What are varicose veins?
It is estimated that 3 out of every 10 adults will suffer from varicose veins at some point in their lives. The symptoms can vary in moderation, meaning that the condition can go from being considered a ‘cosmetic issue’ to being thought of as a serious medical complaint.
Varicose veins occur when the small valves in your veins become damaged or weakened over time. This prevents blood from being pumped properly around the circulatory system and results in blood becoming backlogged in your veins, causing them to bloat and discolour, giving them their swollen and distorted appearance.
Why do varicose veins appear on your feet?
In varicose veins, the legs are usually the most commonly affected area due to a combination of gravity and their role in supporting the weight of your body. Sometimes though, varicose veins can spread as far as your calves, ankles and even feet.
When varicose veins appear in the feet, they can be very debilitating. Standing or walking can be quite painful and uncomfortable because it will inevitably place pressure on the affected area. However, leading a sedentary life is not recommended and there are a number of factors that can increase your chances of developing varicose veins in your feet and put you at risk of worsening your symptoms.
- Obesity: There is a variety of serious health risks involved with being obese and overweight, including malnourishment, heart disease and diabetes. However, the condition also exponentially increases your chances of developing varicose veins, particularly in your calves and feet. This is logical when you think about it – the valves in these areas already have to fight against gravity to ensure a consistent circulation of blood and the pressure of your body’s weight is inescapably placed on this area. If you are obese, your weakened valves will struggle to cope with the increased demand of your circulatory system and will eventually become weakened trying to support your increased body mass. This process can be accelerated by the occurrence of high blood pressure, an extremely common condition in obesity, and one that can rupture your blood vessels and weaken the lining of your arteries, placing yet more pressure on your circulatory system, including your veins
- Poor nutrition: Poor nutrition, obesity and an impaired liver function are inevitably interlinked, with each complaint exacerbating and enabling the other. If you are consuming vast quantities of processed fats, refined sugars or caffeinated beverages, this will affect all other areas of your body, from your immune system to your digestion. When your body is unable to absorb minerals and vitamins that it needs to function, it will leave you vulnerable to constipation, poor blood circulation, psychological stress and developing a toxic liver. You should try to increase your intake of vital vitamins like vitamin C, which is great for the immune system and skin, vitamin E which can aid in the formation of red blood cells and B vitamins which are invaluable for the digestive system. Most of these nutrients can be found in raw fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and oily fish.
- Liver function: The liver is an important organ and is thought to be responsible for over 500 different functions in the body, from filtering nutrients to synthesising hormones like oestrogen and progesterone. It is only natural that when something goes wrong in the liver, the rest of the body is correspondingly affected. When your food is broken down in the digestive tract, it is passed on for filtering in your liver, where the good nutrients are absorbed and stored, and then what is left, the waste products, are ejected back into the intestines to be expelled from your body in the form of urine and faeces. The portal vein is used to convey nutrient-rich blood into the liver but sometimes this essential blood vessel can become damaged, resulting in a back flow of blood, eventually causing varicose veins to appear further down in the gut. This can be dangerous as your body is no longer absorbing the nutrients it needs and hormones that need to be deactivated will still be lingering in our system. Your liver function will be greatly reduced, forcing other organs like the kidneys, skin and lungs to take on the job of detoxifying the body
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy can be a difficult and confusing experience for many women, with their hormones fluctuating and their body undergoing a drastic array of changes. The appearance of varicose veins normally only adds to the stresses of this time and can place your body under more pressure. It is estimated that approximately 40% of pregnant women will experience varicose veins so the problem is quite common. In pregnancy, the valves in your veins are placed under an increased amount of strain due to the excessive amounts of blood being produced in the body to support the growing foetus. The expanding uterus itself can also place pressure on the inferior vena cava vein, which supports the blood flow from the legs and pelvis, causing it to become weakened and impaired whilst your increased weight can place more stress on your feet. There are also the hormonal issues to consider as your body will be manufacturing more oestrogen and progesterone which can relax the lining of the veins and make them more prone to leaking
- Stress: Stress might not seem like an obvious trigger of varicose veins, especially in the feet, but most people are not aware of the repercussions of severe psychological distress. When you experience an episode of stress it will plunge your nervous system into a state of excitement and stimulate your primordial ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, which are designed to prioritise your survival over everything else. Your blood will be pumped more forcefully through your body, placing more strain on your blood vessels and you may even experience an episode of diarrhoea as your digestive system will be focused on survival rather than retaining waste produce. This may cause you to lose fluids, risking dehydration, but more importantly, your body will not be able to absorb nutrients properly, perhaps causing you to become malnourished and to crave more carbohydrates. The chemicals released during bouts of stress, like adrenalin and histamine, are inflammatory, so the will only aggravate your symptoms and in general place more pressure on your immune system and the body overall
- Immobility: Suffering from varicose veins, particularly when they occur in your feet, can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience and will likely not inspire you to be particularly active. However, sitting down and remaining sedentary will only impair your blood circulation even more and encourage the blood in your veins to remain stagnant, worsening your existing symptoms and placing you at a greater risk of getting varicose veins in your feet. Despite how challenging it might seem, you need to remain mobile and active, regularly moving around and walking between rest periods. This will encourage the flow of blood and even help you to lose any excess weight if you suffer from obesity, which should alleviate your symptoms and prevent the condition from spreading to your ankles and feet.
