One of the more unsightly signs of ageing is varicose veins. Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that are visible under the skin. They can be red and blue, and badly affected areas often look like a road map.
A spider's web
By the age of 50, more than half of all people have some form of varicose veins.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre varicose veins usually appear in the legs, but can occur in other parts of the body. Women are affected more than men, and although most people aren’t bothered by the condition, it can lead to more serious problems like swollen, painful legs, blood clots and skin changes.
Read: What are varicose veins?
Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but are finer in appearance. They are found on the face as well as the legs, are closer to the skin’s surface and, as the name suggests, look like a spider’s web.
Arguably the main reason why humans develop varicose veins is because we walk upright, and our bodies, because of the force of gravity, have a harder time returning the blood from the lower extremities of our bodies to the heart.
Our hearts pump blood to the whole body through the arteries, and veins then carry the blood back to the heart. The veins don’t have the benefit of the pumping action of the heart anymore and therefore rely on one-way valves and the action of moving muscles to return the blood. This system is often called the “second heart”.
Because of a sedentary lifestyle our leg muscles are not squeezing as much blood back to the heart, and if the one-way valves become weak because of e.g. ageing, blood can leak down into the veins. The term for this is venous insufficiency. This backed-up blood can lead to varicose veins.
According to the National Heart, Lung and blood Institute treatment can help existing varicose veins, but cannot prevent new ones from forming. The condition is treated with lifestyle changes when symptoms are not serious, and medical procedures in the case of pain, blood clots or skin disorders. Varicose veins may also be removed for cosmetic reasons.
Lifestyle changes may prevent varicose veins from getting worse and delay the formation of new ones. Such changes include more physical exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding high heels, tight clothing and sitting for long periods of time. Compression stockings exert gentle pressure on the legs and prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
There are various medical procedures to close or remove varicose veins. This does not cause problems because there are enough other veins to carry the blood flow.
Red vine leaves
An article on the Dr. Arien website reminds us that there are some very effective plant-based remedies for varicose veins. One of these is red vine leaves from the vine Vitis vinifera.
It has been observed that French wine farmers don’t get chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), mainly because they take a red vine leaf extract that contains large amounts of bioflavonoids like quercetin, quercitrin and kaempherol. In fact, a commercial extract (AS 195) of red vine leaf has been available for some time.
Knowledge of the medicinal value of red vine leaf dates back to the ancient Romans. Galen, the famous Roman doctor, made extensive use of vine leaf in his treatments, and modern science has authenticated its benefits, especially in the treatment of CVI.
An esvs Journal study conducted in 2011 found that AS195 led to an improvement in the clinical profile of patients with CVI, and that swelling and pain in the leg were significantly reduced.
An earlier (2002) study under the leadership of Dr Stephan Nees found that treating cells damaged by CVI with AS 195 led to the restoration of cell functionality, showing that red vine leaf extract is, at least to a certain extent, able to reverse existing damage in the veins.
Commercial products containing AS 195 are widely available in South Africa without prescription.