. Those taking hawthorn also reported feeling better overall, whereas no improvement in sense of well-being was noted in the placebo group. Although the results fell slightly short of being statistically significant, these findings suggest a beneficial role of hawthorn in the treatment of heart failure. This study corroborates other studies that demonstrated hawthorn improves exercise tolerance. No adverse side effects were noted in the group taking hawthorn.
Other nutrients may also be helpful for treating heart failure. Studies show that 30 to 100 mg per day of coenzyme Q10 can improve heart function. The amount necessary may depend on the severity of heart failure. Taurine, like hawthorn, may also increase the strength of the heart. Studies suggest 4 to 6 grams of taurine per day may be necessary to achieve this benefit. Some doctors recommend supplementing with 500 mg of magnesium per day, although most of the research has been with injectable magnesium. L-carnitine is an amino acid that is important for energy production and has been shown to improve heart function. Some physicians recommend taking 1,500 mg per day. Although many of these substances are available without a prescription, heart failure should always be treated under the supervision of a doctor.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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