Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the health benefits of  horse chestnut

This key herb is used to treat varicose vein as it contains aescin which is responsible for taking inflammation out of the veins, stopping them itching and looking swollen.

Varicose veins and purple thread veins can make us feel uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. Some people are concerned that their varicose veins are unsightly and this causes them to avoid showing off their legs in summer. In other cases, the veins are not just visible, but they are painful, causing itching, swelling and a heavy, ache in the legs. Left untreated they can lead to complications like eczema, sore, discoloured skin and even ulcers.

So why do we get varicose veins?

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Varicose veins are a sign that the blood vessels have weakened. Gravity is a powerful force to contend with, so our veins must remain strong in order to work against it, channelling blood back towards the heart. Veins are filled with small valves that open and close, sending blood upwards section by section. If these valves become weak, blood leaks from one section and gathers in the section below, causing this part of the vein to swell and enlarge until it is visible through the skin.

Horse chesnut

If this damage is widespread, the feet and/or ankles may become swollen as gravity wins the battle and drags fluid downwards. As fluid is pulled downwards your legs will start to feel heavy, tired and achy.

To help your veins, keep your legs up while sitting down and try to avoid standing for long stretches of time. Use a couple of pillows under your feet at night to make gravity work for your veins rather than against them. Working your muscles stimulates blood flow back up the legs so try to move about and take breaks from prolonged periods of sitting.

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The key herb I recommend for varicose veins is horse chestnut. Horse chestnut contains aescin. Studies have found that it may be aescin that is responsible for taking inflammation out of the veins, stopping them itching and looking swollen.

Aescin has also been shown to help protect and repair the walls of the blood vessels, encouraging toning and healing to improve blood flow back up the leg.

Horse Chestnut can be taken as a herbal medicine or it can be used topically on the affected area. The gel is wonderful for people who are already on lots of medication and are trying to avoid adding tablets to their regime.

The gel is marketed for ‘tired heavy legs’, but we recently tried it on a lady whose legs were prone to swelling. She had been offered a water pill by her doctor but hadn’t got on well with the medication previously, so this time she wanted to try something different.

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She admitted to feeling a heavy, dragging sensation in her legs, but was more concerned with the swelling rather than the discomfort. After suggesting she try a horse chestnut gel she returned after a few weeks to report a marked improvement. Her swelling in the legs had reduced considerably and the discomfort she had felt was gone.

While the gel is useful, there are certain places you can’t use it.

Weak veins in the legs cause the problems I’ve already discussed, but weak veins internally can cause haemorrhoids (piles) which can make toilet trips very uncomfortable. If you suffer with piles, ensure you consume plenty of water and fibre. This helps keep stools soft and easy to pass, as constipation is nobody’s friend.

A recent visit to my practice was made by a lady who wished to ask advice for her rather embarrassed franddaughter. The young lady was having such pain on using the bathroom that she had to bite down on a towel to be able to bear it.

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Too embarrassed to ask for help herself, Grandma came to the rescue and went away with horse chestnut tablets. Within two weeks grandma was back for another pot, as the young lady had been so delighted with the results, she wanted an extra bottle as back up in case she ran out. She was pain free and passing stool much more comfortably.

Veins age as we age, so if you have a weakness in this area, it can be a good idea to look after them, to preserve their long-term health. With healthier veins, comes healthier circulation and healthier looking legs for the summer months.

For more information on these or other issues, or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.