This article discusses the features, health benefits, dosage levels and side effects of herbal supplements derived from Horse Chestnut tree.
What Is Horse Chestnut?
Horse Chestnut is a tree that is botanically known as Aesculus hippocastanum. Other common names by which this herbal tree is known are – Cellu-Var, Marronnier Commun, Variclear, VeinAway, Châtaignier des Chevaux, Faux-Châtaignier, Hippocastani Flos, Marronnier des Chevaux, Spanish Chestnut, Aescin, Buckeye, Castaño de Indias, Marronnier etc. The tree is named Horse Chestnut because many believe it has horseshoe marks on its branches. Horse Chestnut is a deciduous tree seen mostly in mountainous forest areas.
The tree can reach up to a height of 35 m and has white colored flowers with yellow and reddish spots. The tree offers a shiny brown colored nut that is predominantly used in herbal preparations. Horse Chestnut is found mainly in the Himalayas, Northern parts of Iran and in some European countries especially Greece and Bulgaria. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental tree in parks and streets.
The Chestnut tree that is found in the United States is known as Buckeye. The medicinal parts of this tree include the following – nuts, bark and the flowers. It is important to note that Horse Chestnuts and edible sweet chestnuts are two entirely different species. Also, Horse Chestnut should not be confused with California Buckeye(aesculus californica) and Ohio Buckeye (aesculus glabra) for medicinal usage.
How Does It Work?
Horse Chestnut contains the following chemicals – triterpene glycoside known as aescin, Coumarin derivatives, Flavonoids, Essential oils such as oleic acid and linoleic acid, amino acids, phytosterol, resin etc.
The Aescin in the herb has the ability to reduce swelling and inflammation since it has anti-inflammatory effects and edematous properties. The chemicals present in the herb function as blood thinning agents. They also make the veins and capillaries hard so as to avoid fluid leakage and fluid loss.
Health Benefits Of Horse Chestnut
Following are some of the benefits associated with Horse Chestnut tree:
Anti-Inflammatory & Edematous Effects
Horse Chestnut is widely used in treating serious inflammatory and edematous conditions. It is not only used in reducing the swelling associated with minor bruises and fractures but also in severe conditions like brain trauma, acute thrombophlebitis, post-operative swelling and post-traumatic soft tissue swelling. In neuro psychiatric treatment the herb can be used to treat cerebral edema.
In a study that used 20 mg of aescin extract every eight hours for three days in 11 pseudotumor cerebri patients, it was found that the herb was able to reduce intracranial pressure (ICP) in seven patients. These seven patients were then continuously given aescin extract orally for the next thirty days. After a year it was found that there were no signs of recurrence in these seven patients treated with Horse Chestnut extract.
Similarly, another controlled study used sodium aescinate intravenously in one group (test) and traditional corticosteroid therapy in another (control) group consisting of accident patients with severe cranio-cerebral trauma. The study found that patients who used aescinate had low rise in intracranial pressure that shortened their duration of unconsciousness and also reduced the mortality rates in the group compared to others. It was also found during follow-up examinations that patients who received aescinate showed higher rehabilitation rate.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Horse chestnut has also been used in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. In many placebo-controlled studies it was shown that patients suffering from CVI and treated with the herbal extracthad fewer complaints and symptoms. In Germany, Horse Chestnut extracts are now prescribed for Chronic Venous Insufficiency.
Horse Chestnut extract is also used in Germany as a prescribed medication for treating peripheral edema. In many related clinical studies it was found that the herb could reduce vascular fragility and also could significantly inhibit exudation and edema formation.
In an animal study it was found that when rats were administered with aescin extracts there was significant decrease in the number and severity of gastric ulceration.
For Skin & Mucous Membranes
Horse Chestnut extracts are used topically for treating skin sores, rashes, hemorrhoids, reduction of cellulite and as a sunblock. Horse Chestnut extracts can also be used in preventing histamine induced edema of the skin.
In fact in many European countries the bark of the tree has been used in sunscreen products. In a double blind study that tested a combination product containing aescin it was seen that there was considerable regression of cellulite in a majority of subjects with 4% reduction in thigh circumference.
Other Important Benefits
Horse Chestnut has anti-viral and anti-fungal effects. In an in-vitro study it was shown that the Aescin present in the herb can significantly fight against influenza virus and show anti-fungal activities against Trichoderma viride. Another clinical study found that the herb can reduce swelling and lower leg pain (associated with edema) more effectively than surgical compression stockings.
Traditionally, the herbal tea made from Horse Chestnut was used in treating diarrhea. The herb also helps in treating the following conditions – hemorrhoids, appearance of varicose veins, swollen veins (phlebitis), inflammation of joints, tendons and muscles, enlarged prostate, eczema, menstrual pain and malaria.
An herbal tea can be made using 1 to 2 teaspoons of powdered dried seed of Horse Chestnut, and one cup of the tea can be taken three times daily. In case of tincture, the effective dosage would be 1 to 4 ml taken thrice daily.
For powdered root extract, an optimum dose would be somewhere between 250 and 500 mg taken thrice daily containing about 90-150 mg of aescin. In some European hospitals beta-aescin is sometimes administered intravenously. In case of ointments always use a preparation with 1-2% of aescin.
Side Effects, Overdose & Other Considerations
Side effects include – allergic reactions, bleeding gums/nose, blood in urine or stool, less urine production, skin rashes, stomach upset, heartburn etc.
Avoid Horse Chestnut in the following categories of people – those with a history of blood clots, colitis, diabetes, heart ailment, low BP, Kidney disorders, children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
Horse Chestnut is safe when taken at optimum dosage and for a short period of time. Raw nuts taken from Horse Chestnut tree are poisonous and can cause death as they contain a chemical known as esculin.
The nuts are often processed for use in medicines so as to remove the harmful chemical. It must be noted that the herb has not been reviewed by the US FDA. The herb has the following effects – analgesic, anti-pyretic, tonic, narcotic, vasco-constrictor, anodyne and astringent.
Horse Chestnut may interact with the following – blood thinning drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.