|Source: The Lancet, February 3, 1996.|
The Buzz. From the masters of marketing who make Ginsana and Ginkoba comes Venastat, an herbal supplement promoted to give women a “leg up on leg health.” Take two capsules a day, says maker Pharmaton Natural Health Products, and you?ll have “healthy legs from the inside out.” Will you?
The Basics. Venastat contains the seed of the horse chestnut tree, in an extract standardized to 16% aescin (escin on the product label). It’s the only standardized formula of the herb in the U.S.
The Bonus. If you?re over 35, you may be all too familiar with tired, heavy and swollen legs, in which pressure on the legs (such as crossing them) or keeping the legs in one position too long restricts blood’s return to the heart, causing fluid to leak from tissues and legs to swell. There is evidence horse chestnut seed extract may indeed help maintain leg vein circulation and prevent swelling, as Pharmaton claims, at least for more serious conditions. A German study found the extract to be just as effective as compression stockings in relieving swelling due to chronic poor circulation.
What’s the key? The standardized compound, aescin, inhibits enzymes that break down the elastic tissue in veins, thus aiding the return of blood from the legs to the heart and reducing leg swelling. Varro Tyler, Ph.D., a noted herbal expert, cites horse chestnut seed as the most effective plant remedy for chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. (Pregnant women should consult a physician.) In Europe, the extract is used regularly for both conditions.
The Bust. No big bust here. Just a few gripes. First, Pharmaton is promoting Venastat for everyday-type swelling problems, when the evidence of benefit is mostly for more serious conditions (which, as an herbal supplement, it is not allowed to mention). Whether it provides significant relief for minor conditions is less clear. Venastat comes in wasteful blister packs. And a mere 15 day’s worth will cost you an arm and that tired, swollen leg?about $16 to $20 a month. Moreover, we?re not sure all those extra ingredients in Venastat are really necessary. Finally, we frown on Pharmaton not providing the Latin name for horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) on the package. Doing so better assures you the company is using the intended plant and not a close cousin. It also helps you do your own herbal homework.
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