Two primary kinds of blood vessels exist in the circulatory system. Arteries are one kind; they deliver blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins are the sec- ond type of blood vessel, and their function is to conduct blood back to the heart. Of the two kinds of vessels, veins have the more difﬁcult task. Unlike the arteries, they cannot rely upon the heart’s direct pumping motion to propel the blood to its destina- tion. Instead, the pumping action comes from the contracting and relaxing effect of muscles surrounding the veins. Luckily, however, the veins are equipped with a series of valves that help keep the blood ﬂowing in one direction only: toward the heart.
When one of these valves malfunctions, or when a vein wall is somehow weakened, the blood cannot continue to ﬂow properly. Instead, it pools and accumulates within the veins, which are burdened by the excess blood. They grow weaker, and they begin to stretch and bulge. These enlarged, raised blood vessels are called varicose veins. They usually appear on the legs—especially on the thigh or the back of the calf— where the veins have to ﬁght strong gravitational pressure as they push blood back up to the heart. Varicose veins can also appear in other parts of the body, including the anus, where they are called hemorrhoids. (For more information about anal vari- cose veins, see Hemorrhoids.)
Varicose veins may be tender and painful and may cause the legs to feel tight and swollen, but in general, they do not pose a health risk. They are also quite common:
about 50 percent of middle-aged Americans have some varicose veins. In many peo- ple, the condition is brought on by a genetic weakness in a vein wall or valve, but it can also be caused by anything that puts excess pressure on the veins. A diet that’s high in fat and low in ﬁber can stress the veins (because this contributes to constipa- tion), as can inactivity, obesity, and long periods of sitting or standing. Many women develop varicose veins during pregnancy, when the legs are burdened with a great deal of extra pressure. We often see women with hormone imbalances who have problems with varicose veins, particularly women taking a synthetic hormone replacement.
Although no one has a cure for varicose veins, home treatment is quite effective at reducing the pain and the swelling. Home therapies can also strengthen the vein walls and prevent the condition from growing worse. Of particular importance is a group of herbs known as venotonics. This class of herbs improves the tone of the venous wall. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) are two prime examples and are discussed in this section. We ﬁnd that the natural therapies in this section often prevent a further progression of varicose veins, and in some cases, there is a mild improvement. In most cases, patients ﬁnd that their circulation improves. Sometimes, however, professional care is in order. In rare cases, varicose veins deep in the leg can lead to a more serious circulatory disorder, such as phlebitis or a blood clot that can travel to the lungs, resulting in a life- threatening pulmonary embolism. If you have an intense pain deep in your legs, or if you experience persistent swelling in one or both your legs, consult your doctor.
• Swollen, raised veins that may be tender and painful
• Heavy, tight, swollen, or fatigued legs
• Bruising in the affected area
• Itchy skin near the varicose veins
• Ulceration over the varicose veins
• A genetic weakness in the vein or a vein’s valve
• A diet that’s low in ﬁber and high in fatty and reﬁned food
• Long periods of sitting or standing
• Liver disease
• A hormone imbalance
• Nutritional deﬁciencies
The following tests help assess possible reasons for varicose veins: Blood pressure
Hormone testing (thyroid, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, IGF-1, estrogen, progesterone)—saliva, blood, or urine
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially vitamin C, E)—blood
Digestive function and microbe/parasite/candida testing—stool analysis
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
The low-ﬁber Western diet leads to constipation. Straining during bowel movements
puts intense pressure on the veins of the lower body; over time, it can cause veins to weaken and enlarge. Therapies that encourage regular elimination are an important part of the treatment for varicose veins.
A high-ﬁber diet is your best weapon against varicose veins. Reduce your risk of constipation by eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
Consume 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground ﬂaxseeds, along with 10 ounces of water, daily to obtain healthful ﬁber.
