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Get a Leg-Up on Varicose Veins

Ease swollen, painful blood vessels with a bit of healing plant power.

By Anna Soref

It's time to get dressed for yoga class, and you're faced with a wardrobe decision: Will it be the leotard, the shorts, or the leggings? If you're one of the 50 percent of people who suffer from varicose veins, the leggings will probably win out. But with a little help from the plant world, the bulging blood vessels could be a thing of the past, leaving your wardrobe options wide open.

Varicose veins are caused by damage to the valves which prevents vascular flow from moving in one direction, as it usually does. This in turn causes the blood to pool and the vein to swell. Aside from being unattractive, these swollen veins can cause extreme pain and lead to more severe problems.

To counteract this effect, Mindy Green, director of education for the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado, recommends taking herbs that increase circulation, such as horse chestnut, gotu kola, and butcher's broom. Their ability to treat varicose veins has been confirmed in numerous studies conducted in Europe, where these herbs are widely used. A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, for instance, found that 50mg of horse chestnut extract taken twice a day proved just as effective as using the expensive and cumbersome leg-stockings often recommended by doctors.

Green says to follow the manufacturer's dosage instructions for these herbs as their strength may vary, "especially with horse chestnut, which can be toxic when overtaken."

Green also suggests applying horse chestnut tincture directly to the skin daily as a preventative measure, and adds that compresses with astringent herbs such as white oak bark or witch hazel have a toning effect.

Many health practitioners recommend spending as much time as possible with the legs elevated to get the blood moving. Yoga postures such as Viparita Karani (pictured above), with the legs up against a wall, are ideal. Standing and sitting for too long (especially with legs crossed) can aggravate symptoms, so take frequent stretching and walking breaks when working at a desk.

Studies also demonstrate that a diet high in flavonoid-rich foods such as berries can help prevent the development of varicose veins and maintain vein wall integrity.

A tea made from buckwheat, high in the bioflavonoid rutin, has been shown to alleviate symptoms. Also, indulge in high-fiber fruits and vegetables to enhance overall circulation and supply vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy and beautiful legs.

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