Natural remedies for varicose veins

Some 20 percent of the population suffers from varicose veins1 – veins that have become twisted and swollen because blood isn’t flowing through them properly. They can develop anywhere in the body, but the legs are the most commonly affected, as they have to move blood along against gravity.

For many sufferers, varicose veins are simply a cosmetic concern. But they can also be a sign of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a progressive condition in which the valves in the veins don’t function properly. Potential causes of CVI include high blood pressure, prolonged sitting or standing, leg injury, hormonal imbalances and being overweight.

As well as varicose veins, symptoms include swelling, pain, itching and feelings of heaviness in the legs. In its more advanced stages, CVI can lead to leg ulcers and deep vein thrombosis.

Conventional treatment depends on the severity of the problem, but may include surgery, laser treatment and sclerotherapy, where chemicals are injected into varicose veins to cause their walls to collapse.

Techniques called radiofrequency ablation and endovenous laser therapy tend to be the preferred options now, as they are minimally invasive and associated with fewer complications compared to surgery.2 Nonetheless, they can still have side-effects such as pain, pigmentation changes and a feeling of tightness around the treated site,3 and they don’t always fix the problem.

Compression stockings to improve blood flow are a common first-line therapy, but like your mother, many patients don’t like wearing them.4

Happily, there are plenty of alternative options to consider. Ideally, work with an experienced health practitioner who can recommend an individualized program for your mother and monitor her progress.

Flavonoids

These potent plant pigments can be effective for varicose veins and CVI when taken as a daily supplement. Here are the ones to look for.

Grape seed extract. A commercial preparation of grape seed extract known as Endotélon improved varicose veins and swelling after a month in one placebo-controlled trial.5

Suggested dosage: 100-200 mg grape seed extract/day

Red vine leaf extract. This has been found to be safe and effective for several symptoms of CVI, including swelling and pain in the legs.6

Suggested dosage: 360 mg/day

French maritime pine bark extract (Pycnogenol). Several studies suggest this standardized extract is useful for CVI and related vein disorders.7 In one trial, Pycnogenol was more effective than compression stockings for improving CVI symptoms, and a combination of the two treatments together was more effective than either alone.8

Suggested dosage: 150 mg/day

Diosmin and hesperidin. A French flavonoid mixture called Daflon, containing 90-percent diosmin and 10-percent hesperidin, has proved effective for CVI, even in its severe stages.9 Diosmin and hesperidin can be found in many commercial flavonoid supplements, such as LifeTime Diosmin Complex, which also contains several other vein-supporting ingredients, including butcher’s broom and horse chestnut seed extracts.

Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions

Herbs

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Studies suggest that extracts from the seeds of this herb are a good choice for CVI.10 Aesculaforce, made by A. Vogel, is a fresh plant preparation of horse chestnut seed extract available as tablets, a tincture and a topical gel that’s been proven to work for swelling, pain and other symptoms of varicose veins and CVI.11

Suggested dosage: follow the label instruction

Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus). Extracts of this herb can ease CVI symptoms, especially leg swelling.12

Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica). This appears to have a beneficial effect on the connective tissues in varicose veins13 and can help to alleviate a number of signs and symptoms of CVI.14

Suggested dosage: 60-120 mg/day gotu kola extract, or take as a tea

Gotu kola tea

Herbalist Meilyr James, owner of the Herbal Clinic in Swansea, Wales (www.herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk), recommends making a tea of dried gotu kola herb using a heaped teaspoon to one mug of boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes before drinking and drink one to three times daily.

Apple cider vinegar

This popular home remedy was put to the test for varicose veins in a trial of 120 patients who applied the vinegar topically to the affected area in addition to following the conventional treatment recommended by their doctor. Those using the vinegar saw significant improvements in symptoms such as leg cramps, itchiness, swelling and feelings
of heaviness compared to the
control group.15

Hydrotherapy

Also known as water therapy, hydrotherapy, which usually involves exercising in water, can reduce leg swelling and other symptoms of varicose veins.16 And a type of hydrotherapy often found in spas called balneotherapy – bathing in natural mineral or thermal waters – can be effective for various symptoms of CVI.17

Top tips

  • The following self-care methods may help to prevent varicose veins or stop them from getting worse.
  • Exercise regularly to aid your circulation. Walking or anything that gets the legs moving is ideal.
  • Reduce leg strain by avoiding prolonged standing and excessive heavy lifting.
  • Elevate the legs. To improve leg circulation, take a few short breaks daily to raise your legs above the level of your heart by, for example, lying down with your legs propped up on three or four pillows.
  • Don’t cross your legs when sitting, as this can slow the upward flow of blood back to the heart and increase pressure on the leg veins.
  • Try massage, dry body brushing and other therapies that increase circulation.
  • Avoid high heels. Low-heeled shoes work the calf muscles more, which is better for venous blood flow.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing around your waist, legs and groin, as this can reduce blood flow.

Fill up on fiber

A fiber-rich diet is often recommended for patients with varicose veins and CVI. A diet low in fiber can lead to constipation and straining during bowel movements, which can increase pressure on the veins of the lower legs.18 Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but see our guide to managing constipation in the June issue of WDDTY for
more information.

Watch your weight

Being overweight can contribute to the development of varicose veins.19 And among those with varicose veins, excess weight is associated with an increased risk of CVI.20 Aim to lose weight with a healthy diet and exercise if you need to.

References

1

Phlebology, 2012; 27 Suppl 1: 23-6

2

Semin Intervent Radiol, 2005; 22: 204-8; Curr Pain Headache Rep, 2019; 23: 16

3

Arch Dermatol, 2012; 148: 49-58

4

Phlebology, 2011; 26: 353-60

5

Nutr J, 2017; 16: 5

6

Arzneimittelforschung, 2000; 50: 109-17; Pharmazie, 2019; 74: 193-200

7

Phytomedicine, 2000; 7: 383-8

8

Phytomedicine, 2010; 17: 835-9

9

Angiology, 2001; 52 Suppl 1: S49-56

10

Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006; (1): CD003230

11

Adv Ther, 2006; 23: 179-90

12

Arzneimittelforschung, 2002; 52: 243-50

13

Int J Clin Pharmacol Res, 1990; 10: 229-33

14

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013; 2013: 627182

15

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2016; 2016: 6473678

16

Vasa, 1991; 20: 147-52

17

Clin Ter, 2013; 164: 233-8

18

Altern Med Rev, 2001; 6: 126-40

19

Am Fam Physician, 2008; 78: 1289-94

20

J Vasc Surg Venous Lymphat Disord, 2015; 3: 18-26