Alternative Medicine

Leg Pain? Try Horse Chestnut Seed Extract

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By Kate Wharmby Seldman
The New York Times reports that horse chestnut seed extract can help blood flow in the legs, reducing pain, edema, and itching.

This remedy is popular with European health professionals, perhaps because the common horse chestnut tree is native to the Balkan region of southeast Europe. Horse chestnut seed contains beta-aescin, a substance that’s believed to strengthen blood vessel walls and reduce inflammation. It also has anti-allergenic properties.

In 2006, scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth gathered together several horse-chestnut-seed studies for review, and concluded that patients who took capsules containing the substance experienced improvement in edema, leg pain, and itching. The length of time they took this alternative remedy ranged from two to 16 weeks. One study suggested horse chestnut seed’s active ingredient, aescin, might work as well as compression stockings, another common treatment for leg pain and swelling.

The scientists said horse chestnut seed was “an efficacious and safe short-term treatment for chronic venous insufficiency,” but warned that more studies were needed to determine exactly how well it worked.

This natural remedy does have some side effects, among them nausea, upset stomach, and – ironically – itching. It’s also important not to try to prepare horse chestnut seed extract yourself, because most parts of the horse chestnut tree contain a chemical named esculin, which is toxic and can be fatal.

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