Uses and Side effects of Horsetail Extract
The health benefits of horsetail extract make it a fascinating medicinal plant found across the globe (Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East).
It has been used for millennia as a herbal remedy for high blood pressure, kidney disease, poor blood circulation, and low cognitive function.
The ancient Romans gave the horsetail plant the latin name ‘Equisetum arvense,’ the common name translated into English is ‘Field Horsetail’.
The name relates to the plant’s visual resemblance to a horses’ tail (unsurprisingly!).
In this article, we’ll give you all of the info you need to know about the benefits of horsetail extract and why it has been held in such high regard as a herbal medicine across the ages.
What are the different Species of Horsetail?
Horsetail is a perennial plant (one that lives year after year and doesn’t die in winter) that doesn’t flower and closely resembles the appearance of a fern.
Horsetail comes from the genus ‘Equisetum’ and is the only living genus in Equisetaceae, a family of vascular plants that reproduce by spores rather than seeds.
There are over 20 different species of horsetail including these popular examples:
- Giant Horsetail (Equisetum giganteum): A large variety which can grow to over 5ft tall.
- Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense): Also known as common horsetail or bottle brush.
- Marsh horsetail (equisetum palustre): Commonly found in cooler parts of north america and toxic to herbivorous animals such as horses.
- Dwarf horsetail (Equisetum scirpoides): Similar to the full-sized variety but grows just 6 to 8 inches tall.
- Scouring Rush (equisetum hyemale): An invasive species found in moist areas, known as snake grass in South Africa and used by Native Americans to treat venereal disease.
Traditional Use of Horsetail Extract vs Scientific Studies
The use of horsetail for medicinal purposes has been apparent since before Ancient Greek and Roman times but how does it stack up in the modern era?
Ancient Romans used horsetail as food, medicine, and animal feed and like many plant-based foods, Horsetail was historically prepared as a juice, tea, or tincture for treating many diseases.
The health benefits of horsetail in folk medicine were mainly:
Treating swelling, weight loss, unhealed wounds, bladder disease, kidney disease, arthritis, tuberculosis, and other infections.
Horsetail ointment can be applied to heal wounds, stop bleeding, prevent infection, and reduce pain.
- If you want to learn more about traditional pain medication then check out this article on medicinal cannabis.
People traditionally used horsetail to ease fluid retention and for its anti-inflammatory properties.
As it has a high silica content, Horsetail is now being studied for hair, skin and bone health.
Modern governments are less excited by medicinal herbs in favour of man made medicines.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) lists the Horsetail herb as one of undefined safety according to DailyMed. According to them:
“This homeopathic product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety or efficacy.
FDA is not aware of scientific evidence to support homeopathy as effective.”
That isn’t to say however that there aren’t any medicinal properties in Horsetail, simply that the level of scientific studies and clinical trials done on the plant have been minimal or insubstantial.
As we take a look at the purported health benefits of Horsetail, you will be able to see why this folk remedy is still very popular and where the logic comes from in using it as a supplement.
30 Health benefits of horsetail Extract
Let’s take a look at 30 benefits of Horsetail extract as researched by Ana Aleksic and published on Self Hacked.
1. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Horsetail is being researched in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
It improved symptoms and regulated the immune response in most cases in a study of 60 patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Horsetail reduced inflammation (increased IL-10 and decreased TNF-alpha), which may be key for treating this disease.
Giant horsetail extract reduced pain, inflammation, and an autoimmune response in a mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
The medicinal benefits of the compounds in horsetail are promising, but more research is needed.
Diuretics are often used to reduce blood pressure and swelling.
They work by flushing excessive fluids from the body.
Horsetail extract achieved an effect similar to the standard diuretic in 36 healthy male volunteers, without disrupting the electrolyte balance.
Different horsetail species also had a strong diuretic effect in mice.
3. Wound Healing
Horsetail has long been used to help heal wounds faster. Horsetail ointment is usually applied directly to the wound.
Horsetail ointment (3%) improved wound healing in a study of 108 healthy women who had surgery to induce childbirth.
Half of the women used horsetail ointment on the wound for 10 days, which reduced pain and healed wounds faster, with no side effects.
Silica helps to seal the wound, while flavonoids prevent infections.
Horsetail ointment (5% and 10%) increased wound healing in rats after 1 and 2 weeks.
The 10% ointment completely healed the wounds and repaired the skin after 2 weeks.
4. Pain Relief
Horsetail ointment (3%) reduced pain in a study with 108 healthy women shortly after giving birth. Half of them used horsetail ointment on a surgical wound for 10 days.
Horsetail extract reduced pain and inflammation in mice, with higher doses having a stronger effect.
Insufficient evidence supports the traditional use of horsetail for diabetes, though early findings are promising.
