But no, it’s stupid old varicose veins.
The comments on that post alone are… amazing. The post was written as a description of my personal experience, as an invitation for others to experiment in their own situations, but instead it has been interpreted by many as a “magic bullet” or a “cure” or an “alternative to surgery” – well, it may be the latter for some people. I’ve been saying for years that I would update it – people have been asking for precise measurements! before and after pictures! more details! – so finally, here’s the update.
There will be no precise measurements. If there were, you would think I am offering a solution. I am offering an experiment, your mileage may vary.
There will be no before and after pictures. If there were, you would believe me, and you should never believe anything I say. No one can give you the answers. At best, I can give you something to think about, something to experiment with, something to broaden your perspective, at which point YOU may take some action, make some change, and as a result of that, your life will change. Or it won’t: if all you do is go buy some lotion and rub it on your legs, and do nothing else different in your life, the likelihood is, nothing much is going to change. Which is why no, I will not make this lotion for you, and there will be no further updates or instructions. You can experiment with some things that I have found helpful in my life, and discover for yourself whether they are helpful in yours. Maybe they will be!
There will, however, be further details about how to make changes in your life to the things that you’ve been doing that have caused your varicose veins. (Hint: you don’t have varicose veins because your parents did. You have varicose veins because you made choices in your life, many of them influenced by your parents or made by your parents for you before you had autonomy, that led to having varicose veins. You have the power to choose differently!)
Some people asked for proof, or scientific study, or wanted to know if it’s safe. You are science. Every time you cook dinner, it’s an experiment. If you decide to try some interesting thing in your own life and see how that works out for you, you are doing science. Our current medical system encourages us to think that we can’t experiment for ourselves, that we must have experts to tell us what to do. Break out of that thinking! Do some research, consult knowledgeable people, and then using all that information, try something! Try anything! See how that works out for you. Even if you have surgery for your varicose veins – that is still an experiment. It might work, it might not, but there’s nothing guaranteed. In my mother’s case, laser surgery seemed to be the right option for her situation, at the time – we’ll see how that plays out into the future. In her case, the lotion I made for her, the exercises I taught her, and the dietary suggestions I made for her, all taken together were able to drastically reduce her symptoms until she could have the surgery done. In my case, these strategies will probably mean that surgery won’t ever come into the picture for me. In my daughter’s case – I bet she won’t have varicose veins at all.
If you have varicose veins already, one of the most important things you can do is give up your dream of having legs like a person who doesn’t have varicose veins. That will never happen. Instead, learn to love your own legs. They’re pretty great! With legs, you can go anywhere! They may be veiny, but look at those veins as the record of choices you have made in your life, and choices that were made for you before you were autonomous. Look at those veins as the documentation of things you have believed. Just like stretch marks are the physical record of children we’ve carried or weight we had and lost, varicose veins are the physical record of choices you have made and experiences you have had.
In my particular case, they are the record of growing up in a household that wasn’t very interested in sports or physical activity – except if it was work. Volley ball? no. Chopping wood all afternoon, yes! And this is still true in my adult life: I would rather to do physical labor for an entire day than go to a work-out class for one hour. I find more fulfillment in physical labor, because it’s productivity, which was valued in my family culture and which I still value over taking care of my body. This is a thing that I’m working on – partially by finding excuses to do physical labor, preferably outdoors, on a regular basis – hey, if you can’t beat it, use it! And partially by walking in the woods whenever I can. And partially by trying to shift my value system to place more importance on self-care.
My varicose veins are the record of a lifetime of investment in sedentary study, and in choosing sedentary productivity over physical-labor productivity. My varicose veins are the testament to my love of tasty treats: ice cream, donuts, cocoa pebbles, cheese pringles, for so much of my life. They are witness to the truth that my body cannot handle gluten and dairy, which I consumed every day (sometimes ONLY gluten and dairy in a day!) until I was 29. My varicose veins are also the result of the realities of my family: that my mother chose sedentism over activism – in her case due to a spinal injury in her teen years. Her choices shaped my choices, and they also shaped my hormonal profile when I was in utero, and again in puberty. The latter could have been at least partially rectified in childhood, but it’s true that our mothers’ choices do stack the deck for us when we are forming. As an example, my choices in pregnancy affected the way my daughter’s baby teeth formed, without any enamel. Her adult teeth, however, came in beautifully: I made drastic across-the-board changes in our lifestyle and eating habits when she was only a couple months old. The state that she started in was not permanent, but getting out of it required that I make a huge shift in my habits. Without those changes, she would have been doomed to dental problems in her adult teeth as well.
What do your varicose veins record? What choices did you make in your life that got you here? What parts of your family culture promoted your varicose veins? As you read on, that might become more clear.
