Varicose veins are swollen and distorted blood vessels, appearing commonly on the legs. They occur if the veins develop weakened walls or poorly functioning valves (which regulate the flow of blood). Obesity, pregnancy, menopause, and long periods of standing may trigger the condition, which may also be inherited.
Several alternative therapies offer ways to reduce the swelling and discomfort of varicose veins and several ways to prevent them. Most of these therapies recommend the same self-help measures as conventional medicine does. Of particular importance is adding an exercise regimen, which can improve blood circulation in the legs. Try walking, bicycling, or swimming, activities where the legs are not pounded against the ground or floor but exercised nonetheless.
Hydrotherapy for Varicose Veins
Several forms of hydrotherapy can stimulate blood circulation and shrink swollen veins. Because varicose veins result when pools of blood form in the veins, improving and promoting circulation is the key to preventing or minimizing them.
Alternating hot and cold leg baths can be used to improve circulation. Cold compresses applied to the legs may also encourage circulation and can reduce the swelling of veins. An astringent such as apple cider vinegar or witch hazel may be added to the wet compresses to help ease the swelling of veins.
A common hydrotherapy treatment might be:
- Fill two large basins or buckets with water, one as hot as you can tolerate (not hot enough to scald your skin), the other as cold as you can tolerate.
- Put your legs in the hot water for three minutes.
- Remove and then immediately put your legs in the cold water. Hold for one minute.
- Repeat four times, ending with the cold water.
NOTE: This treatment is not appropriate for people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, check with your physician before applying any treatment to your extremities.
Nutritional Therapy for Varicose Veins
Certain foods and supplements have the potential to heal and prevent varicose veins. Vitamin C and flavonoids are recommended for their ability to rejuvenate the blood vessels. These substances are found in oranges and grapefruits (eaten with the white inner rind intact). Dark red and purple berries are also rich in flavonoids. A naturopathic physician may recommend eating several servings of flavonoid-rich berries a day, including:
- black currants
In addition to the whole fruits, extracts may also prove helpful. Supplements of vitamin E may provide benefits to the vessels as well.
Foods and spices that work with the blood to break down the substance called fibrin can also be helpful. That's because people with varicose veins have an abnormal tendency to store fibrin, which can disrupt the action of the blood vessels. Garlic, onions, cayenne pepper, ginger, and bromelain (derived from fresh pineapple) all help to dissolve fibrin.
Just as straining to have a bowel movement can lead to varicose veins in the anus (more commonly known as hemorrhoids), it can also lead to varicose veins in the legs. To prevent this straining, softer, bulkier stool is needed. Here are some ways to boost your fiber intake:
- Increase your intake of fiber by eating more vegetables, unrefined grains (such as brown rice, oatmeal, rye, and buckwheat, not white bread), beans, and fruits.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.
- Add fiber-rich psyllium seed husks to the diet.
- Excess body weight can also increase the susceptibility to varicose veins, so weight loss is recommended.
Other Therapies for Varicose Veins
- Acupressure for Varicose Veins -- Points on the legs along the spleen channel are often targeted (use the leg other than the one with the varicose vein, if possible).
- Aromatherapy for Varicose Veins -- Gentle leg massages with the following essential oils can be helpful: cypress, lavender, lemon, and rosemary. Massage toward the heart and avoid the varicose veins themselves.
- Bodywork for Varicose Veins -- Reflexology may relieve the pain of varicose veins.
- Detoxification, Fasting, and Colon Therapy for Varicose Veins -- A short fast and enemas can bring the return of regular bowel movements, important in preventing varicose veins.
- Herbal Medicine for Varicose Veins -- Some effective herbs are butcher's broom, comfrey, horse chestnut, marigold, and stone root.
- Homeopathy for Varicose Veins -- Common remedies include carbo vegetabilis, ferrum metallicum, hamamelis virginica, and pulsatilla nigricans.
- Yoga for Varicose Veins -- Certain postures, especially those done with the legs above the head, can improve circulation and serve as a form of exercise.