Moving through Varicose Veins: An Overview of Eastern and Western Paths for Smoother Transit

Stop light, the red traffic lightAccording to a 2014 report from the Chicago Vein Institute, women are 10% more likely to develop varicose veins than men but women who have at least one parent with varicose veins are 35% more likely than men to develop them. [1] Why do these tricky veins affect more women than men and what are the various treatment options to encourage smoother blood flow?

Varicose veins are veins that are twisted and close to the surface of your skin and most often occur on legs and ankles, i.e. the places furthest from the heart and the places that bear the most weight. They swell and act like a really long stop light for the blood: Instead of the blood flowing down the body and back up to the heart smoothly, the blood builds up in the windy veins like bad traffic and becomes delayed in its return north. [2]

Externally they create blue-ish bumps on the skin and even mild cases of varicose veins can make some of us self conscious enough to keep our legs covered at all times. More severe cases of varicose veins can contribute to serious body image issues because they do not meet the dominant perception in Western cultures that sexy legs are smooth legs. Varicose veins emerge sometimes for reasons that are outside of our control though.

In addition to the genetic susceptibility mentioned above, varicose veins can be caused or affected by numerous factors. If you are susceptible to varicose veins, various things can aggravate your condition such as constipation and hemorrhoids, smoking and being overweight or obese. Women may be more affected by varicose veins because of unsupportive footwear, such as high heels. In addition, estrogen and progesterone stimulate blood vessels to dilate so if you are low in either of these which happens during menstruation, pregnancy, and during menopause veins may have a more difficulty opening and closing. In addition, pregnancy increases the volume of blood flowing through the body, adds extra weight, and puts more strain on vascular walls. [3]

Chemical birth control methods that hormonally regulate your menstrual cycle (what I call CBCMs) may also worsen varicose veins according to the Office on Women’s Health. [4] Chemical birth control methods act like traffic lights for your blood flow on top of an already existing air traffic control system. Imagine the air traffic control tower saying that the plan can land and go to Gate 44. The plane lands and then the CBCMs act like a stoplight on the runway telling the plane when to go or slow down or stop altogether. Your blood flow throughout your body is one system and their intervention into your menstrual cycle can assure a reliable schedule but it can inhibit the flow of blood in other places and cause delays.

As I’ve discussed in my other blog about chemical birth control methods, CBCMs help a lot of women but it is important to understand the risks on the rest of your body. Obviously, one way to potentially address varicose veins if you are on CBCMs is to stop taking them but this has other implications and may not be a realistic option for many women.

Eastern and Western medicine have treatment options as well as methods for easing symptoms. A (not-so-comprehensive) comparison is available on Natural Health Magazine’s website and includes suggestions from a yoga therapist, a naturopath and a dermatologist. In addition to putting your legs up the wall each day as mentioned by the yoga therapist and the supplements recommended by the naturopath, alternative treatments include acupuncture, massage, and low impact movement which can be very helpful in stimulating the circulatory system to move. [5]

Western health practitioners advocate for wearing supportive footwear and compression stockings, among other things. Surgery may be recommended for acute cases as well. This surgery used to be quite intensive and risky from what I understand. It involved a catheter through the groin and something called ‘vein stripping’ but according to WebMD, new, less invasive interventions have emerged. [6]

Many Eastern and Western trained health practitioners advocate for strong digestion that enables nutrients to nourish your connective tissues, strengthen veins, and help your body generally flow well without undue strain. Fiber in the form of ground flaxseeds, whole grains, vegetables and fruits can help with digestion. Fermented foods like sauerkraut or pickles without vinegar, yogurt, and probiotics introduce healthy bacteria to the gut to help break down your food. In addition, bioflavanoids which are compounds found in berries, dark leafy greens, and onions, Vitamin C which is found in citrus fruits, and anti-inflammatory foods such as green tea, cayenne, and turmeric are all believed to support vein health. [7]

Regardless of the path you choose, there may be emotional components to your varicose veins as well. Generally speaking, are there other places in your life where you are experiencing a pooling of some sort—of toxic people, of non-nourishing thoughts that have lived in the back of your mind for some time, or an aversion to change or growth? Are there metaphoric red traffic lights that are stalling you and if so, what will it take to remove them from your path?

Here’s to a smooth journey.

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[1] Chicago Vein Institute. “Varicose Vein Statistics.” May 5, 2014.

[2] National Institutes of Health. “What Are Varicose Veins”.

[3] ibid.; Dr. John McDougall. “Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Varicose Veins.”; MotherNature.com. “Varicose Veins.”; A. Mashiah, et al, “Estrogen and progesterone receptors in normal and varicose saphenous veins,” Cardiovascular Surgery, 1999 April 7(3): 327-31.

[4] http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/varicose-spider-veins.html; See also Jamie Hergenrader, “The Dangerous Side of Birth Control,” Huffington Post, 7/31/13.

[5] Check out “Varicose Veins? Natural Secrets for Restoring Beauty,” by Maoshing Ni for more information on traditional Chinese medical approaches.

[6] WebMD. “New Treatments for Varicose Veins.”

[7] University of Maryland Medical Center, “Varicose Veins.”; Hamilton Vein Center, “Eat This, Drink That for Healthier, Stronger Veins.” February 12, 2013; “Health Advice: Varicose Veins.” The Telegraph.18 January 2010.

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