Horse Chestnut: Benefits and Side Effects
The sturdy horse chestnut tree produces a shiny brown nut that has been used medicinally to treat inflammation and other ailments. The horse chestnut tree is unique, with sturdy erect trunks, ribbed boughs and thick buds. It gets its name from marks found on its branches that resemble horseshoes.
Horse chestnut trees originated in northern India and Greece but are now cultivated throughout Europe. A variety of the tree is known as buckeye in the United States.
The active medicinal ingredient in horse chestnut is a triterpene glycoside known as aescin. Other glycosides, as well as a number of other active constituents are found in horse chestnut as well. Both the bark and the nut of horse chestnut trees are used to make an extract that has therapeutic properties.
Teas made from horse chestnut have been used in folk medicine to treat diarrhea and hemorrhoids, and it was also used topically on sores and rashes. Though it is rarely used topically today, an ingredient in the bark of horse chestnut is used in some European sunscreens.
Horse chestnut is used today to treat fevers and arthritis. It is also said to have anti-inflammatory properties. The most common modern use of horse chestnut is in the treatment of varicose veins and edema. Its action in this regard is due to properties that can increase blood flow as well as make veins less fragile by inhibiting an enzyme called hyaluronidase.
At least one study has shown that horse chestnut may be as effective as compression stockings that are used to reduce the swelling, fatigue and pain associated with edema in the lower legs.
Horse chestnut is standardized for triterpene glycoside content. In Germany, commercial preparations contain 16 to 21% triterpene glycosides, calculated as aescin, the specific triterpene glycoside considered to be the most active constituent of horse chestnut.
The recommended dosage of extract is usually 400 to 650 mg daily, divided into two doses. The dose should be equivalent to 90 and 150 mg of aescin. Once improvement in symptoms is noted, the dosage can be significantly reduced. People with edema should use horse chestnut with the supervision of a healthcare provider and should not discontinue use of elastic stockings, compresses or soaks without the advice of a knowledgeable physician.
Horse chestnut is often sold in formulas that combines it with other herbals that have related benefits.
Though side effects from horse chestnut are uncommon, nausea and upset stomach are possible, and some people may experience itching or an allergic reactions. Since horse chestnut has an anti-clotting action, people taking medications such as Coumadin, Plavix or Ticlid, as well as those who use aspirin therapy to reduce blood clotting, should avoid the use of horse chestnut.