“What can you do to stop my varicose veins?”
I’ve heard this question repeatedly over the years. And I have never liked hearing it.
That’s because I’ve never been able to find any remedy of any kind that will reduce, much less eliminate, varicose veins.
Now there’s some research that gives me a little hope.
Approximately one in every 10 people in the Western nations have varicose veins. In the U.S., more than 30% of those between the ages of 60 to 70 have them. They are four times more common in women than in men.
We still don’t know the exact cause of varicose veins. But some of the most common treatments just don’t work – even the herbal treatments that are commonly recommended.
The most common natural remedies include horse chestnut, gotu kola, gingko, hawthorn, and bilberry. Horse chestnut contains a compound called aescin. Aescin is said to block the release of enzymes that damage capillary walls.
Another natural treatment called butcher’s broom contains ruscogenins. These plant compounds are said to strengthen collagen in blood vessel walls, possibly tightening weak, stretched veins. And it’s said their plant chemicals can strengthen vein collagen.
But here’s the problem: They don’t work.
I’ve tried using horse chestnut extracts, various bioflavonoids, and PCOs (proanthocyanidins). But the hard truth is that they don’t work. And there’s very little support for their efficacy in the literature. So I stopped using them altogether.
Some of my patients have asked about vein stripping. I would not consider it. It’s far too invasive. There are other techniques that combine laser energy with vein injections of sclerosing substances that can provide a permanent fix. But again, I don’t recommend this. This treatment permanently destroys the veins.
So what can you do?
An article published a few years ago offers some new insight. The authors say there’s strong evidence that a vitamin deficiency may be the culprit.
The Deficiency That Leads to Vein Problems
The researchers compared samples of healthy human veins and to varicose veins. They wanted to identify any differences between the smooth muscle cells in the walls of varicose veins and those of healthy veins. Veins become distended and varicose when the smooth muscle cells of healthy veins fail.
What the researchers found involved a protein known as matrix GLA protein, or MGP for short. MGP prevents the smooth muscle cells from soaking up too many minerals, especially calcium.
This is important, because excessive mineralization of the smooth muscle cells is one of the factors that causes them to fail. The researchers found that MGP is much less active in varicose veins than in normal veins.
And here’s where the vitamin deficiency comes in.
Vitamin K is necessary to activate MGP. When veins don’t have enough vitamin K, the MGP in them becomes less active. As a result, the smooth muscle cells in those veins become saturated in minerals. The result is varicose veins.
That’s why an adequate dietary intake of vitamin K is necessary to prevent them. We get almost all of our vitamin K from leafy green vegetables and four vegetable oils: soybean, cottonseed, canola, and olive.
Most people don’t think about vitamin K when it comes to protecting their health. But vitamin K is a vital nutrient.
If you don’t have enough vitamin K in your body, you substantially increase your risk of getting some serious diseases. These include cancer (such as breast, colon, liver, and stomach), and osteoporosis (it reduces calcium loss in your bones).
Vitamin K deficiency can also cause atherosclerosis and heart disease.
The benefits of vitamin K for cardiovascular health are well known. A study called the “Rotterdam Study” looked at 4,807 people over a 10-year period. The study found that increased intake of vitamin K reduced the risk of coronary artery disease mortality by 50% as compared to a low dietary intake. That’s because vitamin K prevents arteries from calcifying.
So do we get enough vitamin K?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin K is 1 microgram per kilogram of body weight. But a 1998 study showed that one-third to one-half of all adults do not get this much vitamin K in their diets. And don’t forget that RDAs represent the absolute minimal amount that’s necessary to prevent an overt deficiency disease. It’s not the amount needed to prevent varicose veins.
Five Substances That Can Cause a Vitamin K Deficiency
Vitamin K deficient diets are very common – about as common statistically as varicose veins. And here’s the problem, you could eat all the green leafy vegetables you can and still be deficient. That’s because there are five common substances that can keep you from getting enough vitamin K.
Fat-Blocking Drugs – This is the most common chemical cause of vitamin K deficiency. Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, these medications interfere with its absorption. And they cause a deficiency. Common fat-blocking drugs include many of those used to lower cholesterol.
It also includes the non-prescription weight-loss drug orlistat, which you can find in Alli.
Olestra – The second chemical is the fat substitute Olestra. Olestra also goes by the name Olean. No matter what you call it, Olestra is a wonderful example of how crazy the world is getting. Olestra is an “artificial fat.” In other words, it is a non-food molecule that contains no nutritive value at all. Although it’s fat soluble, your body cannot absorb it. The intestines don’t have an enzyme capable of digesting it. And, since it tastes like fat, you can enjoy your “fat” without gaining weight. The FDA approved it as a fat substitute in 1996 and it was popular on Oreos, chips, and other junk “foods” that are supposed to make you thin.
The problem with Olestra is that it’s able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin K. Because your body can’t absorb Olestra, it also won’t absorb these vitamins. The result is multiple fat-soluble deficiencies — and all of the health problems that go with them.
Fortunately, there aren’t that many foods available with Olestra in them anymore, but you’ll still find them in some chips. Stay away. If you ate a lot of Olestra, it could be the reason you have varicose veins, or at least contributed to it.
Chitosan – It’s not just drugs and man-made chemicals that cause vitamin K deficiencies. The natural fat blocker chitosan also blocks your body’s absorption of the vitamin.
Chitosan comes from chitin, which comes from mushrooms and many sea creatures. It protects tissues and helps their resistance to invaders. Many people take chitosan to lose weight or to lower their cholesterol. It works by inhibiting fat absorption. So it may lead to vitamin K deficiency.
Antibiotics – There are some antibiotics that cause the body to produce less of its own vitamin K. And still other antibiotics can cause vitamin K to become less effective in the body.
If you’re taking any of these products, ask your doctor to check your vitamin K level. If it’s low, consider getting off the fat-blocking products. Also make sure you’re eating vitamin K-rich foods, such as most vegetables, oils, eggs, and legumes. God made these foods. Be sure to eat them instead of the new miracle foods created by Madison Avenue.
Vitamin D – it is important to get your blood level of vitamin D above 50 ng/ml. But, to do that, many of us will need to take more than 3,000 units of vitamin D per day. And, here’s the problem. Large doses of vitamin D require large doses of vitamin K. If you need to take more than 3,000 units, make sure that you take 15 mg of vitamin K2 for every 5,000 units of vitamin D.
Why You Should Take a Vitamin K Supplement – Even if You Don’t Have Varicose Veins
If you have varicose veins, it’s very possible your veins don’t have enough vitamin K to activate all of the MGP. It’s also possible that taking a vitamin K supplement could restore the activity. This could prevent your condition from becoming worse. And if you don’t have varicose veins, regular supplementation just might prevent them in the first place.
So why not take a regular supplement of vitamin K just to be sure? A good way to make sure you’re getting enough is to take 15 mg of vitamin K2 (K1 and K3 are not nearly as biologically effective as K2), two to three times per week. You can find K2 at most health food stores.
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