As we all learned in biology class those many years ago, the main purpose of our veins is to transport blood from peripheral organs back to the heart. You have to appreciate the amount of force involved as the veins work against gravity and obstacles (in the form of varying tissue density and venous constriction) to get the blood from the periphery back up to the heart muscle only to be pumped around the body again.
The amount of power the heart has to generate to move all 6 litres of blood around the body is nothing short of astronomical. The power created by an average heart is about one to two watt (or one joule per second) which is immensely powerful. The heart beats about 75 times per minute when it’s healthy, about 40 million times a year and if we’re lucky, it will beat about two and a half billion times in our respective lifetimes (considering the average life expectancy lies around 70.)
Think about it, in your lifetime your heart will generate nearly 2.5 billion watts of power – to put this into perspective it is equivalent to the amount of power generated in a nuclear power plant in one year. Now that’s power! All from your little heart.
In order for this powerhouse to operate optimally, it needs its venous and arterial infrastructure to be seamless so as to allow blood through without friction or any unnecessary obstacles (like constricted venous walls or non-functioning valves.)
Of non-functioning Valves & Varicose Veins
We've all seen them, some of us have experienced them, but what really are ‘spider’ or even varicose veins? What causes them, what exacerbates them? Is there anything that prevents them?
Well, there are several factors that contribute to the formation of abnormal veins (particularly in the legs and periphery.) When the valves inside the veins fail or become warped due to increased dilation of the vein, they give way to gravity and are unable to keep the blood from returning to the heart.
This condition is commonly referred to as Venous Reflux Disease (alternatively Chronic Venous Insufficiency) and can be detrimental as the blood that is not circulating ends up flowing in both directions hereby accumulating metabolic waste in the periphery and thus becoming acidic and agglutinating into knots.
The outcome is pain and swelling in the afflicted area due to inflammation triggered by the unnatural acidity of the blood. This condition results in the so-called ‘spider’ or varicose veins that are thick in diameter and bulge out under the skin. The most common early signs and symptoms are leg itching or throbbing, leg (ankle or foot) swelling and also the sensation of legs feeling heavy and at times even painful.
There is a difference between spider veins and varicose veins in that the former can occur without an underlying condition (venous insufficiency,) whereas the bulging varicose veins are a sign that something is amiss with the circulatory system. Varicose veins are larger and ropier than spider veins, and can often be overlooked because they can occur deeper under the skin and hence are not visible to the naked eye.
Historically, surgical intervention was the standard used to remove abnormal veins but nowadays with the onset of new and improved techniques such as ultrasonographic sclerotherapy, radiofrequency and laser treatment, invasive surgery has been rendered largely obsolete. On top of this, numerous clinical studies have indicated that certain supplements can relieve symptoms of venous insufficiency and varicose veins.
Supplements for varicose veins: It’s all about horse chestnut seeds!
In Europe, horse chestnut seed extract (active ingredient: aescin) is frequently prescribed for treating chronic venous insufficiency and its resulting varicose veins. In clinical trials, aescin has been shown to increase blood circulation by preventing the breakdown of the walls surrounding the veins and by promoting healthy venous contractility – in turn effectively reducing leg volume, relieving the itching sensation and reducing leg pain.
In order to ensure venous integrity, supplementation with bioflavonoids may be beneficial. Supplementing magnesium together with B vitamins will also help balance nutrient deficiency, help energise and maintain healthy circulation of the blood.
Some clinical studies also found that the pine bark extract pycnogenol may help relieve leg pain and heaviness associated with chronic venous insufficiency. Studies with gotu kola have suggested that it may help relieve the swelling and leakage from veins.
Homeopathy may provide some relief
There are also several homeopathic remedies that may help.
Arnica montana may work for people whose legs appear bruised with painful, swollen veins. You can apply arnica cream directly into the afflicted area or take it internally as arnica pillules. For people who get tired all the time and have cold hands and feet (indicating a less than optimal circulation,) Calcarea carbonica may provide some relief. For overtly large varicose veins, Hamamelis may help.
Pulsatilla has been known to help with swollen veins that ache and feel heavy and hot in the evening. If you do not receive any relief or improvement in your symptoms after taking a homeopathic remedy, you have self prescribed and it may mean you have taken the wrong remedy.
Remember that homeopaths take a person’s constitutional type into account before prescribing a remedy – the emotional, intellectual, and physical makeup – so it pays to visit a professional homeopath if you are considering this treatment option.
Wearing compression socks can help ease the symptoms of pain and itching that comes from severe varicose veins – these socks will end up decreasing the amount of pressure due to the blood pooling. Try to remember to wear them whenever you know that you will be motionless for longer periods of time (during air travel or longer car trips – at the movies, theatre etc.)
Unfortunately, there is no fool proof preventative measure for varicose veins, but if possible, you should try to elevate your legs at every opportunity you get. Also, regular exercise, avoiding sitting down for prolonged periods of time and eating healthy (foods rich in fibre, such as whole grains, bioflavonoids from dark berries, dark leafy greens, garlic, and onions) will help minimise any symptoms of venous insufficiency and in turn the appearance of spider and varicose veins.
Most importantly, don’t give up or lose hope. It’s safe to say, that when it comes to the health and integrity of our circulatory system, all’s definitely not in vain!
by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology
(in consultation with Meryll Harris Dip Hom)
We’d Love Your Feedback
Have you had problems with spider or varicose veins? Have you had them treated or did you alter your diet? If so, what were the results