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, and usually they’re not a big deal. But they could be, it depending on the general health of your pipes. When I say “pipes” I mean your veins, they are 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 let blood 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 non-stop, or if you’re sitting for a long time like during 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, that 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. It’s different from spider veins which are not nearly as noticeable.
With spider veins, you can visually eliminate them with a good concealer, or deal with a minor procedure that clears them. Most people have spider veins, and 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 down on the legs, they’re not that perceptible and they’re not a big health risk. Varicose veins cause different symptoms for each of you. For most, they are just an aesthetic annoyance, similar to spider veins.
A lot of women just wear longer dresses, or long pants, forgoing the lovely shorts they used to wear in summertime. However, for some of you, varicose veins become serious, they cause pain, throbbing, swelling, and increased risk of blood clots. Just FYI these could be related to mild heart failure. That’s your cue to go in for a complete cardiovascular work-up, to check the health of your pipes. You obviously want to leave no stone unturned and test yourself properly to see what the root cause is.
Varicose veins are bluish-purple, often look twisted, and protrude 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 are prone to hemorrhoids.
Because varicose veins show up mainly in the legs and feet, we can safely assume that weight matters. The added pressure from being overweight makes your heart and your veins work harder than normal to return blood from your extremities (legs and feet) back up to your heart. It’s more pressure on your pipes. So gravity is a problem, plus added stress and pressure on the valves in your veins causes the 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 or CVI. The blood causes the vein to puff out and distend. Fatigue and weakness are natural consequences to this situation.
It comes with Aging
There are many factors that could contribute to the development of varicose veins. Unfortunately, your risk to developing varicose veins increases as you age. Aging causes the valves to weaken and perhaps develop some degree of inflammation. This can be a temporary problem too. For example, you might have experienced varicose veins as a result of pregnancy, which comes with sudden weight gain. This is very common in pregnant women especially in the third trimester. It disappears for most women, after they’ve gone back to their pre-baby weight.
What if you’re chronically overweight, or obese? The added pressure from weight gain contributes, but it is not the causative factor. Many thin people suffer with this problem, so again, it’s not causing the problem, but it is contributing. Then there’s aging… plus gravity. And the risk goes up even higher after menopause, or with surgically-induced hormonal changes (think hysterectomy) which can cause the walls of your veins to relax.
Genetics and Family History
If mom or dad have them, chances are you’re prone to them too. So without a doubt, there can be a genetic factor to varicose veins. You needed something new to hold against your otherwise awesome parents!
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 me, I’ll remind 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; it’s just a blood test. You don’t need the blood test of course, you can look down at your legs and your feet and see the results of elevated MMPs, so save your money on that test. My point is that the apple doesn’t fall too 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 genetic SNPs 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. This is because the added pressure on the veins in your legs and feet will exacerbate your varicose veins by putting more pressure on them. 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 can occur such as leg ulcers, easy bleeding, and blood clots, called thrombophlebitis. This is a warning I just 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; this could be life threatening. I also want you to 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
This has been discussed above. This is 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 having 50 to 100 (more?) pounds of weight on you that shouldn’t be there is pressuring your veins, and making the blood pool. As an impressive ‘side effect’ of losing weight, many lucky people notice that snoring is silenced and sleep apnea masks can be put away into the nightstand because losing weight may help with that too.
If you need help with weight loss I have a lot of ideas. In fact, if it’s related to your thyroid, I am one of the world leading experts if only because I’m a thyroid thriver, plus I wrote a book devoted to that subject that is an Amazon best-seller called Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine. I hosted the worldwide event (with Dr. Brownstein) called The Thyroid Summit. All those interviews (32 of them) are still available by flash drive. I also have a few good articles such as 9 Tactics to Outsmart Fat Cells.
I’ve already mentioned that extra weight can compound this issue. Circulation is critical for keeping your blood moving through those veins. What better way to get your circulation going then moving your body?! That’s right – get up and walk. Keep active through the day. This is especially important if you sit all day at a desk or computer, or even watching TV. Strive to get up at least every hour (unless you’re asleep, of course) to keep your body moving. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, start off with just a short walk, even if it’s just around your house for a few minutes. Then increase it and before you know it, you may be enjoying your walks outside and looking forward to them!
Ok, so let me preface this with you will love me, then hate me, then love me, then hate me. The goal of this is to improve blood circulation throughout your body. This improves vasodilation and blood flow throughout your body. So try this one day. When you are taking a shower, alternate between comfortably hot water, then colder water. You can do this to your legs only, versus your whole body, if you want, and try each temperature for 10 or 20 seconds each. You should probably ask your doctor about this first, if you have any reason where this might be dangerous to you. The point is to give your veins ‘practice’ in constricting and dilating… constricting (cold water) and dilating (hot water), and so forth… this allows blood to flow more freely through the pumping action of hot and cold water, and it increases circulation throughout the body. They can temporarily improve the appearance of varicose veins. It’s not a cure. This weird shower idea is not right for everyone, so please find out if it’s right for you.
Collagen holds you together. Without collagen, you would be like slime… just all over the place. Collagen is an important protein and a protein is just a chain of peptides. Peptides make up proteins and the most important one that goes to your veins, tendons, ligaments (and for that matter your joints and skin) is collagen! It makes you elastic too, so think of collagen as allowing for healthy firm skin and a tight neck. Without enough collagen, your blood vessels (aka the pipes) as well as your pretty skin start to sag. When collagen breaks down faster than you can make it (aging) you may start to see varicose veins. It’s an inevitable part of aging. 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 blood stream.
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. Most of us don’t drink enough water. See if your lips are dry, that is the first clue 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 yellow and concentrated from dehydration. If you are dehydrated, you can become constipated which contributes to hemorrhoids, which are often tandem with varicose veins. Oh! By the way, soda doesn’t count for hydration. It is not water. It actually can dehydrate you and contribute to weight gain. So when I say drink 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. Who here wants to eat orange peel? I don’t! You shouldn’t either. So you can do this several different ways. For one, you can certainly take vitamin C supplements, that’s one affordable option. 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. Also, you can buy supplements of pure “diosmin.” Diosmin is a well-studied citrus bioflavonoid that has been consumed for years. It’s well known within medical circles to support healthy veins and circulation in the body. You can find a diosmin supplement at any local vitamin store. You can cook with orange peel zest, why not? It’s tangy and delicious. You can also try other vitamin extracts that are similar in terms of what they do. For example, hesperidin.
I mentioned how the 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, and it 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 micro leaks of blood (which causes easy bruising). By the way, that’s how you know your capillaries are weak, you get easy bruising. Hesperidin can help strengthen capillaries and it’s found in citrus fruits, but of course you can 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
This can help reduce the risk of you even getting varicose veins, which at the end of the day, is a problem with your blood vessel pipes. If you are K2 deficient, and many people are, then 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, and doesn’t get into your surrounding tissue, your joints or blood vessels (ie 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 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, Vitamin K2 A Powerful Weapon Against Prostate Cancer.
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! It’s from oats, lol! 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 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 on it.
For some of you, it can induce relaxation, and for others, they will not notice the calming effect, but they might 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, these are stronger than an infusion/tea. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.
Grape Seed 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 grape seed oil like I do all the time. It has a higher smoke point 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 grape seed 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. grape seed 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
This 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 heart beat. Not all Es are created equal.
Please read my article entitled, The Truth About Vitamin E as Opposed to Those Other Kinds, 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.
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Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.