In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Daniel Gagnon responded for this issue.
My sister-in-law has varicose veins, which she got while pregnant. I’d like to know if there are herbs to assist her with this problem.
Both pregnancy and chronic constipation can lead to persistent increases in the pressure inside the superficial veins of the legs and rectal area. This pressure stretches out the walls of these veins and damages their valves, thus creating varicosities or hemorrhoids. While it is difficult to completely reverse this kind of damage, there are several supplements I have found useful, either alone or in combination:
• Proanthocyanidins are a group of plant flavonoids extracted from grape seeds, pine bark, and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). In addition to being potent antioxidants, they increase the strength and tone of blood vessel walls by enhancing collagen cross-linkage. A typical dose is 50 to 150 mg daily.
• Collinsonia root (Collinsonia canadensis)—a traditional remedy for hemorrhoids—probably works by a mechanism similar to proanthocyanidins. I usually prescribe 1 to 2 droppersful of tincture daily for two or three months.
• Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) contains a variety of compounds that have been shown in many studies to improve venous insufficiency and varicose veins by strengthening connective tissue. The standardized solid extract is the most potent form; it is used in a dose of 60 to 120 mg daily.
• Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) is a kind of lily with a long history of use for venous problems; it acts as a vasoconstrictor. In addition to oral preparations, it is available as a cream which can be applied two or three times a day.
It is common for pregnant women to develop varicose veins from carrying the extra weight of a child. Varicose veins (veins which lose their muscle tone) can occur from pressure on the pelvis in the latter part of pregnancy. When undue pressure is put on the veins, valves that control the blood flow toward the heart can collapse, causing the blood to pool and veins to distend.
Herbs that can help varicose veins include butcher’s broom, as well as horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Butcher’s broom constricts the smooth muscles of the walls of distended blood vessels. This action rapidly decreases blood pooling and increases blood flow back to the heart and through the veins. Butcher’s broom also is used to prevent thrombosis, thrombophlebitis, heavy feeling in the legs, calf cramping, edema, and hemorrhoids. Horse chestnut contains bioflavonoids that strengthen the capillaries and veins and prevent blood from stagnating. It also increases blood circulation and especially assists blood flow back to the heart. Horse chestnut can also be taken to treat nighttime muscle cramps.
Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center, co-author of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, and an advisory board member for the Herb Research Foundation.
Daniel Gagnon is a medical herbalist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, vice-chairman of the American Herbal Products Association, and owner of an herbal retail store in Santa Fe.
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.