Sometimes it seems like varicose veins come out of nowhere when you’re least expecting it. Most people over the age of 60 have some degree of varicose veins, and usually, they’re not a big deal. But they could be, depending on the general health of your pipes. When I say “pipes” I mean your veins, the pipes that push blood throughout your body. There are valves in these pipes which have to open and close, in order to let blood in or out. The valves in your veins work harmoniously to achieve one primary goal: move the blood in one direction, to the heart!
If your heart is weak, or your valves stop working, or your veins lose collagen and become weakened, then the blood stays in your legs and feet longer than it should. It pools faster if you’re standing for a long time (like a pharmacist who often stands for 12-hour shifts nonstop), or if you’re sitting for a long time as you would on a long plane flight. The pressure inside your veins makes them puff up (dilate) and after a while, micro amounts of blood leak out into the surrounding tissue. Varicose veins form, which is what you see when you look at your legs and see those twisted, distended big blue veins. It causes venous insufficiency.
You’re Not Alone
It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans have varicose veins! They mostly impact the legs and feet. Spider veins, in contrast, are not nearly as noticeable and can be visually eliminated with a good concealer or handled with a minor procedure that clears them. Most people have spider veins; they are really nothing to be concerned about. As an aside, there’s this thing called “drinker’s nose” which causes spider veins to appear on the nose. People are sometimes worried that they’ll be exposed as a heavy drinker because over time, with alcohol or heavy smoking, these veins become quite apparent on the nose. But for most people, spider veins are on the legs, not that perceptible and not a big health risk.
Varicose veins may cause different symptoms for each of you. For most, they are just an aesthetic annoyance, as with spider veins. A lot of women just wear long dresses or pants, forgoing the lovely shorts they used to wear in the summertime. However, for some, varicose veins become serious, causing pain, throbbing, swelling, and increased risk of blood clots. FYI, these could be related to mild heart failure. That’s your cue to go in for a complete cardiovascular workup, to check the health of your pipes. You obviously want to leave no stone unturned and have yourself tested properly to see what the root cause is.
Varicose veins are bluish-purple and often look twisted, protruding from the leg. If these angry swollen veins occur in the region of your anus, it’s called a hemorrhoid. People who sit for a long time or suffer from constipation are prone to hemorrhoids.
Because varicose veins show up mainly in the legs and feet, we can safely assume that your body weight matters. The added stress of being overweight makes your heart and veins work harder than normal to return blood from your extremities back up to your heart. It’s more pressure on your pipes.
So gravity is a problem, and added stress on the valves in your veins causes the blood flow to sort of pool and remain trapped. Sometimes, the valves in your leg veins stop working as well as they used to. This condition is called Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). The blood causes the vein to puff out and distend. Fatigue and weakness are natural consequences of this condition.
It comes with aging
There are many factors that could contribute to the development of varicose veins. Unfortunately, your risk of developing varicose veins increases as you age. Aging causes the valves to weaken and perhaps develop some degree of inflammation. Varicose veins can be a temporary problem too. Some women experience their first varicose veins as a result of the sudden weight gain associated with pregnancy. This is very common, especially in the third trimester. They disappear for most after they return to pre-pregnancy weight. The risk goes up even higher for women after menopause, or with surgically-induced hormonal changes (think hysterectomy) which can cause the walls of the veins to relax.
Genetics and Family History
If mom or dad has them, chances are you’re prone to them too. So without a doubt, there is a genetic factor to varicose veins. You needed something new to hold against your (otherwise awesome) parents, didn’t you? The most important gene that researchers consider is the FOXC2 gene. A polymorphism in this gene (what I call a SNP, pronounced “snip”) has been correlated with varicose veins in several studies. This gene encodes for a protein which is involved in blood vessel and lymphatic development and drainage. Problems in this gene are characterized by lymphedema, varicose veins and venous valve failure, especially in the lower limbs. Knowing that you have this gene means you could do things to help reduce the risk of varicose veins and its complications.
There’s another family of genes called MMP which I’ve mentioned several times in the past. If you’re new to my writing, I’ll tell you that MMP stands for Matrix Metalloproteinase. These genes encode for proteins by the same name, and there are many of them, for example, MMP1, MMP2, MMP3, MMP7 and more. You get the idea.
Researchers have found that most of these MMPs, especially MMP8 and 9 are upregulated in people with really bad varicose veins and venous leg ulcers. You can actually evaluate levels of some of the MMPs in your bloodstream with a simple blood test. You don’t need the blood test of course, you can typically look down at your legs and your feet and see the results of elevated MMPs. My point is that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If mom or dad has a propensity to varicose veins and/or hemorrhoids then you probably do too because of the genetics SNPs that you inherited in your beautiful crystalline DNA strand.
Don’t throw your hands up in the air, it’s not a given! There’s much you can do to head it off. That’s what I plan to do today, help you with this problem before it gets too challenging. Our biggest hurdles are weight and gravity. The very first thing you should do is lose weight if that applies to you. As for gravity, there’s nothing I can do on that one unless we all pack up our stuff and fly to the moon!
