What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins appear when your veins become bloated, discoloured and visible through the skin. They usually occur as a result of poor blood circulation due to the small valves inside your veins becoming weakened. These valves are crucial to directing the flow of blood throughout your body and when they are damaged it can result in blood leaking backwards and collecting in the veins, giving them their swollen and distorted appearance.
It is estimated that 30% of adults will develop this condition as some point during their lives, with lifestyle factors like diet and exercise normally playing a decisive role. The intensity of varicose veins can also vary from sufferer to sufferer, with some symptoms being mild and tolerable, whereas others will experience painful and debilitating flare-ups that might need urgent medical attention.
How can varicose veins get worse?
There are a number of triggers that can make outbreaks of varicose veins particularly unpleasant and place you at risk of developing a more serious condition like deep vein thrombosis or varicose ulcers. If your symptoms are causing you an extreme amount of pain and distress, you should seek immediate medical attention. However, it can still be useful to recognise certain features that might exaggerate an episode of varicose veins so that you can take action towards reducing these risks factors.
- Obesity: Being overweight can significantly increase your chances of developing varicose veins and it can also worsen your existing symptoms. Your weight will be placing an enormous amount of pressure on your veins and your circulatory system will struggle to keep up with the increased demands of your body. If you are obese, you are also more inclined to have high blood pressure, a condition that appears when your blood is being pumped too forcefully through your body. High blood pressure can damage the lining of the arteries and potentially rupture the blood vessels, increasing the levels of stress experienced by your veins and worsening your symptoms
- Liver congestion: The connection between liver congestion and varicose veins is not often apparent to varicose sufferers. On reflection though, it can make a lot of sense, especially when you consider the role of the liver in filtering blood, absorbing nutrients and detoxifying the body. When the portal vein, an important blood vessel used to transport blood and nutrients to the liver, is impaired or damaged, it can result in a back flow of blood, eventually enlarging the blood vessels further down in the stomach
- Malnutrition: If you are obese or suffer from liver congestion, then it can be inferred that you might also be at risk of being malnourished. This does not mean that you are not getting enough food, but that the food you are eating is not giving you enough nutrients. If your body is lacking in important minerals like zinc or anti-oxidants like vitamin C, it will have an adverse effect on everything, from your liver function to your digestion and blood circulation. For example, if your liver becomes too toxic due to drinking too much alcohol, it can cause congestion, again leading to an onset of varicose veins. If you are not consuming enough good nutrients, you might find yourself more vulnerable to digestive complaints like constipation, which can intensify an episode of varicose veins. Your blood circulation is likewise dependant on a good, steady flow of nutrients to maintain its health – vitamin E in particular is important for the formation of red blood cells and can work to reduce the risk of blood clots and stagnation. If you want to learn more, check out our blog on the best vitamins to banish varicose veins!
- Hormone levels: Oestrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones that can have a surprisingly powerful effect on the rest of the body. Some sufferers of varicose veins might notice that their symptoms tend to become more intense around their time of the month or during menopause. This is because our levels of both hormones fluctuate significantly during this time and can even be influenced by other changes occurring in your body, such as problems with the liver. The liver is responsible for generating hormones like oestrogen and when the liver function becomes impaired, you might find that there is too much oestrogen lingering in your system, unable to be detoxified by the liver. Oestrogen can cause the blood clotting and even weaken the walls of the veins so when your oestrogen levels are high, like during PMS or pregnancy, it can stimulate an episode of varicose veins. However, just as having too much oestrogen can be unfortunate for your symptoms, having too little oestrogen and progesterone can be just as detrimental. In menopause for example, your hormone levels drop and this can sometimes weaken your valves. Some doctors have even cited a direct link between low progesterone levels and varicose veins!1
- Immobility: The uncomfortable and often painful symptoms of varicose veins can make sometimes limit our mobility. If your legs are throbbing and aching, the last thing you will feel like doing is enjoying a brisk walk or taking a yoga class. Exercise is vital though – remaining immobile or leading a sedentary lifestyle will not encourage your circulatory system and will keep your blood flow stagnant and inactive. You need to be moving around regularly, stretching your legs and partaking in gentle exercises to stimulate a flow of blood around your body.
