The horse chestnut is a tree that produces fruits with spiny shells containing seeds, called conchs. These fruits can have beneficial effects on health , for example in the treatment of varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
What is horse chestnut?
Proponents of horse chestnut suggest that the seed extract contains active compounds that may protect veins and promote blood circulation . This is why some people may use it to treat varicose veins .
However, while the seed extract appears safe for short-term use, horse chestnut raw materials may contain toxic compounds. Further research is therefore needed to distinguish possible health benefits and side effects.
This article discusses the properties of horse chestnuts and their beneficial effects on health. It also reviews the research findings and the essential things to consider when it comes to safety and side effects.
A little history
Aesculus hippocastanum , or horse chestnut , is a tree native to parts of southeastern Europe , but grows in many parts of the world today. It is also known as "buckeye " or "Spanish chestnut".
The tree is recognizable by its leaves and flowers , but its most notable feature is its fruit . Insects pollinate the flowers, which then develop a shiny red-brown cone inside a spiky green husk.
The fruits of the tree resemble chestnuts but have a bitter taste and are unfit for consumption . However, horse chestnut extract is traditionally used as a medicinal plant to treat several health problems.
The main active component of horse chestnut is escin. Additionally, horse chestnut seeds contain the following chemical compounds
The benefits of horse chestnut
Research suggests that escin has anti-inflammatory properties and protects the cells that line the veins. This can reduce blood plasma leakage and prevent swelling . Additionally, escin can improve the tone of veins and their ability to contract effectively.
Therefore, the properties of horse chestnut suggest that it is a potential treatment for conditions that involve inflammation or swelling of the veins.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) occurs when the valves in a person's veins do not work properly . The veins are then less able to carry blood back to the heart . This phenomenon can lead to the appearance of varicose veins .
CVI affects approximately 6 to 7 million people in the United States , with more women than men suffering from it. Symptoms may include swelling, pain, and skin discoloration. If a doctor does not treat CVI, it can lead to venous ulcers or deep vein thrombosis .
As horse chestnut has vasoprotective properties, it could potentially improve the tone of the veins and help them pump blood to the heart .
A review article published in 2015 indicates that horse chestnut extract could be a safe and tolerable treatment option for CVI . Likewise, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) points out that the extract can relieve symptoms of discomfort and leg heaviness associated with IVC.
Due to its beneficial action on the veins , some data suggests that horse chestnut could be useful for hemorrhoids . However, little clinical research is available to support this hypothesis. Further research is therefore needed to determine whether horse chestnut extract may be beneficial for the treatment of hemorrhoids .
Potential benefits for male infertility
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NICCH) reports that scientists have studied horse chestnut extract to treat male infertility associated with varicocele . This is a condition in which the veins inside the scrotum become inflamed. However, further research is still needed as the evidence is not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions.
Possible anti-inflammatory and hypoglycemic effects
A 2021 animal study indicates that escin found in a type of horse chestnut native to Uzbekistan may have anti-inflammatory and hypoglycemic effects.
Researchers suggest that horse chestnut's active ingredients could be used as pharmaceutical drugs to treat diabetes and inflammation . Additionally, they note that these compounds could potentially treat thromboembolism, viruses and even cancer.
In addition, a laboratory study carried out in 2022 indicates that horse chestnut extract could contribute to wound healing or the treatment of tumors in the case of skin cancer . However, because these are animal or laboratory studies, scientists need to conduct more research on humans to confirm these results.
Risks and elements to take into account
According to a study, raw horse chestnut seeds, bark, flowers and leaves are dangerous due to a toxic component.
However, she says that standardized horse chestnut seed extracts whose manufacturers have removed the toxic element appear safe for short-term use .
Pregnant or breastfeeding people should not consume horse chestnut , as experts do not know the effects on parents or children. Additionally, there is no data on how horse chestnut may affect fertility .
Additionally, the NICCH and EMA state that horse chestnut may have the following adverse effects at high doses:
Dosage and instructions for use
Horse chestnut is commonly available in many forms, such as capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, gels, and solutions .
These preparations may be stronger or weaker , and people may need to use them differently depending on their symptoms . You should therefore follow the instructions on the packaging or seek advice from a healthcare professional.