Horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE) was put on the alternative therapy map in 1996 when a prominent study indicated that it could help address the swelling and discomfort of varicose veins. HCSE is believed to improve the function of the venous system by toning blood vessels and increasing blood flow through veins. It is also thought to inhibit the activity of enzymes that damage the vein wall and to relieve swelling by controlling filtration and sealing in the capillary wall. Escin, its main beneficial compound, is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The 1996 study evaluated 240 patients with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI refers to the inability of veins, notably in the legs, to properly circulate blood. The blood accumulates and causes pain, swelling and often varicose veins. The participants were given either a placebo, 50 mg of HCSE twice daily or compression stockings for 12 weeks.
At the end of the trial period, the HCSE and compression stockings outperformed the placebo by a significant margin. The two natural methods were almost equally effective. The lower leg volume of the more severely affected limb decreased on average by 43.8 ml with HCSE and 46.7 ml with compression stockings. It increased by 9.8 ml with the placebo group! Furthermore, significant reductions in overall edema, or swelling, were achieved. The researchers concluded that compression stockings and HCSE therapy were successful alternative approaches to treat the edema caused by CVI.
Sources: Lancet 1996;347(8997):292-94; Vanish Varicose Veins by S Torkos, Impakt:1998