Horse chestnut is known by several names: aesculus hippocastanum, buckeye, conker tree, marronnier, and venostat to name a few. Though these are all known as “horse chestnut,” the plant that we are concerned with is aesculus hippocastanum. Native to the Balkan peninsula, the seeds and extracts from these trees are used as a dietary supplement and are quite popular due to their health benefits.
However, you may wonder how safe and effective horse chestnut seed extract is. We’ll go through the uses, how it works with venous insufficiency, side effects, and more.
Uses Of Horse Chestnut Extract
It’s not just the horse chestnut seed that is beneficial for health. The bark, flower, and leaves are all used in various medicines and ointments. A word of caution, though. Horse chestnut contains trace amounts of a poison called esculin. If eaten raw, it could be fatal.
Extract from the seeds and leaves of the plant are used in the treatment of varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and phlebitis. The seeds may also be used for the treatment of diarrhea, fever, or an enlarged prostate.
- The extract has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat various circulatory problems such as chronic vein insufficiency.
- The leaf extract is also used to treat menstrual pain, eczema, cough, joint pain, and arthritis.
- The bark is used to treat dysentery, malaria, lupus, and ulcers.
Venous Insufficiency & Horse Chestnut
Venous insufficiency is a circulatory issue that results in poor blood flow to the extremities, the legs in particular. Doctors advise venous insufficiency patients to get compression socks that help increase the blood flow to the legs and encourage robust circulation. The symptoms of venous insufficiency include:
- Itchiness in the legs
- Edema or swelling
- Leg cramps
- Varicose veins
- Weakness in the legs
- Leg ulcers
Using Horse Chestnut to Treat Venous Insufficiency
Aescin, a compound found in Horse Chestnut seed extract, has anti-inflammatory and other properties that can improve blood circulation. This extract can prove beneficial for patients suffering from venous insufficiency.
Studies show that patients who took a twice-a-day dose of 300mg of horse chestnut extract, which contains about 50 mg of aescin, for 8 weeks, saw a reduction in their symptoms. The swelling was reduced, as was the itchiness and pain. One study showed that this extract might be as effective as compression therapy, though the long-term effects of the supplement still require further investigation.
How Does It Work?
The aescin we mentioned before is a blood-thinning agent, which leads to improved blood flow. It is also a mild diuretic, which means it helps with the loss of fluid through urine. It reduces water retention and helps drain edemas.
Is There Anything to Worry About?
FDA-approved supplements that you get from a recognized brand should be okay to take for a short time. Check for products where Esculin has been removed. There still may be some side effects despite precautions, such as dizziness, headaches, an upset stomach, or itchiness.
Do not take seeds, leaves, or bark of the horse chestnut tree raw. The raw, untreated form contains esculin and can be fatal in high doses. Other signs of poisoning include an upset stomach, kidney problems, muscle twitching, weakness, loss of coordination, enlarged eye pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, paralysis, and stupor.
If you intake horse chestnut in the raw form by accident, seek immediate medical attention. Rush to the ER. Do not wait.
When to Not Take Horse Chestnut Extract
- Pregnant or breastfeeding. There isn’t enough data to know how the supplement will affect newborn babies and fetuses. It’s best to avoid the supplement if you can.
- Bleeding disorder. Aescin helps thin the blood, which can be very dangerous for someone already suffering from a blood disorder.
- Diabetic. Horse chestnut can lower blood sugar, which can lead to complications.
- Digestion/kidney problems or liver disease. There have been reported cases where horse chestnut extract has worsened the health of patients with these issues.
- Surgery. If you are about to go into surgery soon, do not take the supplement. The blood thinning chemical in horse chestnut extract can be very dangerous for a patient undergoing surgery.
What Medicines Can Interact with Horse Chestnut Extract?
Lithium. If you are on a medication that contains Lithium, discuss with your health care provider before taking horse chestnut extract. The diuretic component of the supplement can affect the way the body absorbs and disposes of lithium.
Diabetes Medications. Since horse chestnut extract can lower blood sugar, it may cause your blood sugar to drop dangerously low when coupled with your diabetic medication.
Anticoagulant/Antiplatelet drugs. These are drugs that thin the blood and prevent blood clotting. Since horse chestnut also thins the blood, combining the two could be deadly.
Some Last Thoughts about Horse Chestnut Extract
Studies have shown that horse chestnut extract can prove beneficial for the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. It can reduce the symptoms and manage the pain. But the long-term effects of the product are unknown. It’s best to use with caution and keep an eye out for any side effects.
If you experience any side effects, consult your doctor right away. Do not start using horse chestnut extract without speaking to your doctor first. If the problem persists or worsens, make an appointment with your doctor and have them prescribe a different treatment for you.
While horse chestnut extract may help with your venous symptoms, it isn’t a cure. Often, treatment will still be necessary. If the need arises, our medical professionals can help you find the right method to treat your venous insufficiency. Contact Heart of Dixie Vein and Vascular Center to learn more about treating venous insufficiency today!