How to prevent and treat varicose veins

Going with the Flow

Varicose veins are caused by a variety of factors: genetic inclination, standing occupations, obesity, or multiple pregnancies.

Whatever the root cause, inactivity of a specific protein may play a key role in varicose vein development, according to a study from the University of Nantes in France.

Getting active

When the Nantes team examined veins in 36 healthy male subjects and 50 male subjects with varicose veins, they found a link between varicosis and inactivity of a protein called matrix GLA protein (MGP). And because MGP is properly activated only when vitamin K levels are adequate, researchers theorize that adequate intake of the vitamin may be a key factor in the prevention of varicose veins.

The importance of vitamin K intake for circulatory health is already well known. In his Nutrition & Healing newsletter, Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., has noted that supplementing with K is a good idea if there’s a family history of arteriosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). Dr. Wright recommends 5 to 15 mg of vitamin K per day – considerably higher than the recommended daily allowance.

Most of our vitamin K intake comes in the form of K1, which is found in dark, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, olive oil, whole wheat, butter, and green tea. Vitamin K1 is converted into K2 in the intestine, but we get some amount of K2 directly from meat, liver, egg yolk, and fermented products such as yogurt and cheese. The synthetic form of vitamin K – known as K3 – may cause liver toxicity in high doses and should be avoided.

In a previous e-Alert, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., noted that patients using coumadin (a blood thinner) should be aware that vitamin K supplementation might interfere with the drug’s effect.

Beyond prevention

When an HSI member posted a note about the Nantes study in the Healthier Talk community forums, another member named Scorpiotiger responded with this varicose veins question: “What I want to know is how to reverse them once you have them.”

Good question. Patients who have already developed the condition may benefit from extra vitamin K, as well as these additional therapies:

This extract of French maritime pine bark contains polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to promote proper blood flow. In a study of 100 varicose vein patients, 15 mg of Pycnogenol taken daily significantly reduced nightly calf muscle cramps in 40 percent of the subjects.

Horse chestnut
Dr. Wright recommends extract of horse chestnut seed, which has been shown to be effective in reducing swelling and discomfort in patients with circulatory problems associated with varicose veins.

Known to help strengthen fragile blood capillaries, clinical studies have shown bilberry extract to be effective in reducing numbness, prickling, and burning sensations in the legs of patients with varicose veins.

This anti-inflammatory enzyme (extracted from the body of silkworms) was tested by Italian researchers on 20 patients with varicose veins. After 14 days, pain was reduced in 63 percent of the subjects, while more than half reported a reduction in fluid buildup, abnormal skin redness, and nighttime cramps.

Talk to your doctor before adding any new supplement to your daily regimen.

“Identification of Differentially Expressed Genes in Human Varicose Veins: Involvement of Matrix Gla Protein in Extracellular Matrix Remodeling” Journal of Vascular Research, Vol. 44, published online 7/20/07,
“Vitamin K Linked to Fewer Varicose Veins, Better Vascular Health” Stephen Daniells, NutraIngredients-USA, 8/23/07,