1. Don’t stand when you can sit. Standing still in the one position for long periods of time lets blood pool in your lower legs, putting pressure on blood vessels. Whenever possible, take breaks every 15 minutes or so and sit down with your legs raised.
2. Eat more berries. Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all contain flavonoids, which have been shown to help strengthen blood vessel walls. This is great for preventing varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Get into the habit of having berries as an after-dinner treat or on the top of your morning cereal.
3. Put your feet up when sitting. Raising your legs prevents blood from pooling in the veins. When you’re sitting down watching TV or if you’re lying down for any length of time, keep your feet elevated slightly higher than your heart to reduce the risk of blood pooling in your lower legs.
4. Move. Get up and get moving – it’s the only sure way you’ll strengthen your calf muscles and keep the blood circulating in your legs. Start going for a regular walk after dinner or before breakfast. If you spend much of the day behind a desk, point and flex your feet to boost circulation. If you’re on your feet, get the blood moving several times an hour by rising on your toes, shifting your weight from one foot to the other, bending your legs and walking on the spot.
5. Avoid tight clothes. Believe it or not, those jeans that look great and show off your curves are a bad idea. Never wear tight clothing that can restrict blood circulation at the top of your legs.
6. Lose weight. If you’re carrying any extra kilos, get serious about getting back to a more healthy weight. You’ll not only look better, but you’ll reduce the stress placed on your legs and circulatory system and improve blood flow. An extensive study conducted in Scotland found that being overweight or obese raised your chances of developing varicose veins by as much as 58%. By eating less and getting more aerobic exercise, you’ll lose weight and also reduce your risk of developing leg vein problems.
7. Wear flats. While high heels won’t cause varicose veins, wearing them makes your calf muscles less effective at pumping blood back towards your heart when you walk. Our legs much prefer walking in flat shoes. They tone calf muscles, helping to move blood through the veins.
8. Wear stockings. While not the most attractive option, wearing compression stockings (available from your pharmacy) is an effective way of easing the pain that comes with varicose veins. Compression stockings work by applying pressure to the lower part of your legs, forcing any build-up of blood back towards the heart – by as much as 20%. When Japanese researchers measured the legs of 20 people with varicose veins, they found that all grades of compression stockings reduced swelling, but medium- and strong-grade stockings worked best.
Scientists in Hong Kong recently discovered a design flaw in the stocking: as study volunteers moved around, their stockings sometimes squeezed tighter at the thickest part of the calves than the ankles, which could actually promote blood pooling rather than prevent it. The conclusion was that compression stockings are still worth wearing if you’re on your feet all day, but you should also attempt to exercise your calf muscles to help keep blood moving.
9. Gotu kola. Research has found that this herb, which is native to Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka, can ease the pain, swelling and sensation of heaviness and tingling in the legs. It works by strengthening the collagen lining in the walls of veins, which enhances circulation. The recommended dose is between 30-39mg a day.
10. Horse chestnut. The seed extract from this tree is one remedy for varicose vein discomfort that seems to work. When Harvard Medical School researchers reviewed 16 studies of thousands of people with weak valves in their leg veins, they found that those who took the extract had four times less pain than those who were given a placebo. Half saw a decrease in swelling, and 70% had less itching. They also reported improvement in feelings of fatigue and heaviness in their legs. In lab studies, escin, the active ingredient in horse chestnut seeds, was found to strengthen the walls of small blood vessels. UK researchers say this safe botanical may be as effective as compression stockings. The usual daily dose is 300mg (containing 50-75mg of escin per dose).
11. Stop straining. Working too hard to have a bowel movement increases pressure on veins in the lower legs. Scottish researchers report that this kind of pushing nearly doubles the risk of vein problems in men. To make bowel movements as easy and as comfortable as possible, drink plenty of water during the day and increase your fibre intake.
12. Enjoy a glass of wine. Spanish researchers who analysed the health records of 1778 people found that those who enjoyed a glass of wine every day had a 50% lower risk of varicose veins than those who drank less – or more. Other research suggests that flavonoids and saponins in wine can help keep blood vessels flexible and healthy.