The Benefits of Horsetail

Osteoporosis prevention (working out with weights).
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Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a plant used in herbal medicine. There's some evidence that certain compounds found in horsetail may possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Available in dietary supplement form, horsetail extract is said to treat a variety of health conditions.

Uses for Horsetail

In alternative medicine, horsetail is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

Additionally, horsetail is said to promote hair growth, support weight loss, and treat heavy menstrual periods. It's also thought to act as a diuretic (a substance used to increase the flow of urine).

When applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin), horsetail is thought to speed up the healing of burns and wounds.

Benefits of Horsetail

While clinical trials testing the horsetail's effects on human health are currently lacking, some preliminary research shows that the herb may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several findings from the available studies on horsetail and health:

1)  Bone Health

A study published in the journal Cell Proliferation in 2012 suggests that horsetail extract may protect against bone loss. In tests on cells in culture, researchers found that horsetail extract may inhibit the formation of a class of cells known as osteoclasts.

Since osteoclasts play a key role in the breakdown of bone (a process called "bone resorption"), it's thought that reducing osteoclast formation may help fight the development of certain bone diseases (such as osteoporosis). However, more research is needed before horsetail extract can be recommended for osteoporosis prevention.

2)  Diabetes

Horsetail shows promise for diabetes control, according to a study published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences in 2007. In an experiment involving diabetic rats, the study's authors observed that animals treated with horsetail extract experienced a significant reduction in blood sugar levels. 

3)  Anxiety

Several animal-based studies suggest that horsetail may help alleviate anxiety. For example, a study published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology in 2011 found that horsetail extract helped reduce anxiety in a group of mice.

Caveats

There's some concern that horsetail may be unsafe when taken long-term. It's thought that long-term use of horsetail may lead to deficiency in a thiamine (also known as vitamin B1), since the herb contains a chemical known to contribute to the breakdown of thiamine. This chemical is called thiaminase. Although some horsetail supplements are labeled "thiaminase-free," the National Institutes of Health caution that the safety of such products is unknown.

Because horsetail may also lower your blood sugar levels, anyone using diabetes medications should consult a physician prior to taking this herb.

Alternatives to Horsetail

For help in keeping your bones strong and preventing osteoporosis, it's crucial to get your fill of calcium (found in foods like yogurt, dark leafy greens, soy, and salmon), vitamin D, and vitamin K. Weight-bearing exercises (such as walking, running, and strength-training) are also important for preserving bone health.

In addition, there's some evidence that practicing tai chi, drinking green tea on a regular basis, and using natural remedies like red clover and strontium may be beneficial for bone health. 

Where to Find It

Widely available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing horsetail are sold in many natural-foods stores and drugstores. 

Using Horsetail for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend horsetail as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it, make sure to consult your primary care provider first.

Sources

Carneiro DM1, Freire RC2, Honório TC3, Zoghaib I3, Cardoso FF4, Tresvenzol LM3, de Paula JR3, Sousa AL5, Jardim PC6, da Cunha LC3. "Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial to Assess the Acute Diuretic Effect of Equisetum arvense (Field Horsetail) in Healthy Volunteers." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:760683.

Cetojević-Simin DD1, Canadanović-Brunet JM, Bogdanović GM, Djilas SM, Cetković GS, Tumbas VT, Stojiljković BT. "Antioxidative and antiproliferative activities of different horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.) extracts." J Med Food. 2010 Apr;13(2):452-9.

Costa-Rodrigues J1, Carmo SC, Silva JC, Fernandes MH. "Inhibition of human in vitro osteoclastogenesis by Equisetum arvense." Cell Prolif. 2012 Dec;45(6):566-76.

Do Monte FH1, dos Santos JG Jr, Russi M, Lanziotti VM, Leal LK, Cunha GM. "Antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory properties of the hydroalcoholic extract of stems from Equisetum arvense L. in mice." Pharmacol Res. 2004 Mar;49(3):239-43.

Dos Santos JG Jr1, Blanco MM, Do Monte FH, Russi M, Lanziotti VM, Leal LK, Cunha GM. "Sedative and anticonvulsant effects of hydroalcoholic extract of Equisetum arvense." Fitoterapia. 2005 Sep;76(6):508-13.

Gründemann C1, Lengen K, Sauer B, Garcia-Käufer M, Zehl M, Huber R. "Equisetum arvense (common horsetail) modulates the function of inflammatory immunocompetent cells." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Aug 4;14:283.

Safiyeh S1, Fathallah FB, Vahid N, Hossine N, Habib SS. "Antidiabetic effect of Equisetum arvense L. (Equisetaceae) in streptozotocin-induced diabetes in male rats." Pak J Biol Sci. 2007 May 15;10(10):1661-6.

Singh N1, Kaur S, Bedi PM, Kaur D. "Anxiolytic effects of Equisetum arvense Linn. extracts in mice." Indian J Exp Biol. 2011 May;49(5):352-6.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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