Americans are self-medicators. Some people take St. John’s wort to combat their depression, others use valerian root as a sedative. Because of loose federal guidelines, herbal supplements can be used without a doctor’s approval. Without the advice of a professional, however, a patient’s sole reliance on dietary supplements to alleviate symptoms of a condition may have no effect.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the makers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs to demonstrate efficacy and safety through clinical trials. The FDA has no such control over herbal remedies. A 1994 law allows them to be marketed as dietary supplements, which are sold without prior approval. The burden to prove them unsafe falls on the FDA.
Many physicians remain leery of dietary supplements because of the FDA’s lack of authority over them. Because the FDA cannot regulate these products, there is often insignificant clinical information regarding their effectiveness. Other countries with less stringent standards often test dietary supplements before the United States. As a result, Americans with vascular problems can now take a supplement that has been used in Europe for well over a decade by people with vein conditions.
Horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE) is a dietary supplement that supposedly promotes leg-vein health. It is marketed by Pharmaton Natural Health Products of Ridgefield, CT, as Venastat and has been available in the United States since 1997. Venastat claims to work by inhibiting the enzymes that break down elastic tissues in veins. This supplement promises to reduce swelling related to leg-vein problems and the discomfort that goes along with it.
Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, manufacturers cannot make specific health claims. Venastat packaging refers to the nutritional benefits of HCSE for good leg-vein health and does not promise the eradication of varicose veins. Several published clinical tests show that Venastat is as effective as compression stockings in reducing leg swelling due to varicose veins.
Doctors caution that HCSE may be effective as part of a leg health regiment but should not be relied on to eliminate spider or varicose veins. Patients should use it with their doctor’s oversight to see optimal results. The best way to keep legs healthy is through a combination of nutritional diet and exercise. HCSE should only supplement a healthy lifestyle.