How Good Are Your Legs?
Are they smooth and beautiful or are they criss-crossed with unsightly veins?
Do the veins bulge?
Do you end the day with puffy ankles that detract from the perfect leg silhouette?
Not only can unsightly veins make your legs look unappealing, they may also be a symptom of varicose veins.
Symptoms of vein weakness:
- Tired, heavy legs
- Swollen ankles and oedema
- Cramps in the calf
- Itching in the lower legs
The veins are in charge of returning blood to the heart and lungs, to be refilled with oxygen to carry around the body. When the veins are weak and unhealthy, circulation is poor, oxygen supplies are interrupted, and skin becomes rough and heals slowly.
If you work at a sedentary job or are standing for long periods, if you are overweight, if you are or have been pregnant, if you habitually wear tight clothes or high heels, or if your parents had poor vein health, then you may be at risk of vein problems.
Tips for healthy veins
- Veins need daily movement: walking, cycling or swimming are all good choices, or even something gentler such as yoga
- Make sure you breathe deeply and get enough oxygen into the bloodstream
- Give your legs a cold shower to exercise the vessels
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes, especially when on your feet for long periods
- Avoid fierce heat in hot baths, saunas and long periods of sunbathing
If you do not have time for a sporting activity, simple gymnastic exercises help to keep blood vessels fit and elastic. Here are some suggestions but do not overstrain yourself!
Vein exercise 1: Stand up straight. Stand on tiptoes and then rest feet back on ground. Repeat 10 times.
Vein exercise 2: Simulate a stork treading water but on dry land. First lift your right leg at a right angle to your body, toes pointing downwards. Bring your heel smartly down onto the floor and change to the left foot. Repeat 1 to 20 times.
Vein exercise 3: Sit on a chair. Put the soles of both feet on the floor, hands on thighs or by your sides. Either individually or together, place feet on point of toes in order to work the calves.
Vein exercise 4: Lie on your back on the floor with your hands under your buttocks or out to the sides. Lift one leg up to the vertical, keeping it straight. Hold it for as long as you can, then lower and repeat with the other leg. After doing any of these or other exercises involving the large muscles of the lower body, following a long walk or if you have been standing for a long period of time, you should consider elevating your legs 15 to 30cm (6” to 12”) above your heart for a few minutes.
A Cochrane review evaluated the evidence from rigorous clinical trials assessing the efficacy and safety of oral horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE) versus placebo. Overall, the placebo-controlled trials suggested an improvement in chronic venous insufficiency-related signs and symptoms. Meta-analysis of four trials suggested a significant reduction in favour of HCSE compared with placebo. Reference: Pittler MH et al. Cochrane Review in: The Cochrane Library, Issue 1, 2002.
Aesculus, the Horse Chestnut tree
Aesculus, the Horse Chestnut tree, was introduced to Britain sometime around the 1600s, from its original home in Turkey and the Balkan States. Its eventual spread was probably partly due to its popularity with landscape designers, who used them extensively when planting up the grounds of stately homes. As they are very resistant to atmospheric pollution, they do well on road verges and in city parks.
The trees were planted for their ornamental value. The wood is too light and soft to be much in demand, although it was used to make artificial limbs at one point. The wood doesn’t burn well either, which may have contributed to the survival of many large and aged specimens of Aesculus.
The fruit, the conkers that we all recognise, have at various times been used as cattle feed, as well as furnishing children with ammunition for conker battles. Some creatures, though, find the saponins contained in conkers quite toxic: hunting tribes have traditionally used them to stupefy fish and make them easier to catch!
European herbalists have a long-standing tradition of using extracts of Horse Chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) for various venous conditions. Herbal help for the symptoms