Bummed out about varicose veins? Try these natural solutions . . .
by Sue Hughes, MSEd, HHP, CNC
Veins. We all have them. We certainly need them. They are the tube-shaped highways that transport blood from all over the body back to the lungs and heart. Most of the time they are just “there”, not standing out in any specific way nor causing discomfort. But when things go awry internally, varicose veins – bulging blue- or purple-ish road-map-looking veins – can form in the legs, in the anus (think hemorrhoids), or elsewhere. The formal name for this condition is Venous Reflux Disease or Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI).
Varicose veins are not just cosmetic . . .
Like I stated above, and as is true with all symptoms of chronic conditions, something internal must malfunction in order for the body to form varicose veins in the first place. Our veins are equipped with small, one-way valves along their inner walls that help the blood to continue to travel to the heart, against the force of gravity. If these valves malfunction, instead of continuing the trip to the heart, the blood flows backward (referred to as “reflux”), accumulating in one area, resulting in swelling of the vein and the weakening of the vein walls.
What causes a vein’s valve to malfunction?
When there is weakening of the venous walls the veins tend to widen and elongate. Widening of the vein leads to the separation of the cusps of the valves, so when an individual stands up, they are unable to close to stop the blood from flowing backward. When the blood “refluxes”, it accumulates and can become very acidic due to the buildup of stagnant metabolic waste. This acidic state results in inflammation, which in turn causes pain and swelling.
So it all begins with weakened vein walls, which is a tendency that is often inherited, although there are many other potential causes. To name a few, poor circulation, sitting or standing in one position over long periods, frequent crossing of one’s legs while sitting, lack of exercise, excess weight/obesity, lifting heavy objects and even hormonal changes during menopause or pregnancy.
Are there ways to prevent or at least improve the strength of the vein walls and subsequent appearance of varicose veins?
Absolutely. First, if you know that varicose veins run in your family, begin a nutrient regimen that supports vascular and circulatory health as early as possible, preferably prior to the appearance of your own varicose veins. Since a deficiency of certain nutrients, such as Vitamin C and the bioflavonoid Rutin plays a role in the strength of the collagen structure of the vein walls, it would be wise to incorporate these into your regimen first and foremost.
Other nutrients that are supportive of circulatory health include CoEnzyme Q10 and Vitamin E. In addition, the plant-based nutrient diosmin, which is derived from the sweet orange, has been found to support healthy blood flow and vascular tone/elasticity (dosage = 600 mg daily of the standardized 95% form in the morning). It’s been used in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency and hemorrhoids over the course of four decades and is actually available only by prescription in some parts of Europe. Here in the US it is available as a nutritional supplement.
Another very powerful anti-inflammatory that reduces the swelling of varicose veins is a compound called escin found in horse chestnut seeds. It’s known to tone the vein walls which prevents blood from pooling. 250 mg of horse chestnut extract twice daily (standardized at 20% escin) provides the equivalent amount of this substance that proved effective in studies.
Finally, also effective when it comes to nutritional support for circulation and improvement of varicose veins is bromelain, which is thought to lessen the risk of clotting in the blood vessels, and cayenne, the compound known for the heat in hot peppers which has proven to expand the blood vessels while relieving pain and inflammation.
Nutritional supplementation is a great way to support a healthy vascular system, but remember that it’s just as important, if not more so, to focus on cleaning up the diet. As is my usual advice for clients in pursuit of optimal health, maintain a diet low in refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables along with fish that tend to have minimal toxicity like sardines. In addition, blackberries and cherries have been shown to help prevent varicose veins, so eat up! And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
Because varicose veins are not simply cosmetic in nature, it’s important to address them from the inside out. That said, once you have considered the role of nutrition in your quest for smooth, healthy veins, there are a few substances including aloe vera gel and a variety of essential oils that can be applied topically to decrease pain, swelling and other discomfort.
Of the therapeutic grade essential oils that have proven to support healthy veins, one, helichrysum, actually helps dissolve coagulated blood in the tissue surrounding varicose veins. Cypress, on the other hand, assists in the strengthening and regeneration of capillary walls. Lastly, Idaho tansy helps strengthen weak veins. Simply apply a drop of one or more of these oils to the location of the vein and rub gently upwards on the vein toward the heart. Repeat twice daily and allow to dry prior to standing. It’s important to note that I recommend only Young Living Essential Oils due to my trust in their purity. For more information or to place an order, click here.
Simple lifestyle habits can do wonders when it comes to varicose vein prevention or improvement. Engage in moderate exercise daily with a focus on gentle forms like walking and yoga. Not only will this increase circulation, but exercise will help with the maintenance of a healthy weight, which in turn will take the pressure off of veins. Wear loose clothing that does not restrict blood flow and if you have a job that requires sitting at a desk (or just plain sitting anywhere!) all day, be sure to take a break every 30 minutes or so to walk around and stretch your legs.
Go ahead and take control!
So whether you already have varicose veins or you merely want to prevent them from showing up as you age, realize that there is natural, healthy support available that you may want to try prior to more invasive strategies like surgery. And feel free to shoot me an email if you need questions answered or would like more information on effective dosages of the supplements mentioned above.
Balch, Phyllis A. and James F. Balch. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery, 2010
Trivieri Jr., Larry. Alternative Medicine, the Definitive Guide. Berkeley: John W. Celestial Arts, 2002
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