VARICOSE VEINS are enlarged, twisted veins commonly seen on the legs, although any vein may become varicose. The word 'varicose' actually comes from the Latin word 'varix', which means twisted. Haemorrhoids (piles) for example are simply varicose veins in the rectum and anus. A milder variation of varicose veins, spider veins may occur on the legs or face and create cosmetic concerns and very dangerous type may even develop in the stomach and oesophagus.
Varicose veins of the legs are a common condition, affecting up to 15 per cent of men and over 25 per cent of women. Varicose veins can cause pain, swelling, heaviness and discomfort and may sometimes lead to more serious medical problems like leg ulcers. Varicose veins signal some disturbance of the circulatory system and may suggest a higher risk of other problems in that system.
Cause of varicose veins
Only veins have varicosities. Arteries have thick walls and carry blood from your heart to the rest of your tissues. Veins have thinner elastic walls and return blood from the rest of your body to your heart, so the blood can recirculate. To return blood to your heart, the veins in your legs must work against gravity. Muscles in your legs contract to act as pumps, sending blood back to your heart through the elastic veins. Small one-way valves in your veins open as blood flows towards your heart then close to stop blood from flowing backwards.
Age and gravity are the enemies of healthy veins. With age, the walls your veins can lose elasticity, causing them to stretch. The valves in the veins then become weak, allowing blood that should be moving towards your heart to flow backwards. Blood pools in your veins, and your veins enlarge and become varicose. These veins appear blue because they contain deoxygenated blood. This problem appears to be familial and may have a genetic component.
Another cause of valve failure is clot formation or deep vein thrombosis, which can cause permanent damage to the valves. Pregnant women may develop varicose veins as pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body, but decreases the flow of blood from your legs back to your heart through your pelvis. Any other condition that can cause pressure in the pelvis like uterine fibroids or chronic constipation may also contribute to varicose veins.
A common consequence of varicose veins is chronic venous insufficiency, a condition in which your legs feel heavy, tired, or achy, and you may experience leg pain after walking.
Prevention and control of varicose veins
Varicose veins may be regarded as part of the price mankind has paid for the decision to stand upright on two legs. It may also reflect an unhealthy lifestyle. Modern medicine uses a wide variety of surgical procedures to treat this common problem. But before resorting to those options, many lifestyle adjustments can reduce your chances of getting varicose and spider veins. They can also help ease discomfort and reduce the appearance of the ones you already have:
Exercise and activity
Exercise regularly to improve the strength of your leg muscles, circulation, and the strength of your veins. Focus on exercises that work your legs, such as weightlifting, walking, swimming or bicycling. Yoga, with special emphasis on the inversion postures like the shoulder stand, is extremely beneficial. A simple variation involves lying on the floor close to a wall with your legs elevated against the wall.
Do not cross your legs when sitting and elevate your legs as much as possible when resting. Minimise standing or sitting for long periods of time. If you must, shift your weight from one leg to the other every few minutes, move around or do static contractions of the leg muscles. Wear elastic support stockings when on your feet, but avoid tight clothing that constricts your waist or groin.
Eat a diet rich in high-fibre foods as this reduces the chances of constipation that can contribute to varicose veins. Seven to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains are ideal. Soy, green tea, fatty fish and garlic are other foods that improve vascular health. Drink lots of water and avoid excess salt consumption.
It is critical to control your weight and avoid placing excess pressure on your legs. The Cellular Nutrition Programme is ideal both for excellent nutrition as well as weight management.
The omega-3 fatty acids, the B complex vitamins and the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, plus selenium, calcium and magnesium in optimal amounts are all very useful. Vitamin C in large doses is particularly important, as it is required by the body to manufacture collagen, the substance that gives strength and integrity to your vein walls. In severe cases, I administer vitamin C intravenously.
The herbs horse chestnut, butchers broom and gotu kola are specifically recommended by herbalists to tone and strengthen the walls of the veins to reduce varicosities. I use these herbs in a combination capsule called varitonin.
For decades, European women have used a skin cream made from citrus fruit containing diosmin to treat varicose and spider veins and 'cankles' (loss of definition between calves and ankles due to swelling). Diosmin is a naturally occurring bioflavonoid extracted from the rind of the sweet orange. Studies show that topical diosmin protects the venous valves from destruction, increases venous tone and reduces stretching and pooling of blood in the veins.
The amino acid l-Arginine is used by the cells lining the walls of the arteries to produce of nitric oxide, a substance critical to vascular health. When combined with another amino acid L- Citrulline, I find it useful in reducing the appearance of spider veins.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.