Veins send blood to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated. Not as strong walled or elastic as arteries (which are designed to cope with the vigorous action of blood pumped from the heart), veins have valves, which in good times prevent the backward flow of blood. When times aren’t so good, these valves lose their oomph, known as valvular incompetence (as in ‘you incompetent ninny’), causing blood to pool and veins to swell and become varicosed. Varicose veins are veins in the lower leg that have become enlarged, twisted and swollen.
- Most varicose veins occur in the superficial veins of lower legs.
- Heaviness and aching pain in the legs.
- Swelling of the ankles.
- Cramping of the legs.
- A shiny brownish-blue discolouration around the ankles.
- Ulceration may occur.
What causes it?
- There is a very strong genetic predisposition, additionally, 3 times as many women are affected than men.
- Standing up all day, especially on hard floors.
- Sitting down for long periods and crossing the legs also impedes proper blood flow.
- Pregnancy often causes varicose veins due to the extra weight of the baby pressing down congesting the venous return of blood from the lower body.
- Constipation and straining increase the pressure in the abdomen, constricting the flow of blood up from the legs.
- Prior trauma, surgery, immobilisation or deep-vein thrombosis.
- Being overweight adds more stress on the lower veins.
- Varicose veins point to poor circulation generally.
What to do
Treating varicose veins takes considerable patience. It depends how badly the veins have been stretched whether they can be saved. Treatment helps prevent future varicose veins.
- Foods containing the bioflavonoids (including the pith of citrus fruits, cherries, blackberries, rye, blueberries, rosehip tea and buckwheat) can help strengthen the veins.
- Foods that improve circulation include garlic, onion, ginger and chilli.
- Avoid sugar and white flour products.
- A high-fibre diet can help prevent constipation.
- Take bioflavonoids (rutin and hesperidin in particular), to strengthen the veins. Vitamin C is also very good for this, and they are often sold in combination.
- The tissue salts calcium fluoride (calc. fluor.) and silicea are used primarily to give strength and elasticity to the vein walls.
- Bromelain, the enzyme from the pineapple, can help reduce varicose veins that tend to be lumpy.
- Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) found in grape seed and maritime pine bark are useful for strengthening collagen and vein walls.
- Herbs that are excellent in the treatment of varicose veins are horse chestnut, butcher’s broom, ginkgo biloba, bilberry and witch hazel.
- After your shower, massage in some cream containing one or more of horse chestnut, butchers broom, citrus seed extract and/or some of the essential oils mentioned below.
- If your legs are hot from standing, apply a cool compress of witch-hazel lotion straight onto the veins. Keep a bottle in the fridge.
- Exercise is vital as the muscles help pump the blood up the legs, improving circulation. Exercise daily. Choose from swimming, walking, dancing and yoga. The inverted postures of yoga, where the legs are above the heart, are particularly good for varicose veins.
- Massage can help relieve and prevent varicose veins. If you can’t afford to, or don’t have the time to treat yourself to a weekly massage, all you need to do is master the simple technique of effleurage. The first stroke taught to massage students, effleurage is a gliding upward movement using a gentle but firm touch using the whole palm of your hand. The movement is from the feet towards the heart, encouraging the flow of blood up the veins, easing congestion and swelling. You can use baby powder, cold-pressed vegetable oil, or better still a cream containing herbs and nutrients mentioned above.
- A very simple and effective form of relief for the symptoms of varicose veins is to lie with both legs up against a wall for about 15 minutes at the end of every day. If you work on your feet all day this is invaluable.
- Wear compression stockings, particularly on days where you need to stand or walk a lot or if you plan to journey by plane for many hours.
- Acupuncture and reflexology are effective modalities for treating varicose veins.
Blend the following oils into 20 g of unscented vitamin E cream and apply to legs daily. Can also be used for bathing by mixing with Epsom salts.
- 3 drops of cypress oil – a renowned venous decongestant (an excellent choice in treating varicose veins)
- 2 drops of red myrtle oil – venous decongestant
- 4 drops of lemon oil – tonifying on the blood vessels
- 1 drop of geranium oil – stimulates circulation
At a glance
- Bioflavonoids strengthen collagen, the protein that forms blood vessels including veins. Foods containing the bioflavonoids include the pith of citrus fruits, cherries, blackberries, rye, blueberries, rosehip tea and buckwheat.
- Foods to improve general circulation include garlic, onion, ginger and chilli.
- Rutin and hesperidin are two bioflavonoids that will help strengthen veins. Take in combination with vitamin C, which plays a similar role.
- Grape seed and maritime pine bark contain oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC) complexes, which are helpful for strengthening collagen and vein walls.
- Take herbs that assist in improving circulation and strengthening vein walls such as horse chestnut, butcher’s broom, ginkgo biloba, bilberry and witch hazel.
- It is important that you take regular exercise to improve blood flow. Swimming and yoga are particularly good. The inverted postures of yoga, where the legs are above the heart, are perfect for preventing varicose veins.
- Massage, acupuncture and reflexology are all good modalities in the prevention and treatment of varicose veins.