Summer’s here! Time to unpack those floaty skirts and shorts. It’s great news for sunlovers, but not for the eight million South Africans, predominantly women, who are plagued with varicose veins, those winding, twisted purple clusters that make legs achy, swollen, tired and unsightly.
What are varicose veins?
There are two kinds of veins in your legs. Superficial veins, which lie close to your skin, and deep veins, which lead via groups of muscles to the vena cava, your body’s largest vein, and your heart. The two systems are connected, but varicose veins occur in the superficial vein structure.
What causes varicose veins?
Blood in your leg veins needs to work against gravity to return to your heart – a process that’s helped by your leg muscles, which squeeze the veins, and the one-way valves that allow blood to pass in the right direction. The process of sending blood back to the heart is called the venous pump.
Walking and moving around helps blood to move, but when you sit or stand for a long time, blood pools in your leg veins, increasing the pressure within them. Veins may withstand occasional bouts of inactivity, but in some people (the condition often runs in families), the veins stretch and their walls become weakened, damaging the vein valves. The result? Varicose veins or spider veins.
The likelihood of varicose veins increases with age and weight. Veins that enlarge during pregnancy tend to improve afterwards. Women are also vulnerable during puberty and menopause, or if using birth control pills or other drugs containing oestrogen and progesterone.
Don’t ignore varicose veins – they’ll probably worsen over time, causing aching and skin changes like rashes, redness, phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), skin ulcers and blood clots.
Treatment of varicose veins
There are various ways to prevent and treat varicose veins, ranging from lifestyle changes and essential oils to expensive surgeries.
Try these home remedies before turning to prescription creams or the scalpel or laser:
- Get active to help prevent blood pooling in your leg veins. Ditch the car and walk or cycle to the shops, take the dog for a run, work in the garden – all will keep muscles and their supporting venous structure strong and elastic.
- Try not to sit or stand for long periods of time. (If you have no option, wear elastic support stockings, stretch and flex your legs occasionally or get up and walk around). Raise your legs when resting.
- Adjust your diet.. Certain foods help reverse inflammation and improve blood flow, making it possible to heal varicose veins faster and prevent new ones forming. Kick out trans fats and processed foods and reduce your intake of salt, coffee and alcohol. Eat more fibre (fruit and vegetables, flaxseeds, legumes) to prevent water retention and keep bowels regular; flavonoids (in foods such as berries); vitamins C, E and K (in kale and other leafy green veggies); magnesium (in leafy greens, avocado, bananas, cruciferous veggies and sweet potatoes); spicy dishes to speed circulation; omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish – wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and tuna) to help blood flow; and natural diuretics (fresh herbs –parsley, coriander, basil, fennel, cucumber, asparagus and celery). Apple cider vinegar also improves circulation in the vein walls.
- Try natural supplements. Gotu kola is an adaptogenic herb that has been shown to help strengthen the walls of blood vessels, improving circulation and assisting in the treatment of varicose veins. Read more about about gotu kola in our herb library and buy it online from Faithful To Nature. Grape seed extract, commonly prescribed in France for varicose veins and other vascular problems, contains powerful anti-oxidant compounds shown to make blood vessels more elastic and less likely to swell. Bilberry and Horse chestnut ease the chronic venous insufficiency that causes pain, ankle swelling, feelings of heaviness, itching and leg cramps at night. They also help reduce water retention, improving circulation and swelling. You can order bilberry online from Faithful To Nature.
Treatment options for varicose veins range from conservative (medication, compression stockings and lifestyle changes) to minimally invasive (such as sclerotherapy
Keep moving. Store a child’s ball beneath your desk to squeeze between your knees, flex and stretch your calves and feet, walk as much as you can and eat wholefoods. All will go a long way to keep varicose veins at bay. You’ll look good in your summer wardrobe too!
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.
- Axe, J. How to get rid of varicose veins with 5 natural remedies. https://draxe.com/varicose-veins/
- Weil, A. Varicose veins. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/feet/varicose-veins/
- Weir, G. Vascular veins. http://www.vascular.co.za/VaricoseVeins/