With greater acceptance of Chinese herbal medicine throughout western society, one of the common questions from our patients is what is Chinese herbal medicine and how can it help me?   In an effort to answer this vast question, we at Foothills Acupuncture have come up with a series in which specific Chinese herbs and formulas are explored in hopes to illuminate the many health benefits that Chinese herbs can offer.

Cardio Vascular HealthShan Zha (Hawthorne Berry)

In honor of national heart health month, we thought a talk about an effective Chinese herb that is commonly used to help digest fatty meals, lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, and help heart contractibility. According to traditional Chinese medical texts, the herb Shan Zha, also known as Hawthorne Fruit or Crataegus Fruit, has been documented to do the following actions(1):

  1. Improves the digestion of red meat and oily, greasy and fatty foods. Treats indigestion with abdominal distention, pain and or diarrhea.
  2. Treats post-partum, or amenorrheal abdominal pain and spotting. Also used for hernia.
  3. Treats Cardiovascular Disease, hypertension, coronary artery disorder, angina, and high cholesterol.
  4. Stops Diarrhea and treats chronic dysentery disorders.

There are several western studies that have been done that corroborate the Traditional Chinese medical viewpoint.  In the review study: Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease by Tassel. M et al, it was concluded that “Crataegus preparations hold significant potential as a useful remedy in the treatment of CVD (Cardio Vascular Disease)”.   Some of the health benefits of Hawthorn berries confirmed by this study and other sources are as follows:

  1. Greater heart inotropy , or ability to contract with greater strength without affecting heart rate(2),
  2. Decreased amounts of blood triglycerides (fat).
  3. Lower LDL (low density lipoproteins aka “bad cholesterol”) levels in the blood(3, 4).

In a study published in the Journal of Herbal Medicine and Toxicology, it was shown that Hawthorne berries can help reduce blood pressure by causing the blood vessels to relax. (5)

Side effects associated with Shan Zha, or Hawthorn berries are minimal however, there are still adverse reactions that can happen when taking this herb. Side effects reported include nausea, stomach upset and cramping, dizziness, fatigue, and other symptoms. Extra caution or avoidance has to be taken if you are currently taking western pharmaceuticals, or if you are pregnant or nursing.  If you have allergies to plants in the Rosacea, or rose family, there may be a higher risk of an allergic reaction to Hawthorn fruit.   

We advise you to work with a traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practitioner if considering taking this herb.  The trained TCM practitioner will be able to prescribe you the proper dosages of this herb as well as mitigate potential side effects, by combining it with other natural Chinese herbs.  The TCM practitioner will also be able to properly assess possible risks associated with combining this herb to any pharmaceutical medications that you are currently taking. With the proper education and guidance, this powerful and inexpensive herb is a great supplement to keep you and your heart healthy.