Natural Help for Varicose Veins
The season for wearing shorts and swimsuits may be coming to an end, but the unsightly—and often painful—puffy, blue streaks caused by varicose veins will likely remain an issue for many. While more than 40 percent of adults suffer from them, women are affected two to three times more often, according to a study in the journal BMJ Clinical Evidence.
It cites child-bearing, especially more than two pregnancies, as one root cause of varicose veins. However, smoking, family history, obesity and professions that involve extended periods of standing and sitting such as chefs, hairdressers, office workers and healthcare professionals can also contribute to the condition. Birthdays can also be a factor. “As we age, the leg skin gets thinner from wear and tear,” says Marcelle Pick, an integrative OB/GYN nurse practitioner in Falmouth, Maine, resulting in even more visible veins.
However, these lumpy blood vessels can cause more than cosmetic issues Varicose veins can promote pain, cramping, itching and swelling of lower legs, ankles and feet, as well as lead to more serious health conditions involving blood clots and poor circulation. There are a number of natural strategies that can alleviate symptoms and even prevent them from developing.
Varicose veins are the result of valve damage and loss of elasticity that allows blood to pool inside the vessel. “When you’re standing still for a long period of time, the valves stop working and blood fills in the vein, creating more and more pressure, which dilates it like a water balloon,” says Dr. Mary Sheu, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Walking, swimming, cycling and trampoline jumping are among the most beneficial activities. Sheu says it helps to get up and walk around every half hour for those with a stationary desk job. “Do some squats or go on your tiptoes to get the blood pumping, so it’s not stagnant.”
Aerial yoga or headstands are other exercises that help move blood from the feet to heart, along with using an inversion table that holds people upside-down. However, most people can’t stay in that position for any appreciable length of time, so an easy daily option is to elevate the legs on a pillow or small stool.
“Any position where your legs are elevated above the level of your heart would help with the flow of fluid back towards the heart,” says Sheu. Work with gravity: the higher the elevation, the quicker blood returns to the heart.
Supportive legwear is another effective way to reduce water retention and swelling, boost circulation and improve pelvic posture. “Compression stockings help keep everything cinched in so veins don’t stay dilated and the valves don’t move farther apart,” says Sheu, especially for frequent flyers stuck in a small seat for long flights.
In addition to old-fashioned tights, support options range from chic, charcoal, high-denier hose and lacey knee socks to stylish compression leggings, athletic compression socks and light support pantyhose. Most are readily available in airports and retail outlets.
Because obesity is a known cause of venous issues, maintaining a healthy weight is essential to lessening pressure on the lower limbs. Pick recommends an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants that helps increase blood circulation. Foods like blueberries, blackberries, leafy greens, beets and ginger are good options.
Chamomile and dandelion tea can arrest fluid retention, which relates to swelling and heaviness in the legs, as do botanical herbs. Ascorbic acid and ginkgo biloba stimulate circulation, helping the veins and capillaries contract.
Australian naturopath Leah Hechtman, who specializes in reproductive health, often sees women dealing with compromised veins. “Rutin, quercetin, and vitamin P bioflavonoids, taken in conjunction with vitamin C, are effective at improving the integrity of the vein and improving blood flow,” she says. Another flavonoid, red vine leaf, reduces swelling and symptoms of tension and heaviness in the legs.
Jill Blakeway, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in New York City and author of Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing, advises, “CoQ10 increases circulation, while horse chestnut and bilberry reduce inflammation and increase fluid circulation.” She also recommends bromelain, which is an anti-inflammatory and reduces the risk of blood clots, with acupuncture to raise central qi, which improves the elasticity of blood vessels and improves blood flow.
Melanie Laporte is a freelance writer and licensed massage therapist based in Austin, Texas.