Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how calendula helps to ease skin problems
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Last week I spoke about varicose veins and how they can be painful, itchy and cause
embarrassment when getting our legs out in the summer sun. I thought I’d follow on from that today by talking about stasis eczema, a condition linked to poor circulation that causes
eczema in the ankles, feet and lower legs.
The word ‘stasis’ denotes a period of inactivity and in stasis eczema, it refers to the stagnation of fluid that should otherwise circulate freely around the body. This fluid build-up prevents proper healing of the area, limiting the clearance of unwanted metabolites. As a consequence, the skin becomes inflamed, sore, dry and itchy.
Stasis eczema is also called gravitational dermatitis or venous eczema. Venous eczema because it is often experienced by those with varicose veins, and gravitational dermatitis because it is gravity that works against our circulation to pull fluid back down into the legs.
If you visit your GP with stasis eczema, you might be offered moisturisers and emollients, that help to hydrate the skin. If the problem is particularly bad, you could be given a steroid cream to deal with the inflammation.
If the affected skin is on the ankles or lower limbs, your GP may recommend compression stockings, to help promote blood flow back up the legs and get your circulation moving again. In severe cases, linked to varicose veins, you may be offered surgery to deal with the weakened vein.
As a herbalist, I find that while topical treatments ease the symptoms, I prefer to deal with and manage the underlying cause.
Veins weaken naturally as we age, but this process can be accelerated by standing for long periods of time and by consuming a diet low in coloured fruit and vegetables.
Veins push the blood back up the legs and towards the heart with use of tiny valves. When these valves fail, blood pools in the vein, causing it to swell and stretch. This can put further weight of the section of the vein below leading to fluid gathering in the ankles and lower limbs.
In the case of varicose veins, this can be obvious as the veins showing up as swollen and purple – they may even stand out from the leg. You do not need to have obvious and severe varicose veins to suffer with gravitational eczema, but the two often go hand-in-hand.
As the veins swell, the gaps in the vein walls become larger and fluid leaks into the surrounding areas. This fluid can cause the nearby skin to become discoloured, scaly and itchy. The discolouration can become permanent, along with tiny white scars and thickened skin. If severe, stasis eczema in the ankles can lead to ulcers that are stubborn to heal.
When using herbal medicine and taking a holistic approach to stasis eczema, it’s essential to address the circulation of fluid that is underneath the skin, rather than just applying topical creams to ease the discomfort.
Last week I spoke about how horse chestnut can strengthen the integrity of the veins and promote the flow of blood back up the leg. In stasis eczema, I combine it with calendula.
Calendula is healing and anti-inflammatory to the skin tissue. In herbal medicine, it’s known as a lymphatic.
The lymphatic system manages fluid that leaks from the veins, collecting it up and returning it to the rest of the body. I use lymphatic herbs in any instance of swelling, especially in the feet or ankles, to help mop up and move the stagnant fluid that causes the discolouration and flakiness of the skin.
Working on unwanted fluid in this way helps to deal with the direct cause of stasis eczema and supports the health of your circulation as a whole.
In addition to using calendula as a remedy, it’s important for you to stay mobile if possible, since movement of the leg muscles assists the veins and lymph system in moving fluid and blood back up the leg.
Meanwhile, a diet high in coloured vegetables and fruit will provide the body with nutrients essential to vein health and elevating the legs when resting makes gravity work in your favour. Healthy circulation means healthy skin.
l For more information on this topic, or to book an appointment, contact Nicola at Health and Herbs on 01524 413733.