One of my female patients recently expressed concern about varicose veins. Both her mother and grandmother lived with unsightly veins for years, and she wondered if she was destined to have this condition.
I was honest with her. Varicose veins often run in families but the condition is not necessarily inevitable. I assured her that there are defensive measures that can be taken to improve her chances of preventing the onset of varicosity, a term used to describe swollen veins.
Approximately half of all middle-aged Americans develop this condition, more so in women than in men. Although varicose veins is not life-threatening, if left untreated it may become more serious and cause bleeding under the skin, blood clots or leg ulcers.
Why the Legs?
Any vein could become varicose, but your leg veins are most susceptible. Your blood has a harder time flowing upward against gravity due to the distance between your heart and legs. When you exercise, your body maintains good circulation because when leg muscles contract, the blood is pushed upward. Tiny valves in your veins open to let the blood flow through and then close again to prevent the back flow of blood as it returns to the heart.
When these valves become damaged or don’t work properly, blood pools in the veins, circulation is hindered, and the veins swell. They appear on your legs as blue, bulging or lumpy. Your legs may ache, itch, cramp or develop a sensation of heaviness.
Unfortunately, varicose veins cannot be cured completely, but there are things you can do to bring relief and improve the circulation in your legs. If you do not currently suffer with varicose veins you might want to implement simple changes in your daily routine to guard against developing varicosity in the future.
Eliminate Contributing Factors
Since good circulation in your legs depends on activity, a sedentary lifestyle is probably the greatest contributing factor to varicose veins. Take time to incorporate moderate exercise, such as walking or cycling, into your routine.
Anything that hinders the flow of blood through the veins can contribute to poor circulation. Obesity, for example, causes compression of the veins so that blood can’t flow as freely. Try losing extra pounds by consuming a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eliminate refined carbohydrates (such as white flour and pasta), processed foods, and sugar.
If your job requires you to stand on your feet all day or to sit in one position for prolonged periods, it is even more important for you to include exercise as part of your daily activities. When you are sedentary, your leg muscles are not given the chance to contract enough and circulation is hindered. If you must stand most of the time, be sure to take rest periods throughout the workday. Sit down and elevate your feet, if possible, or walk around a bit. You may also try shifting your weight from one foot to the other or standing on your toes periodically.
If you are sitting, increase the blood flow by propping your feet on a small box or stool and by flexing the muscles of your legs, feet and toes. Take a few minutes to get up and walk around every hour or so, as well.
Even wearing constricting clothing (such as girdles) may interfere with blood flow so opt for something loose and comfortable. There is one exception to this rule however, and that is to wear supportive stockings or hose which helps to keep less blood from pooling in the veins.
Proper Nutrition Improves Your Veins
In addition to an overall healthy diet, specific foods and nutrients help to prevent varicose veins as well as to promote their improvement. Make sure you get plenty of vitamin C, which reduces tendencies toward clotting, and vitamin E, which improves circulation and helps prevent the feeling of heaviness in the legs. You may need supplements to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of these vitamins.
Other supplements to consider include: coenzyme Q10, which increases circulation; essential fatty acids, for the reduction of pain; glutathione, which protects veins and arteries from oxidation damage; pycnogenol (pine bark extract, a source of powerful antioxidants), which helps stimulate circulation.
Eat lots of blueberries, cherries and blackberries. Their antioxidant compounds strengthen the vein walls and reduce the buildup of certain enzymes which tend to weaken the veins.
If you aren’t fond of eating berries, try bilberry extract, which contains the same antioxidant compounds. To improve your circulation try butcher’s broom, ginkgo biloba, gotu kola and hawthorne berries. Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, reduces the risk of clot formation.
When Plagued with Varicose Veins, Try Natural Relief
• Mix ½ teaspoon of horse chestnut powder with 2 cups of water. Use this mixture, or witch hazel, to reduce discomfort and strengthen veins. Moisten a sterile cloth and gently rub over the affected area.
• To stimulate blood flow, use white oak bark herbal tea. After making a strong tea, make compresses and apply to legs three times a day.
• For a convenient soothing topical ointment, try aloe vera gel.
If you are suffering from poor circulation in your legs, get moving, eat a healthy diet, and ask your doctor about adding natural supplements that might improve your condition. You may be surprised at how much better you feel when you follow a few simple life changes. If varicose veins run in your family start now before it’s too late!