This Relief Has Legs

This Relief Has Legs

About one in four women develop varicose veins. Men get a break on this one: only about 15 percent develop this condition. And while there’s no avoiding the fact that varicose veins can be unsightly and embarrassing, more importantly, varicose veins are sometimes painful, often uncomfortable, and should be viewed as a warning that other circulatory problems might be looming.

There’s no single cause of varicose veins. Some people are genetically inclined to the condition, while others may develop the telltale swelling from standing occupations, crossing their legs often, obesity, or multiple pregnancies. Whatever the root cause, inactivity of a protein known as the matrix GLA protein (MGP) may play a key role in varicose veins development, according to a new study from the University of Nantes in France. But it appears that MGP inactivity may be avoided with adequate intake of a vitamin that’s critical for circulatory health.

Getting active

MGP is an important factor in maintaining the health of arterial vessel walls, so the entire cardiovascular system can be considered at risk when MGP is inactive.

The Nantes team examined healthy veins in 36 male subjects. When they compared the findings to an examination of varicose veins in 50 male subjects, they confirmed the link between varicosis and MGP inactivity. And because MGP is properly activated only when vitamin K levels are adequate, researchers theorize that optimal intake of the vitamin is vital to prevention of varicose veins and to circulatory health in general.

In an additional laboratory study conducted by the Nantes researchers, the mineralization process that prompts varicosis was inhibited when vitamin K was added to varicose smooth muscle cell cultures.

While further research is needed to confirm MGP/vitamin K mechanism in the development 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.

Almost all of our intake of vitamin K comes in the form of K1, which is mostly 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

Patients who have already developed varicose veins may benefit from extra vitamin K, as well as these additional therapies:

  • Pycnogenol
    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.
  • Bilberry
    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.
  • Serrapeptase
    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.

As always, 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,