What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose (VAR-i-kos) veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body.
Varicose veins are a common condition. They usually cause few signs and symptoms. Sometimes varicose veins cause mild to moderate pain, blood clots, skin ulcers (sores), or other problems.
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from your body's tissues to your heart. Your heart pumps the blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood then is pumped to your body through blood vessels called arteries.
From your arteries, the blood flows through tiny blood vessels called capillaries, where it gives up its oxygen to the body's tissues. Your blood then returns to your heart through your veins to pick up more oxygen.
Veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing toward your heart. If the valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell, which can lead to varicose veins.
Many factors can raise your risk for varicose veins. Examples of these factors include family history, older age, gender, pregnancy, overweight or obesity, lack of movement, and leg trauma.
Varicose veins are treated with lifestyle changes and medical procedures. The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms, prevent complications, and improve appearance.
Varicose veins usually don't cause medical problems. If they do, your doctor may simply suggest making lifestyle changes.
Sometimes varicose veins cause pain, blood clots, skin ulcers, or other problems. If this happens, your doctor may recommend one or more medical procedures. Some people choose to have these procedures to improve the way their veins look or to relieve pain.
Many treatments for varicose veins are quick and easy and don't require a long recovery.
How Supplements Can Help
Many of the following nutrients and herbs are commonly used in Europe, where varicose veins are sometimes referred to as chronic venous insufficiency. A number of the supplements are aimed at strengthening the walls of the veins themselves, which may help to relieve symptoms. All are quite safe and can be taken on a maintenance basis. Several are sold in combination products designed specifically for vein health.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition or are taking medication, it always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning a supplement program.
Horse chestnut seed extract reduces fluid retention, swelling, and inflammation and can be used along with gotu kola and bilberry. It is now widely available in health-food stores and other outlets as an over-the-counter supplement called Venastat. A recent German study found that horse chestnut seed extract was just as effective as compression stockings, which are often recommended but are expensive and uncomfortable.
Butcher’s broom is another herb that is frequently combined with horse chestnut to strengthen the walls of blood vessels.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is an especially valuable herb for varicose veins, because it tones the connective tissue around the veins, keeps the veins flexible, and encourages blood flow. In a research study done in Italy, people taking gotu kola had measurably better vein function than those taking a placebo (dummy drug). Most of the studies on this herb have been done in Europe using a standardized extract called TTFCA (Total Triterpenic Acid Fraction of C. Asiatica).
Bilberry, an antioxidant that strengthens capillaries and improves blood flow, is a good companion to gotu kola, and these two herbs are often sold together in a combination product.
Vitamin C helps to strengthen the walls of arteries, veins, and the microscopic blood vessels between arteries and veins, called capillaries. Vitamin C is best taken with flavonoids (potent antioxidants derived from plant pigments), which enhance the way the body uses the vitamin.
Vitamin E helps blood circulation and fortifies blood vessel walls. It also works well in combination with vitamin C.
For convenience, look for products that combine several of these herbs, and take them with another combination product that teams vitamin C with flavonoids.
A number of behavior modification strategies–such as exercising more frequently and watching what you eat–can make a big difference in relieving or preventing the pain of varicose veins. Other lifestyle changes can even keep them from developing in the first place.
- Do daily low-impact exercise that stimulates calf muscles. This might include walking, pedaling on a bike, or swimming. Even tiptoeing helps. The goal is to develop strong calf muscles that can help to push the blood in your veins along its journey to your heart, fighting gravity all the way. Low-impact exercise also helps by improving your overall circulation, and doing it regularly helps control risk factors such as constipation and being overweight.
- Maintain an ideal weight for your height and age. Obesity is a risk factor for varicose veins because it puts such heavy pressure on the legs. If you’re overweight, losing those extra pounds will make a big difference in how your legs feel. By eating a diet that’s low in fat and high in filling fiber, you’ll be more likely to lose–and keep–the weight off.
- Make use of cold water for toning muscles. If you have access to a pool, lake, or other cold body of water for swimming, try walking through the water for 5 to 10 minutes a day. European spas often include cold-water soaks for varicose veins, and stimulating the calf muscles with movement can only add to the benefit.
- Put your legs and feet up. Do this as often as you can during the day (three or four times a day for at least 10 to 15 minutes is a good goal). And sleep with your feet elevated two to four inches at night (one way to do this is to raise the foot of the bed with blocks; another is to put your feet on pillows). The point is to get your legs elevated above your heart, so blood will be less likely to pool in the veins.
- Avoid long periods of standing or sitting without a break. If your job or daily routine requires you to be on your feet a lot, stretch and exercise your legs regularly and try to sit down whenever you can. If you have a desk job, be sure to get up and move around periodically. Try flexing your ankle every few minutes to prevent blood from pooling in your calves. Alternatively, try some simple heel raises to stimulate your calf muscles and get blood flow going. Stand flat-footed; then slowly rise up onto the balls of your feet. Hold this position for five seconds; then lower your soles to the floor. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
- Uncross your legs. If you have a habit of crossing your legs while sitting, break it. The veins in your legs need good circulation–the blood should be able to flow freely. Crossing them cuts off this flow and makes many of the other self-care measures that you take less effective.
- Avoid tight clothes. Garments that constrict parts of the leg or torso can compress leg veins and others nearby, impeding upward circulation. Examples include commercial panty hose that is very snug around the tummy; knee-high stockings or socks with tight elastic; too-tight or high-heeled shoes; and belts, girdles, and even garter belts.
- Don’t strain on the toilet. Avoid constipation and straining to produce a stool. You won’t have this problem if you eat a high-fiber diet. So stock up on whole-grain cereals and breads, and fruits and vegetables. Exercise–especially walking–will also help your bowels move.
This video discusses the topic of Varicose Veins and some of the ways that you can help prevent, or treat them. We offer a selection of products to choose from, including our Vein No More; all of which can be found at our webiste.
Our clients have seen improvement in as little as 45 days. This compilation is based on extensive research that has proven itself time and again.
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- To see all references for the Horse chestnut page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1055.html.