All together now, let’s sing it:
“Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars, Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars…”
(Frank Sinatra 1964)
While rare, complications of varicose veins such as leg ulcers, easy bleeding, and blood clots (“thrombophlebitis”), may occur. This is a warning I have to put out there since I have millions of people around the world reading this blog: if you suspect a blood clot, or if you develop severe throbbing or achiness of a different nature, sharp pains, burning, or redness in your leg, or a red streak, please contact a medical professional immediately, as this could be life-threatening. You should also check your cardiovascular function with a cardiologist.
Now, back to helping you with potential natural remedies and ideas to improve the quality of your life:
12 Tips to Deal with Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids
I discussed this above. It’s one of the fastest ways to help yourself because it doesn’t take years to do. In a few months, you can take some pressure off your legs by losing weight. The less pressure, the less puffy, twisted and distended your veins are. You see, your veins are weak, and the burden of carrying extra weight that shouldn’t be there is pressuring your veins, and making the blood pool. (As an aside, another benefit of losing weight is that many lucky people notice their snoring is silenced and sleep apnea masks can be put away into the nightstand!)
If you need help with weight loss I have a lot of ideas. In fact, if it’s related to your thyroid, know that I am one of the world’s leading experts because I’m a thyroid thriver myself; I even wrote a best-selling book devoted to that topic: Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine. I also hosted a worldwide thyroid-focused health event (with Dr. Brownstein) called The Thyroid Summit. All 32 interviews from the event are still available by flash drive. I also have several excellent articles on my site to help with weight loss. Here’s one of my favorites: https://suzycohen.com/articles/outsmart-fat-cells/
Ok, so let me preface this: get ready to love me, then hate me, then love me, then hate me. The goal of what I’m about to tell you next is to improve blood circulation throughout your body. It improves vasodilation and blood flow throughout your body, so try this: when you are taking a shower, alternate between comfortably hot water, then uncomfortably colder water.
You can even do this only to your legs if you want to spare the rest of your body; it’s helpful if you have a shower bench and/or a shower wand. Try each temperature for 10 or 20 seconds at a time. You should ask your doctor about this before trying if you have any condition in which this might be dangerous to you. The point is to give your veins “practice” constricting and dilating, constricting (cold water) and dilating (hot water), and so forth; this allows blood to flow more freely, and it increases circulation throughout the body. This can temporarily improve the appearance of varicose veins. It’s not a cure. This weird shower idea is not right for everyone, so please ask your doctor if it might help you.
Collagen holds you together. Without collagen, you would be slime … all over the place. Collagen is an important protein and a protein is just a chain of peptides. The most important one to your veins, tendons, ligaments, joints and skin is collagen! It makes you elastic too, so think of collagen as the key to healthy skin and a tight neck. Without enough collagen, your blood vessels, as well as your pretty, firm skin, will start to sag. When collagen breaks down faster than you can make it (a.k.a., normal aging) you may start to see varicose veins. That breakdown is inevitable. Collagen is consumed naturally when you eat meat because it comes from protein. You can also buy supplements; however, not all of them are created equal. Size matters, as in the size of the peptides. They should be small enough to get past your intestinal barrier and into your bloodstream. I’ll share more on collagen in a couple of weeks.
Make sure you are hydrated throughout the day. Did you know that coffee dehydrates you? It makes you more prone to leg cramps through the ‘drug mugger’ effect of magnesium and other minerals. Energy drinks rob the same vein-loving minerals, and we all know that soda and alcohol are dehydrating as well. Most of us don’t drink enough water! See if your lips are dry, that is the first clue that you’re dehydrated. Most people don’t notice their lips, they just slather on lip balm and order more coffee. Another way to tell is if your urine is dark yellow and concentrated. Dehydration also contributes to constipation which contributes to hemorrhoids! So please drink more water. (And when I say water, I mean water!)
Bioflavonoids are found in the outer peel of citrus fruits. You know of them as “citrus bioflavonoids” and several of them are great for your pipes! Most of them come from the outer peel of an orange.
You can get your bioflavonoids in several different ways. For one, you can certainly take vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C and all of the following C-related nutrients that I’m about to share help create collagen, and remember, collagen is important to your veins.
You can also buy supplements of pure diosmin. Diosmin is a well-studied citrus bioflavonoid that has been consumed for years and it’s well known within medical circles to support healthy veins and circulation in the body. You can find diosmin supplements at any local vitamin store. And you can cook with orange peel zest, as well. It’s tangy and delicious. You can also try other vitamin extracts that are similar in terms of what they do.
