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Natural help for the heart

August 01, 1997

Herbalists, botanists and even medical doctors concur that hawthorn berries, when taken as an extract, function as a balancing agent for the heart. They call it a cardiac tonic.

"There is so much study in Europe of hawthorn that says it's a good, gentle medicine ... for the heart," Dr. James Duke said in a phone interview from his hotel room in New York.

Duke was a botanist for 30 years with U.S. Department of Agriculture and is the author of 20 books. He was in New York for an interview with "Fox Morning News" regarding his new book, "The Green Pharmacy." It identifies herbs for medicinal uses.

He said hawthorn is proven to be particularly effective for treating angina pectoris, a heart condition that causes chest pain and shortness of breath.

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"It opens the coronary arteries enabling blood and oxygen to function more effectively," he said.

Dr. Jeffrey Jones, a cardiologist with a practice in Hagerstown, said studies in Germany, Denmark and Ireland show that some properties in hawthorn berries also are found in federally approved heart treatment pharmaceuticals.

He said using hawthorn to help prevent heart disease and alleviate minor heart conditions - such as high and low blood pressure, high cholesterol, mild angina and enlargement of the heart - can't hurt.

But Jones said when people have serious heart conditions, they need to focus on treatments that have been scientifically tested.

`Tune in to your body'

"Hawthorn is for the heart, that's one thing everybody knows," said Kalman Markus, a certified natural health professional in Waynesboro, Pa., where he runs an herb shop called The Herb Corner.

"You don't just walk into a health food store and buy any herb," said Markus, who lectures on natural health four to six times a year at Hagerstown Junior College.

"You have to tune in to your body and know what works," he said, noting that people are tempted to overspend because of claims made in herb books.

He said hawthorn poses an exception to this rule.

"I recommend it to anybody with a heart problem," Markus said.

At least a half dozen local herbalists contacted for this article said hawthorn, when combined with cayenne and garlic, increases heart function, which smooths the flow of blood through the body and increases a person's energy level.

Jones cautioned people against assuming that hawthorn is working. He said people should get a medical examination to be sure.

Information on hawthorn can be found in most herbal medicine books and books about North American edible plants.

Shakespeare enthusiasts know hawthorn as the thorny shrub through which cold winds blow in "King Lear" and several other tragedies.

And hawthorn, which is called Shan Zha in China, has been used by the Chinese for heart problems, as a digestive aid and for menstrual and postpartum disorders because of its ability to treat blood stagnation.

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