I have unsightly varicose veins which give me swollen ankles at the end of the day and a heavy ache in my legs from time to time. I do not want surgery or elastic stockings and I wonder whether there are any natural remedies that you can suggest?
It can take hundreds of years, but sometimes mainstream medicine does acknowledge the healing potential of nature. For centuries, alternative doctors and herbalists have been using an herbal remedy to treat varicose veins-with enormous success. The results were so promising from the onset that, eventually, they even caught the eye of mainstream researchers. Try as they might with so many natural treatments, this was one therapy that conventional physicians could not dismiss. Just the opposite, in fact: It has been proven effective by the gold standard of medical evidence, the double-blind clinical trial.
It must have been a dark day in the technological world when it was discovered that the best treatment for varicose veins had been growing on a tree all along-in the form of horse chestnuts.
Horse chestnut history: The horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) is mainly grown as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens in Europe, although it is in fact a native of Asia. Horse chestnut seeds and bark have been used extensively in European traditional medicine since the 16th century. Unlike regular chestnuts, the seeds of the horse chestnut are not edible. The major active constituents of horse chestnut seeds are phyto-chemicals called saponins. The saponins are collectively referred to as escin. Escin is a complex mixture of more than 30 individual saponins. In the 1960s, in Germany, escin was isolated from the horse chestnut seed and marketed as a new drug for a variety of uses, including treatment of varicose veins, weak capillary blood vessels (which cause bruising), and localized swelling or oedema.
In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was given oral doses of escin; the other was given a placebo. After seven days, the escin group showed significant improvement in capillary strength. Individuals in the placebo group showed no improvement.
On its own, horse chestnut extract (not condensed into escin) has demonstrated vein toning activity in test tube experiments and in laboratory and clinical studies. Toned veins are necessary for proper circulation of blood throughout the body. Some evidence suggests that the combination of escin with regular horse chestnut extract is a superior treatment to either substance administered by itself. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers observed that those patients treated with 600 milligrams per day of horse chestnut extract containing 100 milligrams of escin experienced a decrease in the pooling of blood in the veins.
This enables the veins to do their intended job-getting blood back to the heart as quickly and efficiently as possible. Many people think of varicose veins only in terms of appearance. However, the effects are much more serious than simply being unattractive.
People with varicose veins often suffer from pain, swelling, and itchiness in the affected areas. Horse chestnut extract has shown extremely impressive results for people suffering from varicose veins. A review of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials published up through 1996 concluded that treatment with 600 milligrams of horse chestnut extract containing 100 milligrams of escin for a period of four to 12 weeks is superior to placebo.
The review also states that horse chestnut treatment is as effective as other medications in alleviating the swelling, pain, itchiness, and fatigue associated with varicose veins. Results from one comparative trial indicate that horse chestnut treatment reduces vein swelling as much as compression therapy with elastic stockings.
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, this one involving women with pregnancy-induced varicose veins, researchers noted a significant reduction in leg volume after administering horse chestnut treatment for two weeks. A study published in 1996 involving more than 800 German doctors and more than 5,000 patients with chronic venous insufficiency found that horse chestnut extract improved symptoms markedly. Researchers concluded it is an economical, therapeutic tool that offers better results than compression therapy.
I prescribe horse chestnut extract for the symptoms of varicose veins, including leg ulcers. But I also recommend it for any condition associated with localized edema or pressure, such as hemorrhoids, carpal tunnel syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and trigeminal neuralgia-a condition characterized by intense pain in various areas of the face. (For trigeminal neuralgia, horse chestnut extract should be combined with St. John’s wort.)
I usually combine horse chestnut with butcher’s broom, another great herb for veins, and with Ginkgo biloba extract. I find this combination especially successful in treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins. I have also witnessed a number of cases where it alleviated restless leg syndrome when all other treatments had failed. Don’t be mistaken, horse chestnut is not a cure-all, and it will not reverse existing varicose veins. But it can reduce the severity of symptoms and stop the development of leg ulcers, which often result from the compromised circulation varicose veins cause. Most important of all, this simple, natural treatment can help patients live more normal, comfortable lives.