Venous insufficiency is a common condition where the veins in the legs do not efficiently pump blood back to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the veins, leading to symptoms like achy, heavy legs, varicose veins, leg swelling, and skin changes. While venous insufficiency often progresses over time, there are many natural methods that can help strengthen veins and reduce symptoms. With a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, supplements, and herbal remedies, it is possible to significantly improve venous circulation and function.
What causes venous insufficiency?
Venous insufficiency is usually caused by defective valves inside the leg veins. Healthy veins have a series of one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards. When these valves become damaged or start to leak, blood pools in the veins which strains the vein walls. Common causes and risk factors for faulty valves and venous insufficiency include:
- Older age
- Prolonged sitting or standing
- Vein thrombosis
- Varicose veins
- Leg injury
- Family history
Over time, the constant excessive pressure in the veins causes them to stretch out and become warped. The damaged valves lose their ability to function properly. Without working valves, gravity causes blood to pool in the veins, leading to the characteristic signs and symptoms.
Signs and symptoms
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of venous insufficiency include:
- Aching, heavy, tired legs – Heaviness, tiredness, and aching are some of the first symptoms, especially after prolonged standing or sitting.
- Night cramps – Painful muscle cramps in the calves and feet that occur at night are common.
- Swelling – Fluid buildup leads to swelling around the ankles and lower legs.
- Varicose veins – Ropey, bulging superficial veins become twisted.
- Itching and burning – Itchy skin and a burning sensation are often reported.
- Restless legs – An overwhelming urge to move the legs due to sensations of crawling, itching, tingling, or burning.
- Skin discoloration – Reddish-blue mottling around the ankles.
- Skin thickening – The skin can thicken and harden on the lower legs and ankles.
- Leg ulcers – Open sores due to the buildup of fluid and increased pressure.
Symptoms are often worse after long periods of standing or sitting, and tend to improve a bit with rest and leg elevation. Without treatment, symptoms generally worsen progressively over time.
Natural remedies for venous insufficiency
While compression stockings are often used as a standard treatment for venous insufficiency, many people are seeking out natural methods for symptom relief. Here are some of the top natural remedies:
Getting regular physical activity is important for strengthening the leg muscles which help pump blood back to the heart. Activities like walking, jogging, biking, and swimming can all improve circulation. Avoid being sedentary for long periods. Take breaks to get up and move around if you have a desk job. Simple leg exercises, such as heel raises, leg lifts, and wall push-offs can also help tone the calf and leg muscles. Yoga poses that elevate the legs, such as downward dog, leg-up-the-wall, and supported shoulder stand, are recommended.
Using graduated compression stockings helps push blood out of the legs. Compression socks and stockings are ranked according to how much pressure they provide. Your doctor can recommend the level of compression that’s right for your veins. Ankle pumping exercises and elevating your legs periodically through the day also reduces pooling of blood in the legs.
Eating a diet focused on whole foods and low in processed, high-sodium foods can help reduce swelling. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Increase consumption of foods rich in circulatory-boosting nutrients such as flavanoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Examples include colorful fruits and veggies, tomato juice, nuts, olive oil, citrus, berries, kale, and broccoli. Avoid excessive salt and sugar which can lead to fluid retention. Losing weight if overweight can also take pressure off your veins.
Horse chestnut seed extract
Supplements containing horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE) have shown promise for improving venous insufficiency symptoms. Horse chestnut contains a compound called aescin which helps strengthen veins and reduce swelling. Several studies have found it decreases leg pain and comfort. The usual dose is 300 mg once or twice per day. Side effects are rare but can include dizziness, headache, itching, and upset stomach.
|RCT of HCSE (300 mg/day) for 6 months||240 people with chronic venous insufficiency||Leg pain decreased by up to 54%. Leg volume and ankle circumference decreased compared to placebo group.|
|Meta-analysis of HCSE trials||1513 people with venous insufficiency||Significant improvements in leg swelling, heaviness, pain, cramps, itching, tingling, and burning sensations compared to placebo.|
Butcher’s broom contains compounds called ruscogenins which are known to constrict veins. This helps valves work more efficiently. Research indicates butcher’s broom can relieve swelling, leg cramps, heaviness, and discomfort. The common dosage is 100 mg twice per day. Mild side effects include nausea and headache. Butcher’s broom may increase blood pressure, so people with hypertension should consult their doctor first.
Gotu kola is an herb used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine to treat circulatory issues. The compounds asiaticoside and madecassoside appear to help strengthen veins and enhance circulation. Studies suggest gotu kola extracts can reduce leg swelling, ankle size, and leg heaviness, especially when combined with compression stockings. Usual dosage is 60-180 mg of extract daily. Side effects are rare but may include nausea, dizziness, and headache.
