Ask the Expert: Varicose Veins
Vaidya Manohar, our ayurvedic expert from India, is our featured health practitioner this month. Here he explains the cause and treatment of varicose veins, which occur in one out of two people over age 50, mostly in women.
Q: After pregnancy I started to develop varicose veins, and I wonder if there's any way to keep them from getting worse.
Vaidya Manohar: Varicose veins are primarily a Vata disorder, caused by an imbalance inVyana Vata, which creates increased pressure that affects the valves and elasticity of the veins.
Vata is characteristically dry, moving, and rough, and is the mind-body operator (dosha) that governs movement in the body, including the movement of the blood through the arteries and veins.
In fact, Vyana Vata, one of the subdoshas of Vata, is responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body's cells through the arteries. It also governs the flow of oxygen-poor blood from the body's cells back to the heart through the veins.
To push blood back to the heart, the veins rely mainly on surrounding muscles and a network of one-way valves. As blood flows through a vein, the cuplike valves alternately open to allow blood through, then close to prevent the blood from flowing backwards.
When Vyana Vata is out of balance, excessive dryness results in hardening and loss of elasticity of the valves and the veins. At the same time, an increase in blood pressure dilates the vein, and the valves no longer seal properly, making it difficult for the muscles to push the blood back to the heart. Instead of flowing from one valve to the next, blood collects in the superficial veins of the legs, which have less muscular support than the deep veins. The result is varicose veins just beneath the surface of the skin.
As a secondary factor, once the blood has accumulated in the veins, an imbalance in Ranjaka Pitta can lead to ulcers in the varicose veins. Pitta dosha is hot and sharp by nature and governs metabolic and hormonal functioning. One of the subdoshas of Pitta, called Ranjaka Pitta, maintains the purity of the blood. Ranjaka Pitta resides in the liver and the spleen and is responsible for blood composition and the distribution of nutrients to cells and tissues through the blood. If Ranjaka Pitta is out of balance, the blood can become impure, or to describe it another way, it becomes mixed with digestive toxins, thick and sluggish, thus contributing to ulcers in varicose veins. Please consult your physician if you notice the appearance of ulcers.
So varicose veins are primarily caused by poor circulation (as governed by Vyana Vata) and its secondary complications such as ulcers are caused by impurities in the blood (as governed by Ranjaka Pitta).
In addition, any condition that puts excessive pressure on the legs or abdomen can cause varicose veins, such as standing for long periods of time, hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, heavy lifting, chronic constipation, tumors, excessive physical activity that puts pressure on the legs, and aging. Dietary deficiencies or loss of skin elasticity can also contribute to the problem.
Q: What causes Vyana Vata and Ranjaka Pitta to go out of balance in the first place?
Vaidya Manohar: This is a very good question. In ayurveda, most disturbances start with faulty digestion. Many factors, such as lifestyle, emotional stress, and eating the wrong foods for your body type or season, can cause the doshas to go out of balance.
Whenever the doshas are out of balance, they soon disturb digestion, with the result that food cannot be properly digested. The undigested food turns into the toxic sticky substance called ama. Ama is the root cause of many diseases.
Q: Are there dietary recommendations from Maharishi Ayurveda for correcting this imbalance?
Vaidya Manohar: In general, it's best to follow a Vata-Pitta balancing diet. Especially during the Vata season (winter), you should eat foods that balance the dry, fast-moving, irregular Vata dosha.
To help balance Vata, you'll want to eat foods that are cooked, warm, and unctuous (meaning that they have a small amount of good fats such as ghee and olive oil). Eat foods that are predominantly sweet, such as whole grains, light dairy products and sweet fruits, as this balances both Vata and Pitta dosha. Also favor moderate amounts of bitter and astringent tastes (which include legumes, greens and most vegetables), as these pacify Pitta dosha. While salty foods are soothing to Vata dosha, you'll want to moderate your salt intake, because high sodium diets are associated with varicose veins. Drink Organic Calming Vata Herbal Tea and flavor your food with Organic Calming Vata Spice Mix.
One of the signs of imbalanced Vata is constipation, and straining while passing the stool can build up pressure and aggravate varicose veins. So as part of your Vata-Pitta Pacifying Diet, make sure you are getting enough fiber — at least 30 grams a day. Avoid refined carbohydrates and red meat, as these are constipating.
Eat whole grains such as millet and buckwheat, legumes, fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber and rich in vitamins which can restore health to your veins. Here are some examples:
- Blackberries and cherries help heal varicose veins.
- Vitamin A, which speeds varicose ulcer healing, is found in cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potato, winter squash and leafy greens such as collards.
- B vitamins, which help maintain strong blood vessels, are found in all seasonal fruits, lassi (yogurt drink), whole grains, lentils, pulses (legumes) and dhals.
- Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, which aid circulation, promote healing of sores and strengthen vein walls to prevent dilation, are found in melons, grapes, pomegranate, lemon, lime and other citrus fruits.
- Rutin, one of the bioflavonoids used routinely to treat varicose veins, is present in citrus fruits (especially if you nibble on the white area inside the rind), apricots, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, rose hips and buckwheat.
- Vitamin E, which helps to improve circulation, reduce susceptibility to varicose veins and relieve pain, is found in almonds and almond oil.
- Lecithin, which helps to emulsify fats and improve circulation, is found in tofu and garlic.
- Zinc, which assists with healing and collagen formation, is found in pumpkin seeds and sweet, fresh fruits.
Q: And what about lifestyle changes?
Vaidya Manohar: The irregular Vata dosha is brought into balance by keeping a regular schedule. Plan your meals at the same time every day, as then your digestive system will be more efficient and stronger. To improve circulation in all seasons, do a daily ayurvedic oil massage using Youthful Skin Massage Oil, which comes in different formulas for men and for women. These blends of jojoba and sesame oil with 15 powerful herbs help the skin, muscles and veins to regain their elasticity. A daily oil massage is an important way to balance Vyana Vata, purify toxins, and improve digestion.
Daily exercise is a must for improving circulation and reducing varicose veins. Inverted yoga poses can be especially helpful in restoring the normal flow of blood from the legs to the heart. Elevate your legs when sitting for long periods, and take frequent breaks to restore circulation. Do not stand or sit for long periods of time. If you must stand for a long time, shift your weight from one leg to the other every few minutes. If you must sit for long periods of time, stand up and move around or take a short walk every 30 minutes. Do not cross your legs when sitting to prevent blood from pooling. Avoid tight clothing that constricts your waist, groin, or legs.
Q: Are there any herbal supplements to help with varicose veins?
Vaidya Manohar: Rejuvenation for Ladies and Rejuvenation for Men are herbal food supplements that help improve circulation and help avoid the build-up of impurities in the veins. These formulas help revitalize the organs and tissues, the deterioration of which causes premature aging and can be a factor in varicose veins.
In addition, Flexcel is an herbal food supplement combining 22 ayurvedic herbs that helps with inflammation and ulcers.
Please note: This ayurvedic information is education. It does not replace medical advice or treatments.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.