I mentioned how puffy, distended veins can leak micro amounts of blood into the surrounding area. Well, this creates a lot of inflammation and pain. Hesperidin has been studied and may be among the very best natural remedies to ask your doctor about. Hesperidin is a citrus bioflavonoid which comes from oranges and lemons (just like diosmin above) and it’s a potent antioxidant. It assists your body in the quest to fight varicose veins, hemorrhoids and those micro leaks of blood (which cause easy bruising). By the way, that’s how you know your capillaries are weak, you bruise easily. Hesperidin can help strengthen capillaries and it’s found in citrus fruits, but you can also buy it as a dietary supplement. If you have a mild case of vein problems, this supplement might help diminish the visibility. Of course, like always, ask your doctor if it’s right for you. Another related item is D-limonene.
Vitamin K2 or MK7
Vitamin K2 can help reduce the risk of you even getting varicose veins. If you are K2 deficient, and many people are, calcium leaves your bones and clogs up your arteries and blood vessels, causing them to stiffen. It’s called calcification. If your veins are weak, stiff or ‘easy to crack’, you will get micro leaks from the capillaries. While it’s not top of the list for vein health, I do think K2 deserves honorable mention. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you because this nutrient impacts medications and may lead to side effects.
Some of you are probably wondering which vitamin K because there are several types of vitamin K.
Vitamin K2 in your body is primarily involved in the proper deposition of calcium; it makes sure that the calcium stays in your bones and teeth but doesn’t get into your surrounding tissue, your joints or blood vessels (i.e., calcification). On the other hand, vitamin K1 which is found in salads, vegetables and leafy greens is the type of K that plays a bigger role in blood clotting and the one that has more interactions with medications. But with either K2 or K1, I want you to ask your doctor if this supplement is right for you before taking it. Read my recent article on K2 and its effect on prostate health.
Oat Straw Tea
You can make a tea out of oat straw herb. This herb known botanically as Avena sativa helps strengthen capillaries, so it is sometimes taken by women when they first get pregnant (to help strengthen capillaries before their weight increases). It’s also high in natural calcium, magnesium, B1, B2 and healthy saponins. FYI, the word “sativa” in its botanical name has nothing to do with sativa that is found in cannabis strains. There is absolutely no pot found in oat straw, I assure you! Oats have been a human food source since prehistoric times. Avena, the genus name means “nourishing” and sativa is the species name, which means “cultivated”.
You can make an infusion easily by gently simmering about 3 cups of water with a tablespoon of oat straw herb for about 10 minutes. Make it dilute to start with. You can cool it and strain it and put it in a pitcher in the fridge. Just drink it like you would water throughout the day, or cook with it. You have basically just created some water that’s laced with oat straw, this isn’t difficult but the impact over time is healthy. Don’t think of this as medicinal, it’s not going to make the veins go away, it’s basically a healthier version of water that supports the integrity of the veins.
If you really want to kick this tea up, add a teaspoon of dried orange peel to the water and simmer that with the oat straw. This adds natural vitamin C and other citrus bioflavonoids to the concoction. You can certainly increase the concentration of the oat straw herb in the water by changing ratios after you see how you feel when drinking it. For some of you, it may induce relaxation, or you may notice a mild diuretic effect. You can buy organic oat straw herb online or at herbal apothecaries. You can buy supplements and extracts as well, which are stronger than an infusion/tea. Again, please ask your doctor if it’s right for you.
Grapeseed Oil Massage
Grape seeds contain vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, and the antioxidants oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes or OPCs. These compounds have been shown to strengthen connective tissue in blood vessels, improve elasticity, and reduce inflammation. You can certainly cook with grapeseed oil like I do (see my site for recipes!) It has a higher smoke point and a more neutral flavor than olive oil. You can also apply it topically as you would any moisturizing oil. You can ask your massage therapist for a massage with this oil instead of whatever oil or lotion they planned to use. Add a few drops of sweet orange oil to the grapeseed and you’ll get an even better effect. Sweet orange essential oil imparts a lovely aroma as well as other healing compounds which get transdermally absorbed.
Peppermint Leg Rub
For an invigorating sensation on your legs, here’s a zingy idea! Just mix the following together and then gently massage the oil in an upward direction from your ankles and swipe upward. This temporarily improves circulation.
4 Tbs. grapeseed oil
2 Tbs. coconut oil
4 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops thyme essential oil
2 drops eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops sweet orange oil
Amazing vitamin E protects your heart and blood vessels. Vitamin E is known as a fat-loving (lipophilic) antioxidant, and study after study suggests it can support a healthy heart. Remember all those pipes lead to your heart so when you think varicose veins, always think of your cardiovascular function too. An interesting study also suggests that E plays a role in the rhythm of your heartbeat. Not all Es are created equal! Please read my article entitled, The Truth About Vitamin E before you make a purchase, otherwise you might be buying just one part of the vitamin E molecule and losing out on the other 7. Real vitamin E is comprised of 8 parts.
I hope the information above helps you to prevent and/or manage unsightly varicose veins. I hope also, for the small number of you whose veins are an indicator of anything that might be a serious condition, you will see your doctor and get help quickly.