Varicose veins are a condition that most people find unsightly. If you have them, you most likely wish you didn’t for that reason alone. Adding to the misery is the fact that they’re often associated with swelling of the surrounding tissue and throbbing or burning pain. There are medical and surgical treatments for varicose veins available, and they are effective. Unfortunately, they can be expensive and aren’t always covered by insurance plans. Varicose veins though are responsive to the food you eat, and a diet for varicose veins can help to relieve the symptoms of varicose veins.

In this excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A. Duke, PHD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain what the best foods for varicose veins are.

Varicose Veins

It’s probably not much consolation, but if you’re bothered by large, unsightly veins, especially in your legs, you have lots of company. More than 40 million Americans suffer from varicose veins, including half of all people aged 50 and older. Women are four times more likely to develop them than men are, with up to half of American women affected. Hormonal factors are likely triggers—puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and taking birth control pills can all activate the disease. Spending long hours standing or sitting with crossed legs raises your risk as well.

If you’re looking for a root cause, however, this is one time you’d be right to point your finger at Mom. Heredity is the number one risk factor for the condition—probably an inherited weakness in the veins’ walls or valves.

Put a genetic predisposition together with a trigger, and voilà: varicose veins. Here’s how they develop. Your arteries work like a plumbing system, carrying oxygen-rich blood pumped from your heart to your extremities. From there, the blood has to make the round trip for cleaning and recirculating, but it doesn’t have a pump to help it along. So your veins, which carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to your heart, have one way valves to keep it flowing in the right direction. If the valves don’t function well, the blood doesn’t flow efficiently. The veins first become congested and then enlarged. They may end up looking blue, swollen, stretched out, kinked, or twisted. They can also leak blood and fluid into surrounding tissue, which causes swelling.

This happens most frequently in the legs, but it can occur elsewhere, too. When varicose veins occur in and around the anus, they’re called hemorrhoids; in the scrotum, they’re varicoceles. Both of these conditions are usually harmless. However, in the esophagus, they’re known as varices, and if left untreated, they can rupture and bleed uncontrollably.

Besides being unsightly, varicose veins of the legs can cause pain that ranges from dull throbbing to acute burning. Sometimes they cause a feeling of pressure or heaviness in the legs, make your feet and ankles swell, or cause surrounding skin to itch.

Modern medicine can treat them with laser therapy, sclerotherapy (injection of a special solution), or surgery. Now brace yourself for the bad news: Treatments aren’t always covered by insurance, and even if they are, they may not work the way you would like. Sclerotherapy isn’t always permanent, and surgery leaves scars (and can’t prevent new varicose veins from developing).

Now here’s the good news: Dietary changes can help. For example, you can eat more fiber. Promoting regularity eases the pressure on veins in the legs. Some of the best sources of fiber are in your supermarket’s bean aisle: navy beans, split peas, lentils, and pinto beans, to name a few. Whip up a mixed-bean soup, and include a few of the better anti-varicose spices, such as basil, bay, chili powder, garlic, ginger, onion, oregano, rosemary, sage, and turmeric. You’ll get more than a dozen COX-2-inhibiting compounds (which help with pain) in the process.

Healing Foods for Varicose Veins

Besides fiber, other food remedies, such as those I’ve listed below, may be helpful for preventing or treating spider veins and varicose veins.

Buckwheat and other sources of rutin. Certified lactation consultant Sheila Humphrey, RN, notes that buckwheat is noteworthy for strengthening capillaries. Science bears this out: Buckwheat contains a compound called rutin. Researchers in Germany found that when pregnant women were given hydroxyethylrutosides, a type of flavonoid derived from rutin, their varicose veins improved.

In an article titled “From Medical Herbalism to Phytotherapy in Dermatology: Back to the Future,” A.M. Dattner, MD, mentions buckwheat bioflavonoids as a first-line defense against varicose veins. Further, he states that plant-based therapeutic preparations serve as “therapeutic alternatives, safer choices, or in some cases, the only effective treatment.”

