It seems that as I get older (and let's be honest, fatter), I'm noticing blue veins showing up on my legs. And I'm wondering if these little squiggles are eventually going to lead to big, bad varicose veins.
The latter are enlarged blue channels, often painful or itchy, caused when valves that prevent blood flowing backwards stop working properly. Not pretty in a bathing suit, that's for sure. But maybe that's just an aesthetics question in an airbrushed culture and we should darn right get used to veins on women's legs.
The issue is, are blood vessels dangerous when they start bulging? Will they get worse standing around at cocktail parties?
And how will I stop my tiny blue etchings from turning into major rivers?
"Heredity is a big cause of varicose veins, and being a woman and age are both contributing factors. Among the risk factors you can control are obesity, lack of muscle tone, smoking, posture, standing a lot and wearing constricting clothing. Anything that causes inter-abdominal pressure, like pregnancy, will be a factor. Increase flavonoids in your diet and through supplementation. Hydrotherapy treatment, applying hot and cold compresses, and acupuncture can reduce discomfort. Dry skin brushing can improve circulation. Witch hazel can be used topically. Once you have varicose veins, the condition is difficult to reverse."
KATE WHIMSTER, naturopath, Toronto
"Extract of horse chestnut seed is used both internally and externally. It contains aescin, a saponin that helps strengthen the integrity of the blood vessel walls. Buckwheat strengthens the blood vessels, so we recommend the person eat buckwheat flour or noodles, which contain a flavonoid called rutin. Fruits and vegetables are high in rutin and other bioflavonoids. Hawthorn, bilberry and gotu kola can be helpful. Calendula flowers can be made into a compress or wash. Compression stockings work well as a preventative. A doctor can refer you to a specialist who will measure you."
CELINA AINSWORTH, herbalist, Toronto
"Varicose veins are caused mainly by hereditary factors. The standard of treatment for mid-size and smaller ones is sclerotherapy, which is the injection of a sclerosant into the vein to collapse it. It requires an experienced MD. If a major valve, the largest one in the groin area, is gone, the latest, safest treatment is endovenous laser ablation, where a laser fibre is inserted into the vein under ultrasound guidance and withdrawn slowly to seal the vein. This is for bad cases. I see no advantage for steam treatment ablation. Massage and acupuncture will do absolutely nothing for varicose veins, just as spa lasers do not!"
JOHN KELLER, MD, PhD, associate director, Baywood Clinic, Toronto
"Varicose veins are a combination of blood stasis and spleen qi deficiency or spleen not rising. Essentially, the walls of the veins are weak. Part of the treatment is helping the body have the energy to put the elasticity back. Turmeric is good for blood stagnation - take it in tea - and astragalus for toning and lifting. You can't overstate the importance of exercise. There are also vulval varicose veins that occur in pregnancy that can be very painful."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto