BLOGS

Can the Properties of Horse Chestnut (Aesculus Hippocastanum L.) Impact Your Circulation?

Dr. John Lewis Ph. D.

14 August 2017

Oxidative stress and inflammation are two of the most important factors that contribute to the development of poor circulation.  One common type of poor circulation is chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).  CVI originates from a cumulative lack of movement, i.e., standing or sitting, over time, which causes insufficiently closing venous valves.  Lack of oxygen to the tissues and eventual swelling and related inflammation cause problems like sclerosis and ulcers that do not heal.  CVI may require substantial amounts of long-term treatment, is costly because compression therapy, the gold standard treatment, is not completely effective, and negatively impacts quality of life, due to the pain, fatigue, and swelling.  Addressing the underlying cause of CVI with enhanced nutrition may help people dealing with this and similar disorders.

Aesculus Hippocastanum L., more commonly known as horse chestnut, is a tree that grows all over the world.  It has fruit, seed, and bark that can be processed into extracts with known health effects.  For example, it has so far been found to have such polyphenolic compounds as quercetin, kaempferol, and tannins (providing minor amounts of antioxidant capacity).  Escins and other saponins from horse chestnut are thought at this time to be the phytochemicals that have the most beneficial effects on human health, as they have anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties.  Because of these benefits, horse chestnut extract has been studied in people with CVI to see if it can reduce the associated symptoms, including pain and swelling.  In addition, horse chestnut was accepted as standard treatment for this condition in Germany in 1999.

The most recent update of a series of reviews on the effects of horse chestnut on CVI was published in 2012 by The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.  This review summarized randomized controlled trials in humans with CVI taking horse chestnut.  Each study included in the review had to compare oral horse chestnut extract to either a placebo or reference treatment, such as compression therapy.  Overall, the review showed that horse chestnut improved CVI-related symptoms compared to placebo.  Six out of seven studies showed that leg pain, one of the most common symptoms of CVI, significantly improved for those people taking horse chestnut compared to placebo.  Leg volume, a marker of swelling, also improved in six out of seven placebo-controlled studies in favor of those taking horse chestnut.  The authors concluded that horse chestnut may be as effective as in the short-term as compression treatment for alleviating pain and swelling.  The adverse events from treatment were usually minimal and uncommon.  A second study suggested that these positive effects may be only for people with early stage disease.  When late-stage CVI has occurred, the damage to the veins may be too great for horse chestnut to have an impact, as late-stage disease is considered irreversible.  Thus, larger, randomized trials are required to confirm the efficacy of horse chestnut on CVI and to determine at what stage of disease this treatment option can be used.

In addition to horse chestnut’s effect on CVI in humans, it may have other benefits as well.  For example, one study found that a topical treatment of escin in a gel was efficacious in improving skin perfusion in patients with venous microangiopathy.  Another horse chestnut extract was shown to improve the antioxidant network and restore redox balance in human cells.  Thus, its overall anti-inflammatory benefits may eventually be proven as well.

In summary, if you have CVI or a related circulatory disorder, horse chestnut may prove to be a valuable treatment option for you if your disease stage is not too advanced.  Please check with your physician to find out how horse chestnut can be used within your treatment regimen.  Along with taking horse chestnut, remember that a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet will help you to keep inflammation and oxidative stress low and your circulatory system functioning well.

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