In 11 patients recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a single oral dose of horsetail extract reduced blood glucose within 1.5 hours.
- Honeybush Tea is another fantastic herbal remedy for diabetes, read more about it here.
In diabetic rats, Horsetail extracts balanced glucose levels and regenerates insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
Different horsetail extracts reduced blood glucose and normalized weight in rats with diabetes.
Some scientists believe horsetail may stimulate or mimic insulin.
6. Hair and Nails
Horsetail has high levels of silica and antioxidant content which is the essential mineral used to promote hair growth, healthy skin and prevent brittle nails.
Horsetail in combination with other ingredients increased hair growth, volume, and thickness in a study of 15 women with thinning hair.
7. Liver Health
One animal study investigated whether high doses of horsetail over 14 days damaged the liver in rats.
In this study, horsetail did not cause liver damage.
Women from Amazonian tribes and Native American Indians traditionally used giant horsetail for genital infections and hygiene although modern day evidence does not support this use.
When tested on virally infected cells and in mice, giant horsetail was active against the herpes simplex virus type 2 (genital herpes) and improved symptoms although no trials have been conducted on humans.
9. Effect on Kidney Stones
Horsetail was only researched in a rodent study.
It prevented kidney stones and kidney damage in rats in combination with other herbs.
It also helped to break down and eliminate kidney stones in rats.
10. Bone Health
Silicon is crucial for forming and maintaining healthy bones.
It helps to absorb calcium and improves bone mineralization and structure.
Horsetail has a long history of traditional use for bone healing.
Horsetail increased the activity of human bone cells, crucial for bone regeneration.
Horsetail extract increased bone cell growth while killing bacteria that can cause bone infection.
11. Skin Health
Eczema and acne have many causes, but inflammation is common to both. Horsetail may help treat both acne and eczema.
In Japan, horsetail is commonly used in cosmetic products as a cream, lotion, or ointment.
Cell studies confirm that essential oils have antibacterial properties and its phenolic compounds reduce inflammation.
Horsetail is thought to have anti-aging and skin toning properties.
Silicon is a component of collagen, which is needed to keep skin elastic and smooth.
Since horsetail is rich in silicon, it’s been formulated into various skincare products and cosmetics to promote collagen growth in the skin.
In some countries, horsetail tea is used as a folk remedy to improve digestion.
Flavonoids such as those found in horsetail are being researched for their effects on digestion, bloating, nausea, and stomach pain.
13. Weight Loss
Giant horsetail is a popular weight loss supplement in Latin America.
Horsetail acts as a diuretic and reduces fat in rats. Some people think it may supplement a weight loss regime by flushing excessive fluids, decreasing inflammation, bloating, and fat.
One strategy for reducing cellulite is to remove built-up fluids from the target area.
Horsetail could help fight cellulite by cleansing fluids from the body and toning the skin.
Although horsetail products are formulated in Spain for reducing cellulite, no clinical studies have yet confirmed the benefits.
15. Varicose Veins
Some herbal combinations with horsetail have been used to treat varicose veins.
It’s anti-inflammatory and skin healing properties could be beneficial when used as a cream, lotion, or ointment on affected areas.
Horsetail has been traditionally used to treat gout, due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. The beneficial effects of horsetail for rheumatoid arthritis could be important for treating gout (see Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis section)
Horsetail extract reduced anxiety in mice as strongly as the standard anti-anxiety drug (diazepam), shown in several studies.
The anti-anxiety effect of horsetail is attributed to flavonoids, which are now being called the “new benzodiazepines” (anxiety medications).
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In fact, flavonoids may actually achieve calming effects by increasing GABA and other key neurotransmitters in the brain.
The effects of flavonoids on the brain may go beyond the simpler mechanism of action of benzodiazepines.
18. Relaxation and Sleep
When used in higher doses than for treating anxiety, horsetail increased the duration of sleep in mice.
The flavonoid isoquercetin in horsetail acts as a mild and safe sedative.
This calming effect opens the door to potential therapeutic use for sleeping problems, and for relaxation before surgery.
Horsetail prevented, delayed, and reduced the intensity of seizures in mice.
The anti-seizure effect may be due to the flavonoid isoquercetin, but other unknown compounds could also play a role.
The effects of horsetail on the brain are just beginning to be uncovered.
It’s complex antioxidant composition may protect the brain and improve cognitive function.
Antioxidative defences weaken with aging and may cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Powerful flavonoid antioxidants in horsetail (such as isoquercetin) enhance cognitive function and reverse memory loss.
Horsetail used over a longer period of time improved cognition and memory in older rats.
21. Ulcers and Hemorrhoids
Excessive bleeding is common to heavy menstrual periods, hemorrhoids, and ulcers.