Certain kinds of ﬂavonoids will strengthen the walls of the veins and improve their elasticity. Berries that have a bluish-red color—cherries, blueberries, and blackberries, for example—are rich in the ﬂavonoids you need, so enjoy them often as snacks or dessert. Buckwheat, as a food and in tea form, is a good source of a ﬂavonoid called rutin, which increases the strength of capillaries. Use it in whole-grain pancakes or breads.
To improve circulation, ﬂavor your meals with garlic, onions, ginger, or cayenne pepper.
Vitamin E is good for the circulation and also helps prevent blood clots. Wheat germ is an excellent source, as are soybeans and leafy greens.
Food to Avoid
Saturated fats, along with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, slow down your circulation and worsen the inﬂammation of the blood vessels. Avoid them.
Sugar and other reﬁned carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and constipation. Dramatically reduce your intake of sweets and reﬁned foods.
Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating, and they worsen varicose veins.
In one study of 240 people, horse chestnut extract was found to be as effective as conven- tional methods that used specialized compression stock- ings and diuretic therapy. Preliminary studies have shown that horse chestnut extract reduces the formation of enzymes that con- tribute to varicose veins.
If you are chronically constipated, a three-day juice fast will help clear out your bow- els and give you a fresh start. During your cleanse, drink a wide variety of juices; aloe, carrot, apple, and green drinks will help to speed waste through your system.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Varicose Veins
Super Prescription #1 Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Take a standardized extract that contains 100 mg of aescin daily. This herb strength- ens vein walls and valves and also improves circulation and reduces swelling.
Super Prescription #2 Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
Take a standardized extract that gives you 200 to 300 mg of ruscogenins daily. Ruscogenins are constituents within this herb that are believed to reduce inﬂam- mation of veins.
Super Prescription #3 Grape seed extract or maritime pine bark extract
Take 200 to 300 mg daily. These supplements contain proanthocyandins, con- stituents that improve circulation and strengthen the integrity of the vein wall.
Super Prescription #4 Bioﬂavonoid complex
Take 1,000 mg two to three times daily. Various ﬂavonoids, such as rutin and hes- peridin, have been shown to be effective as accessory nutrients in treating varicose veins.
Super Prescription #5 Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Take a standardized extract containing 25 percent anthocyanosides at 160 mg twice daily. Bilberry improves the circulation and strengthens capillary walls.
Super Prescription #6 Vitamin E
Take 400 IU of a mixed complex twice daily. Vitamin E acts as a natural blood thin- ner, to promote blood ﬂow and reduce inﬂammation of the veins.
Super Prescription #7 Witch hazel (Hammamelis virginiana)
Apply as a gel or a cream to external hemorrhoids, or add 1 ounce to a sitz bath daily. Witch hazel has an astringent effect on external varicose veins.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is an herb that improves blood ﬂow and strengthens the integrity of the vein walls. Take a product that provides 60 mg of triterpenic acids daily.
A high-potency multivitamin provides a base of nutrients for healthy veins. Take as directed on the container.
Vitamin C is important for healthy vein walls. Take 500 mg two to three times daily. Bromelain reduces inﬂammation of the veins and may help prevent blood clots. Take 500 mg three times daily, between meals. Look for products standardized to
2,000 M.C.U. (milk-clotting units) per 1,000 mg or 1,200 G.D.U. (gelatin-dissolving units) per 1,000 mg. Protease enzyme products also have this beneﬁt.
Essential fatty acids are important for reducing the inﬂammation of blood vessels. Take 400 mg of ﬁsh oil or 1 tablespoon of ﬂaxseed oil daily, along with 1,000 mg of evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis).
A greens drink that contains a blend of super green foods, such as chlorella, spi- rulina, and so on, provides ﬁber and improves liver function. Take as directed on the container.
Ginkgo biloba is a popular treatment for all circulatory disorders. Find an extract standardized to 24 percent ﬂavone glycosides and take 60 to 120 mg twice daily.