10 tips to help varicose veins
- #1 Good nutrition: We have already addressed the dangers of malnutrition and the detrimental affect it can have on varicose veins. You need a steady supply of nutrients, to support your digestion and circulatory systems respectively. Try to reduce the amounts of refined sugars and processed fats that you consume and instead choose high fibre alternatives that are rich in B vitamins. These will help to aid digestion, lower the risk of constipation and will not irritate your symptoms with their inflammatory properties. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also essential, especially if they are packed with anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin E. You could try our own vitamin C supplement, Nature-C if you feel as though your diet is lacking in this nutrient. Ginger is a very potent herb that is great for relieving the symptoms of varicose veins and can even prevent blood clotting
- #2 Drink plenty of water: It might seem like an obvious step but most of us can become dehydrated throughout the day, either because we are too busy to notice our fluid intake or we simply substitute drinking water in favour of coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks. Water though is crucial and if you don’t get enough of it your entire body will suffer as a consequence. If you do not intake enough water, your circulatory system will start to become sluggish, digestive complaints like constipation will start to become more commonplace and you will not be able to absorb the nutrients that we need from your food. You should be aiming to drink between 8-10 glasses of water a day and it might be worthwhile to consider limiting your intake of alcohol or caffeinated drinks as these often contain inflammatory properties and can even act as diuretics
- #3 Support your liver: Your liver, as we have discussed, is very important when it comes to the production of hormones and the health of your vascular system. When your liver function is inhibited, it can result in blood becoming backlogged and hormones like oestrogen lingering in your system. In order to support your liver, you could try a liver detox, which would involve removing toxic foods from your diet and increasing your intake of raw vegetables and potassium rich foods. Taking a supplement like Milk Thistle Complex might also be very beneficial as it contains fresh extracts of dandelion and peppermint, and can support the overall function of your liver, keeping it healthy and strong
- #4 Wear compression stockings: Compression stockings might not be the most fashionable item of clothing in your wardrobe but they are an essential accessory when it comes to combatting the symptoms of varicose veins. The stockings work by adding pressure to your legs, stimulating the blood flow and easing any inflammation. You should wear the stocking whilst you are sitting down and when you are on the move. If you are considering a holiday abroad, you should consider wearing flight socks whilst you are on-board the plane as flying does sometimes carry certain health risks for sufferers of varicose veins
- #5 Exercise: Exercising can be tricky in cases of varicose veins, especially if you are experiencing a great deal of pain and discomfort in your legs. The chances are you won’t feel in a particularly active mood; however it is important that you try to keep as mobile as possible. This doesn’t mean that you should be trying out for the London marathon or going mad on the cross-trainer. Gentle but brisk exercise is recommended – walking should help to stimulate your blood flow but it won’t place too much pressure on your body. You could even try exercises like yoga as it will force you to stretch your muscles, flex your feet and encourage the flow of blood in your veins. Read our article on the best exercises for preventing varicose veins for some more tips.
- #6 Relax: It might seem difficult, nigh on impossible even, but you should try to avoid stressful emotions when you are suffering from a condition like varicose veins. Stress can have all sorts of nasty repercussions for your body and this is mainly due to the ‘fight or flight’ reaction that is stimulated by the immune system. This reaction causes you to feel more alert and on edge, with your blood being pumped more forcefully around your body and inflammatory chemicals like adrenalin flooding your system, even triggering an episode of varicose eczema. Your digestion is also likely to be affected as your nervous system will want to be rid of unnecessary baggage and will struggle to break down your food, possibly leading to malnutrition and bouts of diarrhoea and indigestion. Instead of getting worked up over your symptoms, you should try to relax and make some time for yourself, either to enjoy a good book, binge-watch your favourite television programme or indulge in a luxurious hot bath. Meditation might be of added benefit as it can teach you proper breathing techniques and natural ways of calming yourself down when you feel anxious or apprehensive. You could even try taking our natural stress remedy AvenaCalm. When taken consistently, AvenaCalm should support your mood and work to ease the stress triggers in your nervous system, gradually calming you and making you feel more in control of your day to day activities
- #7 Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is very useful for treating some of the more unpleasant symptoms of varicose veins. This is because it contains natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and can even improve the circulation and flow of blood throughout the body, relieving the swelling and pain associated with varicose veins. You can apply this treatment topically by gently massaging the affected area or you can even try diluting the vinegar with some water and drinking internally. Check out a range of apple cider vinegar products available at Your Health Food Store if you are interested in this option
- #8 Essential oils: Essential oils like rose and lavender have been used for years to soothe troubled skin, lift your emotions and even enhance your circulation. A yarrow based massage blend or cypress oils are believed to be very effective at easing the symptoms of varicose veins. Yarrow works to support your blood vessels and stimulate your circulation2 whilst cypress is supposed to be good for constricting your blood vessels and promoting your liver function.3 You can massage these oils into your skin or even add them to your evening bath. Your Health Food Store as an array of essential oils if this is a treatment that appeals to you, so feel free to check them out
- #9 Gingko biloba: Ginkgo biloba is harvested from fresh leaves from the gingko tree, otherwise known as the tree of knowledge. Gingko has been used in herbal medicines for hundreds, if not thousands of years and is believed to have all sorts of useful properties. It is traditionally recommended for circulatory conditions like Raynaud’s syndrome or concentration issues, as the plant is known to support a healthy blood flow to the brain; however it could also be beneficial for other circulatory conditions like varicose veins. In a study conducted by the Spitalul Universitar in Bucharest, gingko was an essential ingredient in Ginkor fort, which was used to treat test subjects with varicose veins pathology.4 The study proved to be successful in 73% of the subjects, giving some relevance to the benefits of ginkgo biloba in the treatment of varicose veins
- #10 Try horse chestnut: Horse chestnut has been used for years in the treatment of varicose veins, being able to encourage healthy blood circulation and support the blood vessels. Our venaforceand venagel remedies are made from fresh extracts of horse chestnut seeds and are excellent at easing the symptoms of varicose veins, such as fatigue, cramping and swelling. You can take one venaforce tablet twice a day, or apply our venagel directly to the affected area by massaging in two to three times a day. Just take care as venagel might be suitable for pregnant women but venaforce is not and should not be used if you suffer from varicose ulcers.