Home Remedies For Varicose Veins and Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Dietary supplements are now part of the standard medical treatment for varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). 

Many of them are considered prescription drugs in other areas of the world (such as Europe), which shows, once again, that the line between an effective dietary supplement and a drug is often just perception. In other words, many powerful supplements should be thought of no differently than conventional drugs (around one-third of which come from natural sources).

Research has shown that some dietary supplements can reduce leg swelling and the appearance of varicose veins and minimize the risk of getting more of them. They won’t eliminate varicosities—only a qualified doctor can make that happen—so never believe a dietary supplement company that’s trying to convince you otherwise.

By the way, some supplements that can reduce the impact of CVI and varicose veins can also help in the treatment of hemorrhoids (see Hemorrhoids section), and they may even be beneficial in treating conditions like lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs as a result of fluid buildup), which is a side effect of some cancer treatments. More research is needed!

What are Varicose Veins and Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

Veins carry deoxygenated blood to the heart, which sends it immediately back out to the lungs to get reoxygenated. In chronic venous insufficiency, the venous walls or the valves inside the veins malfunction, causing blood to stay in the veins.

The leg vessels are especially vulnerable because they have to work hard against gravity to send blood up to the heart; they rely on muscles in the legs to contract and keep pushing blood upward. And with age and long periods of time spent sitting or standing or being inactive, the veins and valves get weak. High blood pressure in the veins (called venous hypertension) can damage them as well.

Symptoms of CVI include swelling in the lower legs and ankles; aching, tired, and heavy legs; dry, itchy skin; leathery-looking skin or a change in skin color;

skin ulcers; and varicose veins (bulging, twisted, and swollen veins that are visible just below the surface of the skin and can cause leg pain and swelling). Think of varicose veins as a milder form of CVI. They’re more likely to occur in people with a family history or who have had multiple pregnancies. Being tall or overweight can increase your risk as well. As with CVI, sitting or standing for long periods of time increases the risk of varicose veins. By the way, spider veins are simply smaller varicose veins (they’re actually capillaries), so the same prevention tips and treatments apply.

Home Remedies For Varicose Veins and Chronic Venous Insufficiency

1. (tie) Horse chestnut seed extract (Aesculus hippocastanum) 50 to 75 milligrams of escin once or twice a day for 12 weeks

Horse chestnut seed extract has been shown to reduce leg pain and itching and ankle and calf swelling as well as compression stockings do. The active compound in horse chestnut is escin (also called complex active triterpenoid saponins or just aescin), which has been shown to block the destruction of structural components in the walls of veins.

In studies, the dosage has generally been in the range of one capsule once or twice a day, with each capsule standardized to contain 50 to 75 milligrams of escin. Again, this supplement can strengthen the veins and reduce swelling and other issues in the short term. Long-term studies (more than 12 weeks) have not been done. Still, with more than seven placebo-controlled trials, this is one of the best dietary supplements for mild to moderate CVI, and it can be used with conventional treatment options in many situations (as always, talk to a trusted doctor about this). Gastrointestinal upset and dizziness were reported in up to one-third of test subjects in about half of the studies conducted; the rest of the trials reported mild to minimal side effects. Horse chestnut has not received adequate research in the area of potential drug interactions. Regardless, do not use it if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking a blood-thinning medication.

1. (tie) Diosmin 500 milligrams a day in divided doses

Diosmin is a flavonoid (a compound that may have health-protective benefits). And Daflon is the best-known product containing diosmin. In fact, it’s a semisynthetic prescription drug in Europe. It’s considered a micronized purified flavonoid fraction, or MPFF, because it contains a 90:10 ratio of flavonoids: 450 milligrams of diosmin (a compound found in citrus fruits) and 50 milligrams of other flavonoids, which are found in plants. Micronized means that the particles were reduced in size to less than 2 micrometers (that’s really tiny) to improve its solubility and absorption. Although it’s a drug in other countries, in the United States diosmin is a regular dietary supplement. The standard dosage is 500 milligrams a day divided into two or three doses taken every 8hours.

Most of the studies on Daflon have lasted between 2 to 6 months, and they’ve shown that it can decrease inflammation in veins, help prevent damage to the lining inside veins, improve venous tone and lymph drainage, and reduce calf and ankle swelling and other symptoms of CVI. Researchers believe it can also help keep more varicosities from forming. I recommend you take it for at least 12 weeks.

There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest Daflon can be used with conventional treatments for CVI, which generally involve vein removal or shrinkage procedures. Do not use it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. There hasn’t been any good research in the area of drug interactions, so ask your doctor about it. However, I would be careful about combining diosmin with aspirin or other anticoagulants because it may increase blood thinning.

2. Rutosides (O-beta-hydroxyethylrutosides, a.k.a. rutin or oxerutin) 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day

Rutosides appear to protect blood vessel walls from damage and discourage other cells from adhering to the vessel walls so they can continue to function normally. Tests with products containing rutosides have shown a reduction in some CVI symptoms, including cramping, pain, feelings of heaviness in the legs, and swelling. One of the most commonly tested rutoside products has been Venoruton (from Novartis), a prescription drug in Europe. There’s also a gel or cream form that can be used topically in addition to taking the supplement.

It’s hard to find a product with the same exact ingredients that were tested in the trial mentioned earlier outside of Europe, but you can look for rutin at your local health food store. It’s close in molecular structure to the rutosides that have been used in studies, and I believe it works about as well as they do, plus it’s cheaper! (Rutin is also found in asparagus and buckwheat and in the rinds of limes, lemons, grapefruits, oranges, and apples, for example.)

The side effects of rutosides or rutin are rare and include gastrointestinal upset (nausea, heartburn, and diarrhea), rash, itching, headache, and hot flashes. You can purchase gel and pill forms online, such as on Amazon. There are also some rutinlike copycats out there, such as red vine leaf (Folia vitis viniferae) extract. It shares similar properties with rutosides and rutins, and when it was tested at 360 and 720 milligrams once daily for 12 weeks in people with stage I and II CVI, both dosages reduced lower leg swelling and size to a similar degree as compression stockings. I recommend taking it for 8 weeks.

3. Pycnogenol 150 to 360 milligrams a day

A standardized extract from the bark of the French maritime pine, Pycnogenol contains polyphenols, especially proanthocyanidins (PCOs), which appear to be the active ingredient with protective properties. 

You can now find Pycnogenol supplements that contain 95 percent proanthocyanidins. Studies with Pycnogenol have found it reduced leg cramps, pain, heavy feelings, and swelling. In one 8- week trial, Pycnogenol (150 to 300 milligrams daily) improved CVI symptoms faster and better than Daflon (at 1,000 milligrams daily). (This was a small study with some bias, but it’s interesting nonetheless.) 

A 4-week study with 360 milligrams of Pycnogenol compared to 600 milligrams of horse chestnut seed extract found that Pycnogenol reduced lower leg swelling better. Now, the active ingredient in Pycnogenol—PCOs—is not cheap, but you can find it in peanuts and grape seed extract, which are less expensive. Grape seed extract is a fairly well-known supplement, but there’s no adequate research with varicose veins.

What Are Useless For Treating Varicose Veins and Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

Buckwheat or buckwheat herbal tea

This common plant (which is not a true wheat product) is supposedly high in rutin, but due to poor quality control, you just don’t know if you’re actually getting any rutin in the product. 

Regardless, clinical trials are lacking for this herb. Buckwheat itself is a common food allergen, though, so beware. I currently only recommend buckwheat for coughs: In a head-to-head study, buckwheat honey reduced coughing as well as the best- selling over-the-counter cough suppressant, dextromethorphan (see the Common Cold and Flu section).

Gotu kola

This well-known tropical medicinal plant contains a variety of extracts that researchers were excited about when I was a kid, but nothing ever came of it. Very little CVI-related research has been done recently with this herb, while the others that I’ve discussed in “What Works” continue to garner good research.

Butcher’s broom

This one is sure to upset some experts. This herb has anti- inflammatory properties and the potential to be useful for CVI problems because it has an active ingredient—called ruscogenin—that may block the enzyme elastase, which contributes to the breakdown of blood vessels. Here is the problem, though: Due to poorly designed studies, an effective dosage is unknown, and studies with products that contain butcher’s broom as one of several ingredients haven’t performed better than a placebo. 

Also, it can cause contact dermatitis or allergic reaction in rare cases, as well as swelling, nausea, and other gastrointestinal side effects. And tyramine, another compound in butcher’s broom, can negatively interact with prescription medicines, such as MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors (a type of antidepressant).

I’m not saying it’s worthless; I just don’t think it’s worth it. (I love the name butcher’s broom, though; it sounds scary and hygienic at the same time. Apparently, it arose from the fact that the herb has stiff twigs that butchers used to bind together and use to clean their cutting boards.) If studies can prove it’s safe and pinpoint how much is effective, then I’ll be swept off my feet (get it) and endorse it. Until then, this is one broom that you should take out of the closet and put in the trash.

Other Natural Remedies For Varicose Veins and Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Heart healthy = vein healthy

Can you believe that some experts don’t think we know whether diet affects CVI and varicose veins? Granted, there’s little to no research proving this, but come on! It is already known that heart-healthy diets reduce the risk of damage to blood vessels and that weight gain puts unnecessary pressure on blood vessels, so it’s really a no-brainer.

Exercise regularly

Working out (even walking the dog) makes leg muscles contract, which improves circulation and sends stagnant blood up to the heart and lungs.

Quit smoking

Tobacco thickens the blood, reduces circulation, increases blood pressure, and creates inflammation and damage throughout the circulatory system, all of which set the stage for CVI.

Try vibrating

Many patients claim standing on a vibration platform, such as the Power Plate, can help reduce leg swelling. The rapid, tiny vibrations force the lower leg muscles to contract (while shaking you like a martini). While I don’t buy into using them for general muscle or bone strengthening, it makes sense for CVI and is certainly worth a try.

Avoid long periods of sitting or standing

If you have a desk job, get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour. If you have to be on your feet, then sit down every few hours. (People who sit most of the day have a greater chance of gaining weight and having poor circulation, though.) When you’re sitting, avoid crossing your legs because it puts pressure on veins.

Loosen up your wardrobe

Constrictive clothing, like a tight belt or girdle, can restrict bloodf low in both directions. That said, compression stockings, which are worn on the lower legs, can be beneficial for CVI. They come in different compressions (8 to 10 mm Hg up to 40 to 50 mm Hg) based on the severity of the condition, but a prescription is generally needed for stockings with more than 20 mm Hg compression. Check with your doctor.

Kick up your heels

Elevating your legs for at least 30 minutes a day can help reduce any ankle or foot swelling by making it easier for blood and lymph to circulate back to the upper body. While you’re seated, point and flex your feet 10 to 15 times. This employs the muscles around the lower legs, which helps squeeze blood back up through the veins, preventing pooling and excessive pressure on the lower legs and feet.

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