Varicose veins are always put down to being overweight or too tall, and are considered an exclusively female problem. But men suffer just as much as women, and weight has nothing to do with it including the extra weight of pregnancy, although only oc

In parts of the world where only unrefined diets are still consumed, varicose veins hardly occur at all (H Trowell, D Burkitt & K Heaton, Dietary Fibre, Fibre Depleted Foods and Disease, Academic Press, London, 1985). In Oriental Medicine, varicose veins usually correspond to the syndrome described as “Reducing Spleen Chi due to Deficiency”, and is treated accordingly, with at times quite astonishing results.

In Romany Medicine the Gypsies have been able to successfully reduce existing varicose veins and control the spread of them. Boil a half kg of the fresh bark from the small, shrub like hazel tree in a half litre of red wine until only half of the original quantity remains. Apply this as a compress to the affected part(s) daily. Hazel is a member of the birch family (Betula alba); the flavonoids and tannins in the fresh bark (and in the red wine) have an astringent effect on the veins (G Senger, Zigeunermedizin, Karl Ueberreuter Verlag, Vienna,1987).

Then, four tablespoons of the bark of the horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum), which has been collected in the spring and dried slowly in a shady place, are soaked overnight in a litre of cold water. Bring this liquid briefly to the boil on the morning after. Drink one glass of this each morning and evening (Wiener Med Wochenschr, 1989; 139(17): 385-9).

In homeopathy, the usual preference for varicose veins is Hamamelis virginica (witch hazel). Other proven, effective remedies in homeopathy include: Aristolochia clematis (worse before, better during, menses), Paeonia officinalis (with venous congestion), Viburnum opulus (with cramps and heaviness in legs) and Ruta graveolens (for variocele, and swollen varicose veins).

The flavonol rutin has long been known to help in degenerative vascular disease and with fragile capillaries (Nutr Abstr Rev, 1950; 20:465). I like to give this either as a vitamin supplement (Solgar has a good one) or, better still, as rue tea (1-2 tablespoons to a cup of boiling water left to infuse 15 minutes. Then one cup 3 times daily.) Buckwheat is also a good source of rutin. Eaten regularly, it definitely has a good effect on varicose veins. Cherries, blackberries, European blueberries (bilberries) and hawthorn berries all contain a rich mixture of flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidines, which are known to reduce vein fragility, increase the muscular tone of the veins and strengthen the venous walls. They should all be eaten liberally (Angilogica, 1972; 9:355-74).

Regularly consuming bromelain, the proteolytic enzyme in pineapples, also helps to prevent the hardening and lumpiness of the parts next to the varicosities, because it promotes fibrin breakdown.

In naturopathy, a wide variety of techniques can help repair vascular damage as well as aid the return of venous blood upwards, and to stimulate flow where there is stagnation (R Trattler, Natural Healing, Wellingborough, Thorsons Publishing Group, Northants: 1987). These include:

Gentle upper leg and calf exercise; then wet grass walking (cools calves).

Knee deep walks in the sea (minerals and salt in the water are beneficial).

Elevate foot of bed 10 cm; keep leg(s) elevated whenever possible.

Bicycling or swimming, followed by headstands.

Avoid constipation and do not sit with legs crossed.

Flex and extend ankles many times a day.

Alternate hot and cold sitz baths (or leg sprays, or leg showers).

Friction brush massage (strokes toward heart but not over thinned veins).

Apply local hot sage tea compress; and slippery elm (or clay or mullein) poultice to ulcer.

Upward massage of area with warm olive oil and myrrh (avoid thinned veins).

Over thinned vessels apply fluid from old coffee grounds.

Expose eczematous leg areas to a moderate amounts of sunlight.

Hydrotherapists recommend leg wrapping twice a week for three weeks, and one night a week thereafter. Dip kitchen towels into warm hayflower tea and partly wring them out. (Make hayflower tea by pouring two cups of boiling water over two teaspoonfuls of hayflower; steep for 10 minutes.) Then wind kitchen towels around the calf to reach from the knee to the ankle not too tightly, but closely enough that the towels cling to the skin. Then wind a bath towel around over the kitchen towels and a plastic material over that (to protect the bed). All wrappings should be removed after 90 minutes (J Keller, Healing with Water, Parker Publishing Co Inc, Bombay,1979).

Herbalists use the South African pennywort (Centella asiatica) which has shown that it can control the level of lysosomal enzymes in the blood (Int J Clin Pharmacol Res, 1990; 10(4):229-233). Another possibility is ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis), which contains flavones and coumarin, when the varicose veins are accompanied by water retention, or witch hazel leaf. Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) has a long history in Mediterranean countries of successfully treating varicose veins and associated ulcers (Drugs Exp Clin Res, 1988, 14(4):277-83).

According to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, another good remedy is marigold (Calendula officinalis) in combination with distilled water of witch hazel as a lotion.

Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homoeopath.

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