Vitamin C strengthens the rectal tissue. Take 500 mg two to three times daily. Dandelion root (Taraxacum ofﬁcinale) promotes bile ﬂow and improved regularity. Take 300 mg or 2 ml of tincture three times daily.
Psyllium is a good ﬁber supplement and has been shown to reduce the pain and the bleeding associated with hemorrhoids. Take 5 to 7 grams daily, along with 10 ounces of water.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. Take a 6x, 12x, 6C,
12C, or 30C potency twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Con- sultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Aesculus Hippocastanum is for distended, purple veins that cause hot, sticking pains. Symptoms are worse when walking and in the cold.
Arnica (Arnica montana) is for veins that look and feel bruised. The veins are swollen and painful to touch.
Bellis Perennis is for varicosities that occur during pregnancy and make it difﬁcult to walk. There is a deep bruising pain.
Carbo Vegetabilis is a good remedy when one experiences mottled skin with dis- tended veins. One’s legs feel heavy, weak, and chilly, yet have burning pains. The symp- toms are worse from warmth and lying down and feel better from elevating the feet.
Hamamelis is for varicose veins of the thighs and the legs, in which there is a feel- ing of heaviness and bruising, with signs of swelling. The veins can become itchy. Symptoms are worse from touch, jarring, and pressure and feel better from motion.
Lachesis is for a blue-red swelling of varicose veins. The veins may bleed easily. The person tends to be hot and intolerant to heat. Symptoms often come on with menopause or pregnancy.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis) is for swollen veins in the legs that are bluish and have stinging pain. The symptoms are worse in the heat and feel better in the fresh air. Pulsatilla is a common remedy for varicose veins that occur during pregnancy.
Sepia is for purplish, congested veins that have lost their elasticity. The problem comes on with pregnancy or during menopause. The woman is prone to constipation and being chilly. She has a craving for sour, salty, and chocolate foods. The symptoms are better from exercise and warmth.
See pages 668–675 for information about pressure points and administering treatment.
• To encourage bowel movements, work Conception Vessel 6 and Large Intes- tine 4.
• Large Intestine 11 strengthens the colon. If you tend to be constipated, work this point on a daily basis.
• To improve circulation to your legs, work Gallbladder 34.
Work the areas corresponding to the colon, the liver, and the endocrine glands.
Hot and cold hydrotherapy is a gentle but highly effective way to stimulate circula- tion and reduce inﬂammation in the legs. You can alternate hot and cold baths, if you like, or use a shower nozzle to spray your legs directly.
A wet compress is another gentle treatment for varicose veins. Apply it directly to the affected area. For added beneﬁt, you can make the compress with any of the essen- tial oils listed under Aromatherapy in this section or with witch hazel, which has a toning effect.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Try to ﬁnd ten minutes a day to lie down with your feet elevated. You’ll encourage the blood to ﬂow in its proper direction, and you’ll reduce the pressure and the swelling.
To stimulate circulation and tone the legs, use rosemary, geranium, black pepper, or ginger. Don’t massage the oil into the weakened veins; instead, add the oils to a bath or a wet compress.
• Exercise is one of the best ways to improve varicose veins. Bicycling is highly recommended, as it works the legs without putting a great deal of pressure on them.
• Avoid long periods of standing and sitting, if you can. Take frequent breaks to walk around or to put your feet up.
• Elevate the foot of your mattress so that it’s ﬁve to eight inches higher than the head. When you sleep, your blood will ﬂow to your heart more easily, instead of pooling in your veins.
• Support hose will take pressure off your veins and improve circulation. To get the maximum results, lie down with your legs raised before putting on the hose, so that you aren’t trapping blood in the lower half of your body.
• If you’re obese, you can signiﬁcantly reduce varicose veins by losing weight.The dietary suggestions in this section will give you a start; if you’d like further help, see Obesity.
• Don’t wear tight clothes that restrict your circulation. Tight pants, garters, and poorly ﬁtting pantyhose will just make the condition worse.