QandA

Expert Answers to Your Health Questions


| November/December 2004



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Dandelion is a liver-supportive herb that can help hepatitis C sufferers.


PERK UP YOUR CIRCULATION

Maybe you can help me. I’m 75, and I think I have poor circulation. Recently, my feet started hurting like the devil. I went to the doctor, and he told me it was varicose veins and to wear support hose. It did no good. I went to another doctor who told me I had blood clots that could move up and lead to a stroke. Could you tell me what to take to improve my circulation?
A.G.
Choctaw, Arkansas

Stansbury responds: It is very important to distinguish between varicose veins and blood clots, so please return right away to your doctor to be sure. Blood clots can be life-threatening, and it is essential that your situation is being closely monitored by your health-care professional. Varicose veins develop slowly over time and start aching gradually. They are worse when you’re up and about and better when you’re lying down with your feet up. I am curious if this has developed gradually and if it is restricted to your feet. I also would like to know if you have extensive visible varicose veins, fluid in your feet and lower legs, puffiness or coldness.

Varicose veins can predispose you to clots, as blood returning to the heart (known as venous return) has an increased tendency to pool and coagulate. Clots may appear as painless lumps or thin, ropey veins — or may produce sudden pain, burning or cramping if they are large or in a large vessel. These symptoms would not necessarily occur in both feet at the same time. Clots can lead to phlebitis (inflammation of a vein) or can break free and reach the lungs or brain. Phlebitis usually is found in one spot, not both feet symmetrically, and with burning pain, tenderness to the touch and redness. If a sizable clot is present, physicians may prescribe a blood-thinning pharmaceutical drug, such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Are you on any heart medications or drugs? You want to make sure your symptoms aren’t the result of a drug side effect. Are your blood sugar and/or cholesterol levels elevated? Diabetics often have burning pain in just the feet, rather than the legs. Other conditions that can cause foot pain are arthritic problems and bone spurs, which are not usually difficult to distinguish from the pain that’s due to poor circulation.

Presuming this problem is due to your veins not being strong enough, I would recommend the following herbs: First and foremost, try horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). This herb is classic for varicose veins and is noted to reduce inflammation and the tendency to clot, and may improve the tone of vein walls. It can be used topically and internally — if I were in your situation, I would try both.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) contains colorful bioflavonoids that are used for all kinds of cardiovascular complaints, including improving the tone and elasticity of blood vessel walls. Similar colorful bioflavonoids are found in blueberries and grapes (fruit and seeds), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Bromelain, a protein-digesting substance found in pineapple, is known to reduce excessive blood clotting, reduce inflammation and inhibit the formation of scar tissue in the vessel wall, which contributes to the loss of elasticity and leads to varicose veins.





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