Varicose veins are the bluish cords just below the surface of the skin, usually on the legs and feet. These all twisted up veins are usually harmless. Although ever present, they are not a threat but can be painful and become swollen from time to time. They might be tender, ache, or become itchy when they want attention. They’re much more common in women and generally a genetic gift from one’s parents.
Our blood is pushed back to the heart through the veins. The veins operate with the muscles and valves of the arteries. These muscles use their force to push the blood through and the valves open to let blood pass. The valves then close after. In a varicose vein, the valve is not performing its duty and the muscles aren’t able to push the blood through. Blood starts to pool as the blood team members aren’t cooperating. Pressure starts to build, and the veins start to protrude and twist amongst this chaos. Circulation has become inhibited. The veins become more visible due to becoming so enlarged. One may feel not change to the body, but can see the bluish, purple veins coiled near the surface of their skin. Spider veins are a milder form of this poor blood flow outcome.
Varicosity can be amplified by obesity, standing for prolonged periods, chronic constipation, and pregnancy. When a female is pregnant, the uterus is causing extra pressure to the legs. Blood circulation changes to help the growing fetus. Coupled with hormonal changes, this is why women are more at risk for these veins. Female hormones relax the walls of the veins. Living a mostly sedentary lifestyle leads to a blood pumping team that is not conditioned to perform its job. Exercise increases blood flow, which in turn can help prevent and alleviate varicose veins. Our blood pumping veins do weaken with age, so our veins become more vulnerable to this condition the older we get.
For most people with varicose veins, medical attention is not needed. Treatment can start with compression socks. These are sold over the counter, but a doctor can prescribe high pressure compression socks. These socks apply strong pressure beginning at the ankles and tapering off towards the knee. They help the leg muscles do their job to push blood up to the heart and can be worn throughout the day. Swelling can be alleviated by ibuprofen or aspirin.
Varicose veins can be removed but there are also natural remedies to try. Eating foods that support vein health are part of this. These include foods high in fiber (e.g., whole grains, beans, broccoli) that help with digestion. When you are constipated this actually puts pressure on veins to push the food through. Foods with potassium ((e.g., yogurt, almonds, salmon) also help with water retention. When the body is potassium-deficient this increases blood volume in the veins which then extra pressure. Foods with flavonoids (e.g., onion, garlic, bell peppers) help with cardiovascular health which is necessary for blood circulation. There are also herbal options that can be taken orally or used topically. Grape seed extract has been found to help with swelling, cramping, and restless leg syndrome which are all caused by chronic venous insufficiency.
For the most part, varicose veins just add color and character to your lower body. However, if they are painful, itchy, and a persistent hinderance, medical attention may be in order. Our blood is our body’s fuel, so we have to make sure each team member for flow is able to do their part. Be sure to exercise, manage your weight, avoid high heels and tight clothing that restricts blood flow, and elevate your legs from time to time if the majority of your day is standing. Pressure can be stressful, and your blood shares this sentiment. The Lifestyle of the FIT and healthy knows that your heart health is influenced by your blood health, so we must make sure the veins live in a healthy environment where their job is not disrupted.