What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins, also called varicosities, appear most often in the legs. They usually appear as lumpy, winding vessels just below the surface of the skin and result from a chronic increase in blood pressure, which causes veins to dilate. When the vein walls are pushed apart, the valves no longer seal properly, making it difficult for the muscles to push blood upwards. Instead of fl owing from one valve to the next, the blood starts pooling in the vein, increasing venous pressure and congestion, and causing the vein to bulge and twist. Because superficial veins have less muscular support than deep veins, they’re more likely to become varicose.
How do varicosities occur?
Any condition that puts excessive pressure on the legs or abdomen can lead to varicosities. Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause are most likely responsible for the high proportion of varicosities among women. Dietary deficiencies and decreased skin elasticity due to ageing are also factors. Prolonged standing or sitting, constipation, constrictive clothing, lack of exercise, obesity and repeated heavy lifting can interfere with normal circulation and increase the likelihood of varicose veins developing or worsening. In chronic cases, varicosities may be accompanied by aching pain or itching. If the stretched skin breaks, open sores (called varicose ulcers) may form.
Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is used extensively by health practitioners in Germany to treat varicose veins, with studies showing the herb to be as effective as surgical support stockings in providing relief. A study of over 5,000 patients with varicose veins concluded that pain, tiredness, itchiness and swelling in the legs all improved markedly or disappeared completely after using the herb. Taken when symptoms are first detected, Horse Chestnut can also prevent subsequent conditions, such as skin changes, inflammatory lesions and the increased risk of thrombosis. The herb works by stabilising the vein walls, and improving vein tone and blood flow back to the heart. It also stops swelling by preventing the breakdown of vascular walls that causes fluid to seep through the capillary walls and into the cells.
Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) works in conjunction with Horse Chestnut to treat venous conditions, improving circulation and relieving constipation and fluid retention. Rich in flavonoids like rutin, Butcher’s Broom is thought to tighten veins and strengthen the capillary walls, improving and maintaining peripheral circulation.
Herbs & Health common sense recommendations..
At their mildest, varicose veins are unsightly. At their worst, they’re dangerous.
- Exercise regularly. Keep leg muscles toned, blood flowing and weight under control.
- Eat foods low in fat, sugar and salt, and drink at least two litres of water daily.
- If you’re on your feet constantly for work, stretch and exercise your legs as often as possible to increase circulation and reduce pressure build-up.
- Don’t smoke as this may contribute to elevated blood pressure, which can aggravate varicosities.
- If pregnant, sleep on your left side rather than on your back to minimise the uterus putting pressure on veins in your pelvic area.
- Cross your feet at the ankles rather than the knees for better circulation.
- Take occasional breaks with your feet up. Resting with your feet five to ten centimetres above your heart lets gravity work in your favour, helping pooled blood drain from your legs.
- Avoid wearing high heels.
- Take a supplement containing Horse Chestnut and Butcher’s Broom, as well as vitamins C, E and bioflavonoids.