According to the new review, the hawthorn bush produces one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in the United States. Many believe that hawthorn extract improves heart health, lowers cholesterol and boosts antioxidant levels.
To determine whether hawthorn is actually an effective treatment, Pittler and colleagues searched the medical literature for high-quality studies into the use of the herb in chronic heart failure patients.
The review of the studies appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library
, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews like this one draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
The researchers found 14 studies that met their criteria, several of which looked at the use of hawthorn as an addition to conventional medications.
The review authors combined the results of 10 studies of 855 patients into a meta-analysis. Compared to placebo, hawthorn extract boosted the maximum level of physiological workload � a fact that the review authors described as significant, although they acknowledged they based the finding on small numbers of studies and patients.
The analysis found that hawthorn, as compared to placebo, also decreased the �pressure-heart rate product,� a measurement of how much oxygen is used by the heart. In addition, the analysis reports that two other measurements � exercise tolerance, and shortness of breath and fatigue � improved �significantly� in patients who used hawthorn.
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