Horse chestnut trees originated from Greece and the Balkan Peninsula and are now cultivated worldwide. Horse chestnut seed may help with leg vein problems, swelling, and hemorrhoids. Packed with an abundance of antioxidants, horse chestnuts may protect against inflammation and cancer. The main active component of horse chestnut seeds is aescin, or escin (a mixture of triterpenoid saponins). Escin protects blood vessels, promotes blood circulation, and is anti-inflammatory.
Horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum) are recognized by their large, towering trunks and full branches that tout clusters of white flowers with chestnut-like seeds (also known as conkers or buckeyes).
Today, the properly processed horse chestnut seed extract holds promise for treating leg vein problems (chronic venous insufficiency), hemorrhoids, and swelling (edema).
Escin shouldn’t be confused with esculetin—the poisonous ingredient in non-processed horse chestnuts.
Horse chestnut seed extract also contains antioxidant, cancer-fighting, and anti-inflammatory flavonoids and phenolic acids such as:
P-coumaric acid Caffeic acid Quercetin Kaempferol Apigenin.
Leg vein problems can result in chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Valves in veins help carry blood from the legs back to the heart. When the valves become weakened or damaged, you may experience swelling, pain, fatigue, tension, and itching in the legs. Numerous human studies confirm the benefits of horse chestnuts for treating chronic vein problems. Horse chestnut seeds reduced the amount of fluids in lower legs as well as ankle and calf swelling in people with chronic leg problems (Systematic Review of 17 studies) . Compared to placebos, horse chestnut reduced leg swelling, pain, fatigue, and itching based on 21 clinical trials (DB-RCT) involving ~12,000 CVI patients (2-12 weeks, oral dosages 100-150 mg daily)
Edema is caused by the buildup of fluids under the skin, leading to swelling. It can affect the lower legs and feet, and symptoms include stiff joints, aching limbs, skin color changes, and weight gain. In two clinical trials, 125 patients who received escin injections (5-10 mg twice a day) after surgery noticed reduced temperature and swelling 3-4 days after surgery. Escin decreased the production of inflammatory compounds (suppresses neutrophil activation) and increased energy use (increases ATP) in human cells. Escin also increased the contraction of veins, helping to push blood back to the heart and decrease swelling (via reducing calcium sensitivity) in rat muscle cells.
Escin may strengthen small blood vessels (capillaries) that otherwise become swollen when weakened. In a tissue study on human leg veins, escin increased the tone of veins (contracting them due to increased PGF-2). Escin also blocked enzymes that break down blood vessel walls, prevented leakage, and maintained the structure of capillaries. Daily escin (1 mg/kg) reduced breakdown of rat tissue over 3 weeks.
Hemorrhoids are also caused by swollen veins in the anus. In a study of 80 patients (DB-RCT) with hemorrhoids, escin (40 mg) improved bleeding and swelling in over 80% of patients during two months.
In a human study (RCT), escin from horse chestnut (5 mg twice daily, intravenous, 2 weeks) reduced inflammation in 24 women with vein problems. It acts by blocking the release of inflammatory compounds and reducing the activation of immune cells that increase inflammation. In one study, Kaempferol found in horse chestnut decreased inflammation in the breast cancer cells of mice (by reducing oxidative stress and the activity of immune cells) [R]. In dog models, the leaves of horse chestnuts have been used to reduce swelling in gum disease.
In a study (RCT) of 219 Chinese male patients with infertility (due to prostate vein swelling) 60 mg of escin for 2 months improved sperm quality, motility, and amount (by at least 30%)
Clinical testing of 3% horse chestnut gel on 40 female volunteers (3 times a day, 9 weeks) diminished wrinkles around the eyes compared to the controls
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