Plant-derived bioflavonoids like diosmin, hesperidin, and rutin strengthen blood vessels. They also have anti-inflammatory effects that may decrease swelling. Diosmin (1,000 mg/day) improved heaviness, pain, cramping, and quality of life in several venous insufficiency trials. Combining different bioflavonoids, like hesperidin and rutin, may enhance effectiveness. Side effects are minimal but can include headache and nausea.
|RCT of diosmin (1,000 mg/day) for 4 months||87 people with leg ulcers||Leg pain reduced by 47%. Leg heaviness reduced by 45%. 47% of ulcers healed completely compared to 18% of placebo ulcers.|
|Meta-analysis of diosmin trials||903 people with chronic venous insufficiency||Symptoms of pain, cramping, itching, heaviness, and paresthesia significantly improved compared to placebo. Lower limb volume was reduced.|
Maritime pine bark extract
Extract from the bark of the maritime pine tree (Pycnogenol) contains proanthocyanidins that have circulatory benefits. Studies show maritime pine bark extract reduces swelling, varicose veins, leg pain, and sensations of heaviness and cramping in people with venous insufficiency. Usual dosage is 100-200 mg daily. Mild side effects include dizziness, gut issues, and headache.
Enjoying teas made with herbs that improve circulation can help venous insufficiency. Options include basil, ginger, turmeric, chamomile, hibiscus, peppermint, witch hazel, and lemon balm. The bioflavonoids in teas may enhance venous strength while their hydrating properties reduce fluid retention. Caffeine-free herbal teas are best.
Keeping your legs elevated periodically throughout the day uses gravity to improve drainage of blood from the legs. Lie down and raise your legs above heart level for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per day. You can place pillows under your ankles or sit in a recliner and use an ottoman. Try not to cross your legs when sitting.
Avoid high heels and tight clothing
Wearing high heels and narrow pants or shapewear can restrict blood flow in the legs and make venous insufficiency worse. Stick to low-heeled comfortable shoes and loose-fitting clothing around the waist and legs. Knee-high compression stockings are recommended because they don’t constrict the thighs.
Taking a cool shower or bath, swimming in a cool pool, or sitting with your legs in a cold footbath can provide relief from achiness and swelling. The cool temperature helps numb nerve fibers and constrict blood vessels to reduce swelling. Alternating cool water treatments with warm water can boost circulation.
Gentle massage helps move blood along in the leg veins and reduce swelling. Massage upward from the foot and ankle toward the thighs using light squeezing or circular motions. Be very cautious massaging varicose veins. Essential oils like cypress, grapefruit, lemon, and ginger can be added to massage oil to further stimulate circulation.
Some clinical research indicates acupuncture may decrease leg swelling and improve Quality of life in people with venous insufficiency. Acupuncture points on the legs, feet and ankles are selected to increase blood flow. Electroacupuncture, applying small electric pulses to the needles, is often used for circulatory issues.
Raise the foot of your bed
Elevating the foot of your bed a few inches or sleeping with a wedge pillow shifts your legs into an angled decline position. This lets gravity work while you sleep to drain blood from the legs back toward the heart. It may help reduce nighttime leg swelling and rest cramps.
Pneumatic compression devices
Pneumatic compression pumps are devices that wrap around the foot and calf to gently squeeze and release in a massaging pattern. This mimics the natural pumping action of leg muscles to empty venous blood out of the legs. Compression pumps may help prevent leg swelling after surgery or long periods of inactivity. Using them for short periods, 1-2 times per day, promotes venous circulation.
Apple cider vinegar
Some find rinsing the legs with diluted apple cider vinegar helpful for symptoms. Apple cider vinegar contains minerals that may help veins contract and reduce swelling and heaviness. Add a cup of apple cider vinegar to a tub of warm water and soak legs for 15 minutes. Afterward, pat dry skin and apply moisturizer.
When to see your doctor
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you experience persistent signs of venous insufficiency like leg swelling, achiness, varicose veins, and skin changes. Your doctor can run tests to evaluate the cause and severity of your venous disorder. Sometimes vein imaging or ultrasound is recommended. Compression stockings will likely be recommended. For severe venous insufficiency, vascular surgery or ablation procedures are options to eliminate damaged veins. Monitoring for complications like leg ulcers or blood clots is important. Always seek urgent medical care if you suddenly develop leg pain, warmth, and swelling as this could indicate a blood clot.
The bottom line
Venous insufficiency has a tendency to progress over time if left untreated. But making lifestyle modifications and using certain natural remedies can help strengthen vein walls, improve valve function, and reduce aggravating symptoms. Combining approaches such as:
- Daily exercise
- Leg elevation
- Compression stockings
- Supportive shoes
- Venous-toning herbal supplements
- Healthy circulation-boosting diet
Can make a significant difference in managing venous insufficiency. Certain supplements in particular like horse chestnut seed extract, butcher’s broom, and diosmin have moderate to strong clinical evidence backing their efficacy. While valves and veins damaged by venous insufficiency can’t be restored completely, diligently adhering to natural therapies often results in a noticeable reversal of bothersome symptoms, less progression, and improved leg function and comfort.