What is Horse Chestnut? It’s Surprising Uses & Benefits
You may have never heard of horse chestnut before but it’s been used for hundreds of years in medicine for a variety of conditions.
From improving leg swelling to gastrointestinal problems, the use of horse chestnut as a supplement has long been documented and more recently researched.
Horse chestnut is a potent source of flavonoids and saponins, which gives it strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
This noteworthy substance is packed with various compounds and potential remedies, which is how it’s maintained its historical significance.
Let’s take a closer look at what could be a natural solution to numerous health conditions.
What is Horse Chestnut?
Though the name is deceiving, horse chestnut isn’t a chestnut at all.
The horse chestnut tree is part of a completely different family that’s native to the Balkan peninsula, though it now grows throughout the world.
These trees can live to be over 300 years old and grow to be about 130 feet tall.
They have small, green, spiky pods with dark brown, nut-like seeds inside. It gets its name because the stem looks like a horseshoe when the leaf breaks off.
Also, it was thought to help horses with coughs.
Horse chestnut contains a number of beneficial compounds that can be derived from the seed, bark or leaf – though the seed is most commonly used.
The scientific name for horse chestnut is Aesculus hippocastanum. Horse chestnut is also known as conker tree and its seeds were the source of a common British and Irish children’s game called ‘conkers.’
What are the Uses of Horse Chestnut?
The uses of horse chestnut have been documented in both folk uses and in conventional medical settings – and it’s important to differentiate between these two.
Uses of horse chestnut backed by scientific studies include:
- Chronic venous insufficiency – A condition where veins in the legs become swollen and painful.
- Hemorrhoids – In Germany, horse chestnut is a common treatment for hemorrhoids.
- Gastrointestinal issues – Horse chestnut reduces methane production in the gut. It also acts as a bactericidal by killing off unwanted bacteria in the small intestine.
Some of the historical uses of horse chestnut include:
- Bladder problems
- Menstrual cramps
- Enlarged prostate
- Joint pain
- Swelling associated with surgery
Horse chestnut is safe and has few side effects, so it could be worth a try if you’re struggling with any of the conditions above.
Just like any supplement, there’s always some inherent risk – so, make sure you’re getting yours from a reputable source and talk about taking it with your doctor first.
Horse Chestnut as a Powerful Saponin and Flavonoid Source
Horse chestnut is a saponin and flavonoid, which are the two defining characteristics that give the seed it’s medicinal properties.
Saponins are plant glycosides, a compound that produce a soap-like lather when mixed with water.
This unique chemical compound allows it to bind with both fat and water.
So, when saponins enter the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it’s able to emulsify fat-soluble molecules. This action allows saponins to help eliminate unwanted chemicals from the GI tract.
Saponins are also antioxidants, giving the body and immune system a boost. They also prevent cholesterol reabsorption, which can normalize cholesterol levels.
In the gut, the foaming and scavenging free radical characteristics of saponins could be imagined as ‘washing away’ unwanted molecules.
It is also a potent source of flavonoids, which are gaining attention for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Flavonoids boast numerous health benefits including free-radical scavenging capacity, anticancer activity, and heart disease prevention. These are claims that need scrupulous research to back them, though the preliminary research is promising.
Fortunately, flavonoids are very safe and haven’t been associated with adverse reactions, probably because the body rapidly metabolizes them.
Finally, horse chestnut is antibacterial and specifically targets unwanted and harmful bacteria in the gut.
This is important because as we eat, the bacteria feed off the starches and then give off hydrogen as a byproduct.
This hydrogen is what is then used by the archaebacteria and made into methane. It targets the fuel source of archaebacteria in the small intestine, not allowing it to produce methane as a byproduct.
So when you take horse chestnut, you are reducing the amount of the hydrogen producing bacteria and the amount of methane in the small intestine.
Both which lead to bloating, abdominal discomfort and change in bowel habits.
These characteristics are what have made it a natural remedy for hundreds of years. Specifically, these two properties of the horse chestnut make it an excellent option for gut issues.
Some of the uses are better documented than others – but one thing is for sure, this plant packs power.
Horse Chestnut Helps Gut Health
Horse chestnut as a treatment in gut conditions has shown promising results due being a rich saponin and flavonoid source and can fight inflammation.
Also, it readily traps and eliminates free radicals and other unwanted molecules and microbes.
Interestingly, horse chestnut also works in the gut in specific ways to reduce bloating and abdominal discomfort and can halt the activity of methyl-coenzyme reductase (MCR).
MCR is an enzyme that’s involved in the creation and oxidation of methane. When you have too much methane in your GI tract it can lead to serious discomfort and bloating.
Horse chestnut stops this enzyme from creating more methane. This is one way horse chestnut reduces methane build up, but there’s more.
When horse chestnut halts MCR activity, that action then inhibits M. smithii, a methane producing archaebacteria from reducing carbon dioxide to methane.
Meaning, it reduces methane production in the GI tract in two different ways.
With gut conditions on the rise, the search for novel and effective solutions and treatments are needed. Horse chestnut is one of these promising substances.
Horse Chestnut Has a Bright Future in Medicine
With the changes in microbes due to overuse of antibiotics, it seems as though returning to natural solutions for gut conditions is a promising path in the future of medicine.
We need solutions that are natural antagonists to the microbes that cause illness.
Horse chestnut appears to be one of these ancient solutions that needs a rebirth in the world of medicine.