Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense)


Horsetail is an ancient “seed-free” vascular plant distinguished in part by the regular alternation of whorled appendages at successive nodes and highly reduced leaves. While there are many beneficial medicinal effects related to Horsetail (see the review below), it is its ability to improve the hair, skin and nails that makes this plant in the herbal medicine world famous.

Horsetail’s effects are mostly due to the high bioavailable silicon in this herb. This review will focus on this aspect of this herb.

Traditional Medicinal Uses of Horsetail
When I was studying Naturopathy, it seemed that every one of my female colleagues was taking Horsetail to improve their hair, skin and nails. It was one of the great health secrets shared amongst herbalists and Naturopaths. Many years ago the known benefits of this amazing herb weren’t known as it has only been in the last 5 years that Horsetail’s medicinal secrets have been revealed.


Heart Disease
Early interest in silicon was heightened when it was found that silicon could not only reduce blood cholesterol, but also reduce the cholesterol build up in the arteries. In a study published in 1991 the influence of silicon treatment on the blood lipids (such as cholesterol) and the cholesterol in the aortic wall (note: the aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body) was studied. The concentrations of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol were measured in blood of the test subjects receiving silicon dissolved in the drinking water. The aortic tissue levels of total cholesterol triglycerides were also measured. An increase in (the beneficial) HDL-cholesterol and a simultaneous decrease of (the bad) LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels was observed in the blood and aorta of the tested group. The results showed that silicon could beneficially change the cholesterol concentrations in the aorta.

Hair strength, thickness and lustre
The appearance of hair plays an important role in people's overall physical appearance and self-perception. The amount of silicon on hair was tested in a recent a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Forty-eight women with fine hair were given 10 mg Silicon/day (this is about 200mg of Horsetail) or a placebo orally for 9 months. Hair morphology and tensile properties were evaluated before and after treatment. Urinary silicon concentration increased significantly in the silicon supplemented group (an indicator that silicon is being absorbed) but not in the placebo group. With the group taking silicon the hair also became more elastic and stronger, compared to the group not taking silicone. The authors concluded that the oral intake of silicon had a positive effect on tensile strength including elasticity and break load which resulted in thicker hair.
So if you are exposed to lots of sunlight, horsetail will be especially beneficial for you because it also improves sun damaged hair. It is known that chronic exposure of the skin to sunlight causes damage to the underlying connective tissue with a loss of elasticity and firmness. A bioavailable form of silicon (such as that found in horsetail) has been found to increase the beneficial firming chemical hydroxyproline concentration in the skin of animals. The effect of silicon on skin, nails and hair was investigated in a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Fifty women with sun damaged facial skin were given 10 mg Silicon/day and some once again where given a placebo. The blood levels of silicon concentration were significantly higher after a 20-week supplementation in subjects with silicon compared to the placebo group (again indicating the silicon was being absorbed). Skin roughness parameters increased in the placebo group but decreased in the silicon group. The difference in longitudinal and lateral shear propagation time increased after 20 weeks in the placebo group but decreased in the silicon group suggesting improvement in the elasticity of the skin. Nail and hair health also improved across the group who took the silicon, but not in the group who didn’t take silicone (the placebo group). Researchers concluded that the oral intake of silicon during the 20 weeks resulted in a significant positive effect on skin surface and skin elasticity properties, and on the brittleness of hair and nails.

Osteoporosis and Bone Health
Most good mineral supplements for the bones contain some silicon or horsetail because mounting evidence supports a physiological role for silicon in bone formation. A 12-month double-blind placebo-controlled trial published in 2008 gave 136 women 1000 mg of Calcium, Vitamin D3 and three different silicon doses (3, 6 and 12 mg) or a placebo. Bone formation markers were measured at the start of the trial and after 6 and 12 months. Overall, there was some additional benefit to Calcium and Vitamin D3 treatment, especially for markers of bone formation. However, the researchers found that a combined therapy of silicon and Calcium/Vitamin D3 had a potential beneficial effect on bone collagen formation compared to Calcium/Vitamin D3 alone which suggests that supplementing with silicon is beneficial for people suffering osteoporosis.

Cartilage Health and Osteoarthritis
The degradation of cartilage in the joints leads to a condition called Osteoarthritis. Once thought to be a ‘wear and tear’ disease, it is now thought that being overweight and not exercising are more likely contributors to this condition. Silicon has been thought to increase collagen, which is a connective tissue known to promote cartilage formation. In one study the collagen concentration in the dermis was significantly higher in the group given silicon and a positive correlation was found between silicon concentration in the blood and the collagen concentration in cartilage. It was even noted that silicon can help the absorption of the beneficial calcium and phosphorus as the calcium and phosphorus concentrations were higher for the group supplemented with silicon.
In summary, increasing the total dietary silicon intake resulted in a 70% higher silicon concentration in serum indicating a high bioavailability of silicon in this supplement. The positive correlation between the serum silicon concentration, the collagen concentration in cartilage, and the serum calcium concentration respectively, suggest the involvement of silicon both in the formation of cartilage formation and in the formation of bones.

Alzheimer’s Disease
Most people fear losing their mind to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and wisely avoid aluminium products such as aluminium pots and deodorants. Silicon can aid in the detoxification of aluminium from the body.
Basically, there are unexplained links between human exposure to aluminium and the incidence, progression and cause of Alzheimer's disease. In nature, silicon binds to aluminium. This same mechanism of action might now be applied to both the removal of aluminium from the body and the reduced entry of aluminium into the body while ensuring that essential metals, such as iron, are unaffected. Taking silicon increased significantly (P<0.001) the urinary excretion of silicon of the people taking silicon while reducing the levels of aluminium by 25% in the urine. Scientists concluded that the reduction in urinary aluminium supported the future longer-term use of silicon as a non-invasive therapy for reducing the body burden of aluminium in Alzheimer's disease.

In a study involving 50 women with signs of facial aging, thin hair and brittle nails, women were given an oral dose of silicon and topical colloidal silicon for the facial region. By the end of the study statistically significant improvement in the thickness of the skin, strength of the skin and a decrease in wrinkles was noted. Ultrasound examination further revealed that silicon had also increased the thickness of the dermis.

Drug Interactions with Horsetail
As with any herbal medicine, Horsetail could conflict with medication. So as a precaution, it would be prudent to consult with your health care professional to determine your individual requirements.

The Dosage and Duration of Taking Horsetail
Horsetail can be purchased in most health food stores around Australia. Whilst some individuals may be sensitive to it, research shows that Horsetail is remarkably safe with up to 12 grams a day being able to be consumed without adverse effects. However, most trials suggest taking 6-10g per day.

Other herbs that can be used with Horsetail
As with many herbs, combinations can be used to add to their therapeutic value. The following is a list of herbs that can be prescribed with Horsetail to boost its therapeutic properties:

  • Ginger. If you are suffering an inflammatory disorder, such as osteoarthritis, consuming ginger is an excellent method for reducing inflammation.
  • Boswellia is one of the great anti-inflammatory herbs. It is commonly prescribed alongside Horsetail for any inflammatory conditions.
  • Ginkgo biloba. If someone is suffering Alzheimer’s disease, Ginkgo is the first herb most herbalists think of first for this condition as it has well-documented benefits and also provides an anti-inflammatory action for arthritis.
  • Resveratrol is a great plant nutrient for the treatment of oxidative stress and any aging-related disorder. Horsetail is also a brilliant anti-aging herb, especially for connective tissues disorders (such as skin or hair problems) and those described above.

This article was written by Stephen Eddey and appeared in Vol 1 Issue 30.

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