Medical texts say that taking 20 to 100 milligrams of rutin each day can significantly strengthen capillaries. A 1⁄2 cup of buckwheat contains a lot of rutin, more than you’d need to shore up your capillaries. Try eating buckwheat pancakes or kasha, which is a cereal-like product that is made from buckwheat groats and is widely available in supermarkets.

Some people are allergic to buckwheat. If you develop hives or hay fever–like symptoms, try another remedy instead.

Not big on buckwheat? Parsley is the next richest source of rutin in my database, and it’s readily available. At restaurants, most people leave the parsley on their plates, failing to recognize that this dark green nutritious herb may prevent those purple spiders. Don’t throw your parsley away! A single ounce could contain 180 milligrams of rutin.

Blueberries, bilberries, and grapes. These sweet, tart, tangy berries are nutritional powerhouses. They contain antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, which strengthen capillaries and may also decrease the swelling of varicose veins. These high-fiber berries will also help prevent constipation, which is often a trigger for hemorrhoids.

A small, preliminary study done in the 1980s found that supplementing each day with 150 milligrams of proanthocyanidins improved the function of leg veins after just one dose. More studies are needed, but in the meantime, eating more blueberries and related foods couldn’t hurt. Some scientists add that frozen blueberries are as good medicinally as fresh. There are also several blueberry capsules containing concentrated active compounds. Other sources of anthocyanidins include black beans, black currants, blackberries, cherries, grapes, and tea.

Grapes and chocolate. These two foods are high in compounds called flavonoids, which are responsible for many of the brilliant colors in plants. One of the many benefits of high-flavonoid foods is protection against varicose veins by reducing the permeability of blood vessels, especially the capillaries.

By the way, before you tear open a caramel-coated, marshmallow-topped, peanut butter–filled candy bar, keep in mind that the more chocolate is processed, the more its flavonoids are lost. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate and, if possible, buy brands that give the cocoa content on the label.

Bay leaves and olive oil. Here’s an old-time folk remedy you could try. Place three bay leaves and four teaspoons of olive oil in a pan and warm over low heat. Let the mixture cool, then strain it and apply it to your varicose veins with a clean, soft cloth.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

The horse chestnut tree, which is native to Greece and Bulgaria, gets its name from horse shoe markings that appear on the branches—actually scars from where leaves previously grew.

According to Linda White, MD, coauthor of The Herbal Drugstore, horse chestnut seed is the most popular treatment for varicose veins in Germany. It’s commonly recommended by herbalists in the United States as well.

Researchers in Switzerland reviewed five studies that had been conducted on horse chest nut and varicose veins. They used a product called Aesculaforce, which is an extract made from horse chestnut seeds (available on the Internet). The researchers found that the product was effective at reducing lower-leg swelling and alleviating leg pain, heaviness, and itching in people with varicose veins and a related condition called chronic venous insufficiency.

Preliminary evidence suggests that horse chestnut may be as effective as compres sion stockings—which people who’ve tried them tell me are expensive and annoying.

Horse chestnut has a long history of use for varicose veins and hemorrhoids in tradi tional herbal medicine. Botanists have isolated the most active compound, aescin, and learned that it helps strengthen capillary cells and reduce fluid leakage.

If you’re going to use horse chestnut, you must buy a standardized extract and follow the package directions carefully. If you have diabetes, be especially cautious if you try this remedy because it causes an increased risk of low blood sugar.

Commission E, Germany’s official agency charged with evaluating herbal medicines, approves witch hazel to treat venous conditions. Witch hazel is primarily known for treat ing hemorrhoids, and in fact it’s the ingredient in over-the-counter remedies such as Tucks medicated pads. But it may also be useful for treating varicose veins.

Dip a cotton ball in witch hazel extract and apply it to your varicose veins three or more times a day. If you try this remedy, be patient; you’ll have to use it for two or more weeks before you can expect to see results.

For additional advice on proven natural remedies for common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from

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