The Hawthorn Experiment

Hawthorn, cut and sifted

My experience: I read online about the plant product, Hawthorn, and how it could be helpful for depression, anxiety, and cognitive improvement. I couldn’t find much medical literature to support these claims but I was curious to try it out for myself. This experiment took place after a lot of other experiments that I conducted, but I wanted to add it early to show that not everything works for depression.

To start the experiment, I had tapered myself off of other supplements that I was taking to minimize variables. I took a few days to lower the number of Saffron strands that I was consuming and then stopped completely and took nothing for 2 weeks. This allowed for a washout period so that my body could clear any remaining Saffron metabolites.

I started by making a tea of the dried Hawthorn leaves and flowers every morning. I used two tablespoons of Hawthorn, then let it steep for a few minutes and then strained it to get the tea. It has a pleasantly herbal aromatic scent and tasted fine as a tea.

I had been taking the Hawthorn for a few days. I have always found self-reflection to be difficult. I thought that my mood had been staying about the same. I commented to my girlfriend that I had stopped taking Saffron and had started Hawthorn a few days ago. She responded by saying, “Maybe you should start taking Saffron again.” This comment caused me to self-reflect even more closely. She was right. Over the past few days I had been shorter with people and quicker to anger. I wasn’t really acting like myself.

I thought it was too early to give up on the Hawthorn, so I decided to keep trying it for another week. That week was rough. I found myself getting up over and over at work because I felt restless. I was having trouble concentrating, and kept daydreaming. I felt like I was on auto-pilot. Finally, I was sitting on the couch reading and I kept having the feeling that my heart was skipping a beat. I knew about the cardiac effects that Hawthorn can cause and called it quits right at that point. My mood was lower and I was having side effects. I wouldn’t consider it a failure because I learned from the experiment . I learned to not trust the internet and to look for real, medical sources. I learned that Hawthorn was not helpful for my mood and may have made it worse.

I can’t expect everything to work for increasing mood!

Background: Hawthorn is a shrub in the rose family. It is mainly used for cardiac conditions such as congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease and angina. It can be used topically for ulcers and sores.

Mechanism of action: The major pharmacologically active components are believed to be flavonoids. Hawthorn may have antioxidant effects as well. The cardiac mechanisms will not be discussed here.

(1) There is virtually no evidence I could find to support using Hawthorn for depression. A google search of “Hawthorn Depression” will yield thousands of results. I need to be careful when reading what the internet says! I did find some studies looking at Hawthorn for anxiety. One study compared using a combination of Hawthorn, California poppy and magnesium to placebo. 264 patients were included in the study. The Hamilton anxiety scale was used for assessment. This score decreased by 10.6 in the treatment group and 8.9 in the placebo group. I would only count this as preliminary data at this point.

Safety: Natural medicines database deems Hawthorn as possible safe when used short term.

Medication interactions: Hawthorn interacts with many cardiac drugs due to its own cardiac effects. It may potentially thin the blood, so use with anticoagulants or antiplatelet medications can be risky. Hawthorn may lower blood pressure, so use with blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers is not advised. There are potential interactions with other cardiac medications such as Digoxin or nitrates. Finally it should not be used with PDE-5 inhibitors like Viagra.

Side effects: The safety has not been systematically reviewed, but many side effects have been reported. Tachycardia (fast heart beat) and changes in blood pressure have been reported. Fatigue, sweating and rash can occur. Headache, dizziness and agitation have also been reported.

Other: There are some rare case reports of serious adverse events. Natural products can be dangerous as well.

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1. Hanus M, Lafon J, Mathieu M. Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders. Curr Med Res Opin. 2004 Jan;20(1):63-71.


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