Hypertension refers to high blood pressure, and while doctors sometimes define this differently based upon your age, it is usually something like 140 over 90. These numbers are further defined as your systolic blood pressure over the diastolic blood pressure. The systolic is always the first number, whereas the diastolic is the second number and it’s most important because it shows what the pressure is at rest.

Hypertension occurs due to several factors, usually not just one. You might see this condition occur in people who are sedentary and eating too much salt or drinking too much alcohol. You might see it in a smoker who is stressed and getting older. Your genetics play a role, too.

There is an age-old herb that I trust for all kinds of heart conditions, including hypertension. It’s called hawthorn and it is in the same family as roses. Hawthorn is available widely at health food stores and online e-tailors in all kinds of forms like pills, powders and extracts. It’s not so much the leaf, it’s actually the berry of the hawthorn shrub that does the heavy lifting. The berry contains a high concentration of natural compounds that support your entire cardiovascular system.

Hawthorn has been used for centuries to support all kinds of cardiovascular disorders, and it can relax tight, constricted blood vessels. By relaxing them, there is less pressure inside, and therefore blood pressure comes down over time. Hawthorn does affect the nervous syste; it is calming and has a mild sedative effect. But I do not recommend hawthorn at bedtime though. The reason for this warning is that hawthorn is a diuretic.

Hawthorn was studied and compared to placebo and found to help people with type 2 diabetes who also had hypertension. The participants took 1,200 mg hawthorn extract in this particular study (doses vary greatly, so keep that in mind), and those who took hawthorn had better (lower) blood pressures than those who took the dud pill. Hawthorn contains many polyphenols and antioxidants. It can be useful for many conditions including hypertension, a weak heart, congestive heart failure, shortness of breath and physical/athletic performance.

For that reason, you might consider taking hawthorn, but, of course, ask your doctor if it’s right for you. Because it reduces blood pressure, you will obviously see interactions with other medications used for hypertension. For example, hawthorn may exacerbate the blood pressure reducing effect of the following:

  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • ARBs (Angiotensin II Receptor blockers)
  • Diuretics
  • Digoxin
  • Others

Side effects of hawthorn have been reported such as nausea, stomach upset, dizziness, insomnia, restlessness and headaches. Side effects often occur when people mix the hawthorn with other medications that cause pressure to drop too low.

With hawthorn, it’s best to use lower dosages of the herb, and take it for a longer period of time, than to take high doses for a short term. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist and the author of ‘The 24-Hour Pharmacist’ and ‘Real Solutions.’ For more information, visit www.suzycohen.com. This information is not intended to prevent, treat, diagnose or cure your condition. Always check with your doctor before following any medical advice.