Bulging varicose veins not only make us self-conscious, they can cause discomfort, too. And while there are plenty of pricey in-office procedures that can help, they come with significant risks. Plus, who wants to go through all the expense and discomfort when there are natural cures that can work well. Like witch hazel — one of the fastest-acting home cures for varicose veins. Here, we explain how witch hazel helps shrink painfully swollen varicose veins, plus share more easy (and effective!) natural remedies.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that are typically found in the legs. But they can also make an appearance on your face, feet or even on the vulva, says Laura Corio, MD, author of The Change Before The Change: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Healthy in the Decade Before Menopause. The veins are typically bluish in color and can bulge from beneath the skin. They can cause aching, itchiness and a feeling of heaviness. This pesky problem is also incredibly common. By age 60, up to 70% of women have varicose veins, and it’s twice as common in women than men.
The top cause of varicose veins
Weak, damaged vein walls or valves can lead to blood pooling or flowing backward, spurring the formation of varicose veins. The top cause: Hormone changes. Swings in estrogen and progesterone levels stretch vein walls (especially during menopause), which damage veins over time. Not only does this lead to unsightly bumps and bulges, but it can sap your energy, too.
“Varicose veins can cause draining symptoms in up to 70% of cases,” says Ariel Soffer, MD, founder of Soffer Health Institute in Aventura, Florida, and a cardiologist who specializes in vein issues. The main role of leg veins is to return blood to the heart, Dr. Soffer explains. But if valves in the veins fail, it leads to a back flow of blood that causes varicose veins and venous insufficiency, a condition that triggers fatigue, pain and feelings of heaviness in the legs.
The benefits of witch hazel for varicose veins
This medicine cabinet staple is one of the fastest ways to shrink swollen veins. How does the herbal remedy work? When you dab witch hazel directly only varicose veins, its astringent and vasoconstrictive properties temporarily reduce swelling, explains Heather Moday, MD, director of the Moday Center in Philadelphia. This rapidly relieves the ache and fades the appearance of the veins. To get the benefits, simply chill a bottle of witch hazel in the fridge, then soak a washcloth with witch hazel and place it over varicose veins for about 10 minutes a day, Dr. Moday suggests. (Click through to see how witch hazel can soothe hemorrhoid itch, too.)
7 more natural cures for varicose veins
While witch hazel works well to temporarily shrink varicose veins, there are other natural approaches that provide more long lasting relief.
1. Try horse chestnut seed extract
Horse chestnut is a plant native to southeastern Europe that contains seeds similar in appearance to sweet chestnuts. And it turns out an extract made from these seeds works wonders when it comes to varicose veins. “The evidence that horse chestnut seed extract relieves varicose vein symptoms is better than for any other supplement I know,” says Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD.
In a review of 17 studies Dr. Ernst conducted, varicose vein sufferers who took the supplement daily reported a 49% improvement in leg pain, itching and water retention in the ankles and calves. And some saw results within two weeks! Credit goes to escin, a compound that enhances circulation and reduces leakage of blood vessels in the lower limbs. Dr. Ernst advises taking a daily supplement that delivers the study-backed dose of 100 mg. of escin. One to try: Life Extension Venotone (Buy from LifeExtension.com, $14.25).
Alternatively, you can smooth horse chestnut gel directly onto varicose veins. Gels and creams made from the seeds of the horse chestnut tree acts as both an astringent to tighten and tone varicose veins and an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and improve blood flow. Swiss research suggests 85% of folks who applied horse chestnut gel daily for six weeks reduced pain by 64%, heaviness by 60%, itchiness by 71% and fluid buildup by 50%. One to try: A. Vogel Venagel Horse Chestnut Gel (Buy from Amazon.com, $26.42). Note: Talk to your doctor before supplementing if you’re taking blood thinning medications.
2. Slip on compression socks
Wearing knee-high compression stockings eases pain, swelling and heaviness, and they start to work in as little as 10 minutes, says Dr. Soffer. They provide a form of counter-pressure that helps blood flow upward from damaged veins toward the heart, explains Norman Chideckel, MD, director of the Vascular Surgery and Vein Center in New York City. And they don’t have to be uncomfortably tight. Research in BMC Geriatrics found low-pressure compression stockings are as effective as high-pressure ones. (Click through to learn more about the benefits of compression socks — and if you can sleep in them.)
3. Smooth on vitamin K cream
Researchers reporting in the Journal of Vascular Research found that healthy veins are rich in matrix gla protein (MGP), a structural protein that helps blood vessels hold their shape against the constant force of fluid. But that compound lies dormant in varicose vein tissue. The good news: Smoothing on vitamin K can switch on MGP to strengthen vein walls and reduce varicose veins.
“I often suggest vitamin K cream to my patients who have spider or varicose veins,” says cosmetic surgeon Shain Cuber, MD. “Blood vessels absorb the nutrient directly via fat tissue in skin.” To get the benefits, choose a cream with phytonadione (the chemical name for vitamin K) listed as a top ingredient. One to try: Reviva Labs Vitamin K Cream (Buy from Amazon.com, $15.64).
You can also get the benefits by increasing your intake of vitamin K-rich spinach. Adding just 1⁄2 cup of raw spinach to your daily salad or smoothie has the recommended daily dose of vitamin K needed to help shrink varicose veins. Not a spinach fan? No problem! Most leafy greens contain vitamin K, including broccoli, cabbage and kale.
4. Swap heels for flats
Swapping boots or wedges for ballet flats or a comfy pair of sneakers can thwart varicose vein pain. A study published in the journal PLoS One found your calf muscles contract more when you walk in flat-heeled shoes. This makes it significantly easier to move blood out of your legs and up toward your heart, preventing painful pooling. (Not only are sneakers more comfortable than heels, click through to learn how they can help you stop foot pain from standing all day.)
5. Consider pine bark extract
The pine bark extract known as Pycnogenol, derived from the French Maritime pine tree, significantly eases the discomfort of varicose veins by reducing swelling and improving blood flow, according to a study in the Italian journal Fitoterapia. When taken as a supplement, the antioxidant binds to the collagen in blood vessel walls, further strengthening capillaries and increasing elasticity. Dr. Corio recommends taking 50 mg. of pycnogenol twice daily. One to try: Natrol Pycnogenol 50 mg. (Buy from Amazon.com, $33.84). (Click through to learn how apple cider vinegar can soothe varicose veins naturally, too.)
6. Indulge in a cooling soak
When varicose vein pain flares up and your legs feel especially achy and tired, soak them in cool water for 10 to 15 minutes (simply fill your tub with just enough to cover your legs). Doing so can provide immediate relief from the discomfort, according to a study in The International Journal of Angiology. Cold water causes blood vessels to shrink, bringing down the swelling and pain. Tip: To boost the benefits, add handful of Epsom salts to your soak. They improve circulation to help ease the ache.
7. Reach for a citrus extract
Another all-star extract when it comes to varicose veins: A compound found in citrus rind called diosmin. The compound improves blood flow to noticeably relieve sore, enlarged veins, according to a study in the British Journal of Surgery. Researchers found that taking 500 mg. of diosmin daily reduced swollen vein symptoms by 67%. Best of all, it begins working in as little as 4 days. One to try: Life Extension Youthful Legs (Buy from Amazon.com, $16.50).
Fore more ways to keep you legs healthy (and reap total-body benefits):
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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