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.
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:
Horse Chestnut and 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.
Other Health Benefits of Horse Chestnut
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."
Horse Chestnut 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).
When combined with certain medications (such as anticoagulants and antiplatelets), horse chestnut may produce potentially harmful effects.
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.