Researchers are exploring whether horsetail can help reduce bleeding and shrink the size of wounds, which would theoretically help with ulcers and hemorrhoids.
Only one study showed that horsetail-extract reduced stomach ulcers in rats.
It improved symptoms, protected the stomach, and prevented further damage.
22. Flu Symptoms
Isoquercetin, an active ingredient of horsetail, reduced flu symptoms in mice.
In cells, isoquercetin kills influenza A and B viruses — the most common viral strains that cause the flu. Horsetail is rich in isoquercetin and fights many viruses.
23. Heart Health
Horsetail relaxes blood vessels, and reduces blood pressure in rats with heart disease.
Dicaffeoyl-meso-tartaric acid is the active ingredient in this process.
Horsetail reduces fat oxidation, which is often the underlying cause of heart disease.
After menopause, hormone changes can cause an increase in fat, making women more prone to heart disease.
Horsetail reduced fat levels in postmenopausal rats.
Some scientists think horsetail may carry the potential to prevent heart disease in women going through menopause.
24. Chemotherapy Side Effects
Researchers are exploring whether horsetail can help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy or boost the action of cancer drugs.
Horsetail reduced the toxic effects of cyclophosphamide (a drug used to treat different types of cancer) in mice.
Histamine narrows airways in asthma, causing difficulty breathing and mucus buildup.
Horsetail blocks the effects of histamine, relaxing airways in a study in rabbit airway tissues. Higher doses of horsetail had a stronger effect.
Active compounds in horsetail slow down bowel movements during diarrhea.
Compounds in horsetail block acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that promotes bowel movements.
In a study on rabbit and guinea pig gut tissue, horsetail relaxed stomach muscles and reduced cramps in diarrhea.
Horsetail reduced an overactive immune response in human cells.
Horsetail causes cells to produce less inflammatory molecules (IL-2 and TNF alpha) and the silica balances the immune effect in these cells.
Higher concentrations of the herb have a stronger effect.
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28. Bacterial Infections
The combination of active ingredients in horsetail can fight many bacterial, viral, and yeast infections.
Horsetail essential oil contains 25 compounds that were researched against the following bacteria:
- Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. It commonly causes skin and respiratory infections and food poisoning.
- Escherichia coli, which causes urinary tract infections (UTIs), diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease. Horsetail slows the growth and activity of this bacteria, which may justify its traditional use for UTIs.
- Klebsiella pneumoniae, which may cause respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria resistant to most antibiotics that can cause life-threatening drug-resistant infections.
- Salmonella, which causes food poisoning.
29. Cell-Based Cancer Studies
Horsetail is being researched for its effects on skin, blood, and lung cancer in cells.
Some scientists think antioxidants in horsetail and zinc in horsetail may aid cancer prevention.
Many substances can “kill cancer” in cells, but that says nothing about their actual cancer-fighting potential.
30. Oral Health
Dental cavities are usually caused by bacteria. Horsetail improves oral health by destroying bad bacteria. It may improve gum inflammation and bleeding (gingivitis). Horsetail could even be used as a homemade mouthwash.
Oral candida is a yeast infection that can be caused by dentures, a weakened immune system, and antibiotics.
Giant horsetail was active against oral candida; common horsetail essential oil also fights this yeast.
Side Effects according to HealthBenefitTimes
- Excessive amounts (more than 20 percent) can cause scours, paralysis, and death in horses.
- Large quantities of the plant can be toxic.
- Avoid in patients with edema due to heart failure or impaired kidney function.
- Plant contains irritant substances and should only be used for a short period (two months at max in one go).
- Pregnant, lactating moms and kids below the age of six should totally avoid horsetail because of its high nicotine content.
- Long term use may cause kidney irritation.
- If you are on any other supplements or medication, it is better you consult your doctor before using Horsetail.
- Those having a vitamin B deficiency or alcoholics should completely avoid Horsetail because of the presence of thiaminase enzyme, whose overdose destroys thiamine.
- People with high blood pressure or heart problems should not take horsetail.
- Mild side effects include diarrhea, upset stomach, and increased urination.
- Severe side effects that may require medical attention are kidney pain, lower back pain, pain while urinating, nausea, or vomiting.
- Heart palpitations can occur if horsetail is overused.
Benefits of Horsetail - The bottom line
Horsetail might just be the wonder herb that the modern world has forgotten.
The health benefits of horsetail are clearly wide-ranging.
The kicker, unfortunately, is that large scale clinical trials and scientific studies remain elusive.
Traditional uses for Horsetail such as for reducing water retention, blood pressure or urinary tract infections are still unproven.
Finally, Horsetail is not without its side effects and can interfere with other medications and especially with alcohol.
As with every medication, make sure you speak to your doctor beforehand and especially if you experience any negative side effects.
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