What can you do to help?
- Relax: Stress and visible medical conditions often form a vicious cycle, with one symptom often enabling the other. It might seem difficult to remain calm while your body is changing, especially if you are pregnant and already concerned about the state of your body. Relaxing though, is extremely important, otherwise you risk feeding the cycle, worsening your symptoms and ultimately making yourself miserable. When you feel yourself starting to feel stressed or panicked, try to take some time out of your day to day life for yourself. Enjoy the pursuits that you want to enjoy, whether it be watching a cheesy film or going for a leisurely stroll down the street. You could even try out a gentle exercise regime like yoga or meditation as both activities are excellent at teaching you useful breathing techniques that will enable you to keep calm in times of emotional distress. If your stress symptoms are becoming particularly overwhelming, you could try our natural stress remedies, like AvenaCalm which can work to support your nervous system and gently soothe your moods, making you feel more relaxed and in control of yourself
- Good nutrition: There is really no underselling how important it is to have a healthy and well-balanced diet. It can help to reduce your chances of becoming obese, support your liver function and aid your immune and circulatory system. On the other hand though, following a diet that is rich in refined sugars, caffeine and processed fats can do a lot of damage to your body, flooding it with inflammatory chemicals and even making you more prone to bouts of stress and digestive complaints. Instead, you should try to avoid these types of food, maybe only having the odd bar of chocolate or take-away as the occasional treat for good behaviour. Try to choose fibrous foods that contain a lot of B vitamins as these can improve the health of your digestive system, preventing you from experiencing constipation and diarrhoea, which can place pressure on your liver and blood vessels. Eat more fruit and vegetables like pineapples, oranges, ginger, onions or kale as these are abundant in anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin C, E and K, which can aid your circulatory system and strengthen the lining of your blood vessels. If you feel you’re not getting enough vitamin C into your diet, then you could try our supplement Nature-C which is organic and made from natural fruit extracts or if you want to support your liver function, try Milk Thistle Complex
- Elevate your legs: A good way of stimulating your blood circulation, in episodes of varicose veins, is to try and elevate your legs above your heart. You can do this by lying down and resting your legs on a wall or stack of cushions. Gravity should enable the movement of stagnant blood and encourage your veins to start moving the blood to other areas of the body, hopefully reducing your symptoms and preventing the condition from spreading to your ankles and feet
- Exercise: When you suffer from varicose veins, exercising can feel like a bush tucker trial, especially if the veins have started to appear on your feet. Walking can be uncomfortable, painful and irritating, however it is necessary if you want to restore a proper flow of blood in your veins. The key is to exercise sensibly – don’t go on 10 mile bike rides or feel the need to start an intense weight session at your nearest gym. Instead try taking brisk walks or even start yoga classes as both forms of exercise are gentle and should encourage you to stretch your muscles and get your heart pumping. Exercise can also be of benefit if you are obese, as it should help you to shed the extra weight you are carrying, relieving the pressure on the veins in your legs and feet
- Use essential oils: If varicose veins have manifested on your feet, you could try massaging them with soothing oils like yarrow, cypress, rose or even ordinary olive oil. These substances can be very comforting for your emotional wellbeing and can work to support your blood circulation, aid your liver, constrict your blood vessels and reduce inflammation. You can massage these oils directly into your skin or even add them to a basin filled with warm water for a gentle foot bath. Your Health Food Store stocks a variety of oils that might be worth checking out if you are curious about this method of treatment
- Use compression stockings: Compression stockings are very useful when it comes to treating varicose veins, especially if they have spread to your feet and ankles. They stimulate your blood circulation by gently adding pressure to your legs, urging the flow of blood and reducing any swelling. You should wear the stocking throughout the day, whilst you are being active or when you come home from work and want to sit down. Compression stockings are also a beneficial article of clothing to have on you if you plan on venturing abroad as they can relieve some of the negative side-effects of flying with varicose veins
- Try horse chestnut: Our herbal remedies for varicose veins, venaforce and venagel, are organically made using the fresh extracts of horse chestnut seeds. Horse chestnut seeds have a long history of being used in the treatment of circulatory conditions like varicose veins and they work by promoting the flow of blood, reducing any pain or inflammation, and strengthening the lining of your blood vessels. If you are pregnant and want to try this treatment, you would be better opting for venagel as venaforce is not suitable for expecting mothers and both treatments are not advisable if you suffer from serious complications like varicose ulcers.