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Horse Chestnut

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

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Updated August 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Horse Chestnut?

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a type of tree that grows throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In herbal medicine, horse chestnut seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers have long been used in treatment of various health conditions.

Horse chestnut contains a compound called aescin, which has been found to produce an anti-inflammatory effect.

Health Benefits of Horse Chestnut:

1) Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Research suggests that horse chestnut seed extract may be useful in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. In a systematic review published in 2006, for instance, researchers analyzed seven clinical trials and concluded that horse chestnut seed extract is "an efficacious and safe short-term treatment" for chronic venous insufficiency.

A condition in which the veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart, chronic venous insufficiency is linked to problems such as varicose veins, ankle swelling, and nighttime leg cramping.

Related: Grape Seed Extract for Chronic Venous Insufficiency.

2) Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of horse chestnut seed, leaf, or bark for any conditions besides chronic venous insufficiency. However, a review published in 2001 concluded that supplementation with horse chestnut "may prevent time-consuming, painful, and expensive complications of varicose veins and hemorrhoids."

See other remedies for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Common Uses for Horse Chestnut:

In folk medicine, horse chestnut is used to relieve symptoms such as swelling and inflammation and strengthen blood vessel walls. Health claims for horse chestnut include the treatment of the following problems:

  • circulatory disorders
  • diarrhea
  • hemorrhoids
  • varicose veins

Side Effects:

Although horse chestnut extract is generally considered safe, it may produce a number of adverse effects, including itching, nausea, or gastrointestinal upset.

Is Horse Chestnut Safe?

In order to ensure safe use of horse chestnut, make sure to consult your physician if you're considering using the herb in treatment of chronic venous insufficiency (or any other chronic health condition).

Manufacturers of horse chestnut products remove the toxic component, esculin. These products appear to be safe, as there have been few reports of harmful side effects despite being widely used in Europe.

People with kidney or liver disease and bleeding disorders should avoid horse chestnut. The safety of horse chestnut in pregnant or nursing women or children has not been established. Horse chestnut should not be combined with aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), Ticlid (ticlopidine), Trental (pentoxifylline), Coumadin (warfarin), and other anticoagulant or anti-platelet ("blood-thinning") drugs unless under medical supervision as these medications may increase the effect of the medication.

Sources:

MacKay D. "Hemorrhoids and varicose veins: a review of treatment options." Altern Med Rev. 2001 6(2):126-40.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Horse Chestnut: Herbs at a Glance [link: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/horsechestnut/index.htm]." NCCAM Publication No. D321
Created May 2006
Updated June 2008.

Pittler MH, Ernst E. "Horse chestnut seed extract for chronic venous insufficiency." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 25;(1):CD003230.

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