Having the blue blood of royalty might sound good in theory -- but then varicose veins start popping up. Affecting mostly women (about 40 per cent have them), twisting, swollen blue-coloured leg veins not only interfere with beach wear, but they can also be seriously painful and cause swelling of the feet and ankles.
Unlike the arteries that pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body, veins have no muscles of their own. It's their job to carry blood back up to the heart against gravity with the help of the leg muscles and a system of valves that keep blood from falling back down to the feet while the next heroic upward push is negotiated.
Varicose veins can also be related to genetic or age-related weakness of the valve system.
Being overweight, wearing tight jeans and standing on one's feet all day stresses out veins, too. And during pregnancy, the veins' workload is hugely magnified by the weight and pressure in a woman's belly, as well as by the fact that the same arteries and veins now have more blood to transport.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, chronic emotional upset can derange your energy flow enough to cause poor circulation. Your legs could also be inadvertently broadcasting the state of your bowels. For many people, say holistic practitioners, constipation is a major contributing factor to varicose veins. Straining really ups the pressure in your veins -- over time, those unpleasant minutes on the toilet take their toll on your circulation.
As with most health problems, holistic prevention and treatment mean addressing the cause. Putting your legs up against a wall or the back of a couch and letting them drain before you go to sleep is a good general stave-off strategy.
If you have to stand all day, see if you can find a way to reconfigure your job, and wear support hose. If you sit all day, keep your legs up when you can.
Regular exercise (at least half an hour three times a week) will get your muscles moving and valves working. It's also a good idea to have your blood pressure and cardiovascular health checked if you develop vein symptoms. Sometimes the problem is related to high blood pressure or leakiness in the capillaries.
To ease discomfort and shrink varicose veins: "Buy witch hazel cream and add horse chestnut. I use an ointment made with 50 grams of witch hazel cream mixed with 10 millilitres of horse chestnut tincture. Put that on gently four times a day. It's very important not to massage varicose veins. They're already so fragile, you could just cause more damage. You just want to lay the stuff on top. If somebody were in serious pain, I would give them the horse chestnut tincture (internally), 10 to 40 drops at night."
SUSAN EAGLES, medical herbalist
"Vitamin C (500 mg to 3 grams daily) is necessary for collagen synthesis; blood vessels are made of collagen. The one other thing always used by naturopaths is proanthocyanidins, plant flavonoids that increase the integrity of the blood vessel wall. You find them in grapeseed, bilberry and pine bark extracts. The standard treatment dose is 100 to 300 mg daily. A maintenance dose would be 100 mg every two days. Bromelain (250 to 500 mg three times daily between meals) has been really helpful for some people."
ARVIN JENAB, naturopath
"I treat varicose veins with sclerotherapy and laser. There are hundreds of lasers on the market, so people should be asking to be treated with a vascular laser. Sclerotherapy involves injecting a solution, usually saline and dextrose, into the veins. That causes an inflammatory reaction in the walls of the blood vessel and they dry up or collapse on themselves. Blood circulation is not affected. If you treat medium-sized veins, that helps prevent more spider veins from forming. As for nutritional or herbal therapy, it's not fair for me to comment because not a large enough percentage of my patients have tried that."
GLORIA CHUDNOW MD, family physician