Long flights, and extended periods of sitting and laying can cause varicose veins to be painful. Many men and women put up and struggle with them, but there are some things you can do to ease the discomfort and improve leg health to help banish pain from those varicose veins.
Nutritionist Alison Cullen explains: “Our veins regulate normal flow of blood towards the heart, but in order for the veins to do their job well, they must be elastic and contain strong valves in order to stop blood from flowing in the opposite direction. Varicose veins occur when veins lose their elasticity and become stretched or swollen. Valves within these damaged veins can leak and cause blood to pool, particularly common in the lower legs.
“As we age, the likelihood of experiencing varicose veins increases as the veins lose elasticity and stretch,” Alison explains. “In addition, being overweight puts excess pressure on leg veins which can then contribute to the formation of varicose veins or aggravate existing symptoms.”
Four surprising causes of varicose veins
Static lifestyles – Sitting or standing still for long periods of time can contribute to varicose veins. Standing all day puts more pressure on weak vein valves, whilst sitting for long periods of time slows down circulation and can cause blood to pool in the legs where the muscles aren’t contracting to pump blood back around the body. To minimise your chances of developing varicose veins, try alternating between sitting and standing, and try to move around every 30 minutes or so to engage your muscles and get your blood flowing. Standing desks only work if you move around and moving around regularly or at the very least flexing your calf muscles is a must.
Crossed legs – Sitting with your legs crossed isn’t a direct cause of varicose veins but it can exacerbate existing symptoms and make your varicose veins appear worse. This position puts pressure on large veins serving the legs, which may swell and become much more visible. To avoid putting extra pressure on your varicose veins and causing yourself more discomfort, don’t sit or sleep with your legs crossed for long periods of time.
Caffeine overload – Caffeine makes blood vessels constrict, making it more difficult for blood to move freely through the circulatory system. Over time, this could result in the development of varicose veins. Moderate caffeine intake with one cup of coffee a day.
Lack of self-care – If you already have poor circulation and skip out on exfoliating or moisturising, you can become more prone to varicose veins. Exfoliating can act as a massage of sorts and can help to improve blood circulation to and from the legs, helping to prevent varicose veins. Dry brushing is generally more effective than wet exfoliation because water encourages the skin to plump up, making it harder to remove dead skin cells.
Home help for varicose veins?
Your GP will advise you of the conventional treatments, however, there are also some self-help strategies you can adopt to improve your comfort, reduce the appearance, and relieve pain caused by varicose veins.
Simple lifestyle changes
- Elevate your legs – this lets gravity do the work and helps get blood from your legs back around the rest of your body.
- Wear loose clothing – tight clothes can restrict and interrupt the normal flow of blood from the legs back to the heart.
- Avoid hot baths – heat dilates (widens) your veins and slows down the circulation in your legs.
- Improve your diet – this can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce constipation which can put pressure on your veins. As with many conditions reducing and avoiding certain foods can make a difference. With varicose veins it’s key to avoid, refine grains, white bread, processed meats and it’s best to avoid high salt foods, fried foods and alcohol where possible.
- Reduce salt – replace salt added during cooking or at the table with herbs and spices to add flavour, or choose a low-salt alternative such as A.Vogel’s Herbamare Low Sodium containing potassium chloride infused with 14 organic herbs as a tasty substitute.
- Support stockings help to keep varicose veins comfortable. Other self-help measures include losing any excess weight, walking regularly and avoiding standing still for long in order to boost circulation in the legs. When sitting down, put your feet up as often as possible.
- Topical gels – A.Vogel Venagel, £11,99 (100gm) is a topical gel made from fresh horse chestnut seeds for the relief of tired, aching legs. This soothing gel is perfect for cooling and easing tired, achy legs and heavy legs, and is safe to use during pregnancy. Simply massage Venagel onto your legs and ankles (being careful to avoid any broken skin!) and put your feet up for 10-20 minutes.
- Herbal helper – Venaforce, £11.99 (30 tablets), independent pharmacies and health stores. Venaforce is made from freshly harvested horse chestnut seeds and is a traditional herbal medicinal product used to relieve symptoms of varicose veins based on traditional use only. These tablets can be used to relieve symptoms of varicose veins internally and work well with the topical remedy Venagel. Pycnogenol, a highly antioxidant extract from French maritime pine bark, can strengthen veins, decrease their passive dilatation and stretching and improve vein elasticity. In people with venous ulcers, taking Pycnogenol (50 mg, 3 times daily) was as effective as prescribed treatments in promoting healing and reducing swelling of affected limbs.[i] E.g, Healthspan Pycnogenol (60 tablets £16.95)
"When it comes to varicose veins, your diet can be crucial," says nutritional therapist Emma Thornton. "As always, when it comes to vitamins and other micronutrients, fresh is best! You should try to include a wide range of wholefoods in your diet before you reach for supplements.”
Vein friendly foods to eat
- Berries are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Blueberries, blackberries and blackcurrants are thought to be the best because they are high in antioxidants which are great for strengthening veins and improving arterial health. Plus, they contain an important flavonoid called rutin, which protects blood vessels against blood clots and is known to help reduce the permeability of capillaries. As a result, it can help to reduce your risk of forming new varicose veins.
- Beetroot contains a chemical called betacyanin which helps to reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can cause damage to blood vessels. Beetroot juice is also rich in nitrates which help to naturally improve and support blood circulation. Nitrates open up the blood vessels to allow for a greater flow of oxygen around the body. As a result, this can help to lower blood pressure, which can reduce the pressure on your varicose veins. Try Biotta Beetroot Juice (£3.99, 500mls A.Vogel.co.uk and health stores) made with 100% organic beetroot juice, rich in potassium and nitrates which can help support blood pressure naturally and can make a tasty alternative to stock cubes.
- Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help to improve circulation and reduce varicose veins. It helps to dissolve fibrin in the blood vessels, a compound which can cause veins to become hard and lumpy. Varicose vein sufferers have difficulty breaking down this substance, so including fresh ginger in recipes like curries or fruit smoothies can help.
- Kiwis (and oranges) are a good source of vitamin C, which helps to reduce inflammation and protects membranes against damaging free-radicals. Vitamin C also promotes good blood circulation and assists in the production of collagen.
- Broccoli is a great source of vitamin E which helps to keep platelets from sticking together and adhering to the side of the blood vessel walls. Vitamin E is also important for maintaining elasticity in our veins. With varicose veins, the vein walls become slack and saggy which causes the pooling of blood and bulging appearance, and can lead to painful cramps in the lower legs.
About the authors
Alison Cullen and Emma Thornton are nutritional therapists for A.Vogel.Last modified: June 10, 2021