The large and deciduous horse chestnut tree is native to India, grows wild in certain parts of Europe and is widely cultivated in temperate climates. Its seeds, bark, flowers and leaves have been used in traditional folk medicine to treat various ailments, including certain disorders of the digestive system (such as diarrhea) and certain skin conditions (such as sores, rashes and eczema).
More recent clinical studies have shown that horse chestnut seed extract may be effective in treating chronic venous insufficiency (varicose vein disease or syndrome) by strengthening and toning veins.
Horse chestnut is also thought to be anti-inflammatory and effective in reducing fluid retention in the body, swelling in the legs, and inflammation of joints, tendons and muscles.
Horse chestnut cream (applied topically according to directions) and herbal supplements or tea (taken orally in the recommended dosages) by individuals who are in good health is generally thought to be safe.
However, individuals who have certain medical conditions (including, but not limited to, colitis, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, low blood pressure, poor blood circulation, blood clotting disorder), should not use horse chestnut without first consulting with their healthcare professional. Persons with liver or kidney disease are advised to avoid horse chestnut in any form, while pregnant or lactating women are advised to avoid taking it internally.
Secondly, certain side effects (including, but not limited to, upset stomach, muscle spasms, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, liver and kidney problems) have been associated with the use of horse chestnut. Recommended amounts (whether taken orally or applied topically) should not be exceeded and, ideally, should be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional, as horse chestnut can cause toxicity in the body and it is possible to overdose.
Finally, it is advised that horse chestnut should not be taken if an individual is also taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen or blood thinners. A comprehensive list of list of NSAIDs, including their generic and trade names, can be found at NSAID (List of Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories).
Further Reading and References:
Herbs at a Glance, Horse Chestnut, National Institutes of Health
Horse Chestnut, MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH
Disclaimer: Nothing in this Article is intended or should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content herein is for informational purposes only. You should consult with and seek the advise of a physician or qualified health professional before taking any supplements, herbs or over-the-counter medicine; modifying, restricting or altering your food, beverage or supplement intake; starting an exercise or diet program; or making any dietary, nutritional, exercise or lifestyle changes in order to determine it is right and advisable for your individual needs.