A traditional Indian and Tibetan medicine, sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) has a long history of use in treating circulatory disorders, ischemic heart disease (damage to the heart from decreased blood flow, usually from atherosclerosis), liver damage, and cancer. This plant grows in a severely cold region of southwest China, where its yellow-orange berry is used medicinally. This berry is rich in vitamin C, tocopherols (vitamin E), carotenoids (such as beta carotene), and flavonoids.
A condition characterized by degenerative changes in this organ, liver fibrosis can lead to liver failure and the need for a transplant. There are many causes of liver fibrosis, including infections (hepatitis B and C), alcoholism, and primary biliary cirrhosis (a chronic liver disease). Inflammation is a common factor in the development and progression of this condition. Natural anti-inflammatory compounds may be helpful, and in this regard sea buckthorn may help prevent and treat liver fibrosis. In one study, 50 patients were randomized to receive either 15 grams of granulated sea buckthorn or placebo, which was a B-complex vitamin, three times daily for six months. Inflammatory markers and proteins indicating hepatic cell damage were measured. At the conclusion of this study, patients treated with sea buckthorn showed improvement, compared with the control group. Additionally, liver enzymes normalized in 80 percent of the people taking sea buckthorn.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for many different conditions, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, and stroke. Eighty percent of strokes are caused by blood clots. Platelets are blood cells that form blood clots. Some medications decrease platelet aggregation to prevent strokes; however, effective natural treatments are actively being studied.
Sea buckthorn has been tested in human clinical trials for its ability to decrease the tendency for blood to clot. While one small, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study found no change in platelet aggregation (or the tendency for blood to clot), there may be several reasons. Sea buckthorn preparations vary in their relative concentrations of nutrients depending on the plant’s origin, the climate in which it was grown, and the way in which it was stored and processed. (Researchers recently developed a high-speed centrifuge process to produce high-quality juice.) The only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that the particular sea buckthorn preparation tested did not have positive effects on the cardiovascular disease risk factors tested.
A second, randomized, placebo-controlled study using a different preparation, in fact, did show a significant decrease in platelet aggregation. More research is needed, but sea buckthorn may yet prove helpful in decreasing cardiovascular disease risk.
A major risk factor for atherosclerosis is free-radical damage to LDL cholesterol, called oxidized LDL. An in vitro study demonstrated that sea buckthorn is a powerful antioxidant that decreased oxidized LDL. Similarly, sea buckthorn inhibited radiation-induced mitochondrial damage in animals. Mitochondria are the energy-producing part of our cells, and damage to them has been implicated in heart disease and many other conditions.
Interactions and Dosage
No drug-herb interactions have been documented. There are no standard dosage recommendations for sea buckthorn, but amounts of up to 45 grams of granulated plant have been studied in people without adverse effects.