Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Walking upright has given our leg veins a difficult task. Although they lack the strong muscular lining of arteries, they must constantly return a large volume of blood to the heart. The movements of the legs act as a pump to push the blood upward while flimsy valves stop gravity from pulling it back down.
However, over time these valves often begin to fail. The blood then begins to pool in the deep veins of the leg, stretching the vein wall and injuring its lining. This situation is called venous insufficiency. Typically, the legs begin to feel heavy, swollen, achy, and tired. Varicose veins, a condition closely related to venous insufficiency, occur when veins near the surface of the skin are damaged. They visibly dilate and become distorted, resulting in a cosmetically unpleasant appearance.
Varicose veins affect women about two to three times as often as men. Occupations involving prolonged standing also increase the incidence of venous insufficiency. Pregnancy and obesity do so as well because the increase of pressure in the abdomen makes it more difficult for the blood to flow upward.
Conventional medical treatment of venous insufficiency consists mainly of reducing weight, elevating the legs, and wearing elastic support hose. Unsightly damaged veins can be destroyed by injection therapy or be surgically removed.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
When it comes to natural products, some illnesses are far more responsive than others. While there are no well documented natural therapies for asthma (as an example), more than half a dozen natural therapies have meaningful supporting evidence as treatments for venous insufficiency/varicose veins.
These treatments have much in common. All of them appear to work by strengthening the walls of veins and other vessels, with the net effect of reducing fluid leakage. Studies indicate that use of such products reduces leg swelling and pain. However, there is no meaningful evidence that any natural product can cure unsightly varicose veins that already exist, or prevent new ones from developing.
Warning : Symptoms similar to those caused by varicose veins can actually be due to more dangerous conditions such as phlebitis or thrombosis. Medical evaluation is necessary prior to self-treating with the natural supplements described here.
The most popular herbal treatment for venous insufficiency is horse chestnut.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Horse Chestnut article.
Oxerutins and Other Bioflavonoids
Oxerutins have been widely used in Europe since the mid-1960s but this supplement remains hard to find in North America. Derived from a naturally occurring bioflavonoid called rutin, oxerutins were specifically developed to treat varicose veins and related venous problems. It is not clear whether this particular derivative of rutin is more effective than other bioflavonoids used for these conditions, but oxerutins are by far the best studied.
Those who took oxerutins experienced significantly less lower-leg edema than the placebo group. Furthermore, these better results lasted through a 6-week follow-up period, even though participants were no longer taking oxerutins. The stockings, on the other hand, produced no lasting benefit after participants stopped wearing them. They gave symptomatic relief while they were worn, but they did not improve capillary circulation in a lasting way, as oxerutins apparently did.
Grape seed and pine bark contain high levels of special bioflavonoids called oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs). Similar substances are found in cranberry, bilberry, blueberry, hawthorn, and other plants.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full OPCs article.
There is significant scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the herb gotu kola in varicose veins/venous insufficiency.
A vacuum suction chamber has been used in some gotu kola studies to evaluate the rate of fluid leakage in venous insufficiency. It produces swelling when applied to the skin of the ankle. When leg veins are leaking a lot of fluid, this swelling takes longer to disappear.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Gotu Kola article.
Red Vine Leaf
Folia vitis viniferae,
The usual dose of red vine leaf is 360 mg or 720 mg taken once daily.
In the double-blind study just described, side effects were largely limited to mild gastrointestinal distress and occasional reports of headaches. Blood tests and physical examination did not reveal any harmful effects. However, comprehensive safety studies have not yet been performed, and red vine leaf is not at present recommended for pregnant or nursing women, or individuals with severe liver or kidney disease.
Butcher's broom ( Ruscus aculeatus ) is so named because its branches were a traditional source of broom straw used by butchers. This Mediterranean evergreen bush has a long history of traditional use in the treatment of urinary conditions. More recent European interest has focused on the possible value of butcher's broom in the treatment of hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Butcher's Broom article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Bromelain is not actually a single substance, but rather a collection of protein-digesting enzymes found in pineapple juice and in the stems of pineapple plants. Although there is no direct evidence on its use for varicose veins, bromelain has anti-edema effects similar to treatments used for varicose veins, suggesting that it might be helpful.
The herb collinsonia, or stone root, has a long traditional history of use as an oral treatment for varicose veins and hemorrhoids, but it has not been scientifically evaluated to any meaningful extent. The same is true for topical witch hazel , comfrey and calendula .
For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to venous insufficiency, see the Homeopathy database.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 00/93/2013 -