In order for us to talk about the reality of varicose veins, you’re going to need to understand how they happened. So far you’ve got “they’re not genetic”; let’s dig deeper. Varicose veins come from eating damaging foods, moving your body insufficiently or in damaging ways, sleeping insufficiently, and an abundance of furniture to support your body instead of doing it with your own muscles. Instead of listing all the things you might have done to get to your current state of varicose veins, I’m going to list a bunch of things you could do to AVOID varicose veins. If you already have varicosities, it’s not too late: start doing these things! Start doing all of them! Yes, you might be stuck with how your legs look right now, or you might be able to improve the situation somewhat or even quite a bit – it depends on where you are on your journey right now. But either way, you can definitely start working now to prevent any more from forming! (And if you don’t, they will!)
First, food. Avoid sugar, avoid refined carbohydrates. Avoid “junk food”, or really any kind of processed foods. Instead, eat good quality pasture-raised meats, eat wild fish from clean water (the cleanest water there is, anyway). Eat an abundance of vegetables in every color. Eat local fruit in season. Eat plenty of real fats: coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and the fat from healthy animals. If this doesn’t sound like your diet now, in fact, if you’re thinking “but where is the pasta and the bread?”, the Whole30 program might be a good place for you to start! If it sounds really hard, don’t worry: I used to be completely addicted to Cheeze Pringles. For real. There’s life after junk food!
Next, you’ve got to move your body! Evolutionarily, humans walked on average 6-9 miles a day. Most modern humans fall far short of that. They walked on varied, uneven ground as well, which means lots of action for the muscles in the feet and legs. Today, we have warning signs wherever there is uneven ground: uneven ground has become a risk factor for modern society! Movement is a huge factor for varicose veins for a few reasons. First, it’s difficult to move blood against gravity. To compound that difficulty, veins and lymphatic vessels do not have muscles, only valves. In order for blood to move back to the heart, in order for lymph to move up and out of the body, skeletal muscle movement is required. Every time you move your leg muscles (or your arm muscles or…), you are creating the forces that “pump” lymph and deoxygenated blood up out of your legs. Simply put, if you don’t move your legs, all that gunk will pool up down there and presto: varicosities.
Additionally, when your legs are bent because you’re sitting in a chair, it’s difficult for fluids to flow efficiently. Which means, if you sit all day, you’re not only impeding your circulation up from your legs (both by not using your muscles but also by having your legs bent in a couple places), but you’re also impeding the circulation of fresh arterial blood that would be moving into the legs with nutrients and fuel. You’re developing stagnation in both directions!
The beautiful, simple, free solution to all of this? Walk. Walk all the time. Walk everywhere. Walk until you can comfortably walk 6-9 miles in a day! You may need to start out by walking only one block, and work up from there – that’s ok. But you need to walk. While you’re at it, you should also dance, and play, and scamper, and climb, and skeedattle, and hop to it. There is no one right way to move the body, so move in any way that is enjoyable to you. There is, however, a right way to move your body – and that is to do whatever it is that you’re doing with your body aligned in such a way that it can support itself without damage. For example, “lift with your knees” so that you don’t hurt your back – this is commonly known body wisdom. It’s wrong, as it turns out, but it’s a good example of what I mean. So as you’re getting yourself ready to go for a walk, also be thinking about how to line your body up in a way that makes sense – you can do that at Katy Bowman’s blog. And don’t stop with walking! How about getting rid of your furniture? We did that – instead we have standing work stations and a couple tables short enough that we can sit on the floor – in either case, we have to use our own muscles to hold our bodies up. And to give yourself even more excuse to use your muscles, Don’t Just Stand There! Make yourself some uneven surfaces to stand on while you’re at a standing workstation, get yourself a balance board, whatever it takes to spend as much time using your muscles as you can in a day, and still get your work done.
All of that said, there’s nothing wrong with laying on the floor with your legs propped up on the wall – in this case, you’re definitely using gravity to your advantage. But that’s not going to be enough to fix the problem. It may give some temporary relief, and that’s valuable, but you’re going to have to *also* develop a walking habit. (dancing habit, playful movement habit, etc.)
We also need to add sleep to the equation: I can bet you right now you’re not getting enough. An average human adult requires 9 hours of sleep in the summer months, and 10-12 hours of sleep in the winter months. If you have a chronic illness, or some kind of chronic dysfunction, you may need more! Most United-States-ians today get 6-7 hours of sleep on weeknights and 8 hours of sleep on weekends. How much do you get? And why does it matter?
When you’re asleep, your body is repairing damaged cells (like varicose veins), metabolizing all that lymphatic waste and getting it ready to exit the body, and you’re horizontal, which means that you don’t have to fight against gravity to get the gunk out of your legs. (That’s not all – you’re getting rid of the clutter in your mind, resetting hormone levels, and all kinds of other very important work.) If you don’t sleep long enough though, your body doesn’t get its full to-do list of cleanup and repair complete, and that means exactly what it sounds like: you’re starting your next day in debt. Naps are enjoyable sometimes, but they don’t count – you need a nice long sleep to happen in a nice big chunk to get this work done. Which means you’ve got to make the time for sleep. If this is difficult for you, check out the recording of our class on sleep.
A handy fact about sleeptime that is quite useful for dealing with varicose veins is that you can absorb things more easily through the skin while you’re sleeping – so if you’re going to use the lotion I’ll describe, bedtime is a great time to do it! Your body is working on repair at that time anyway, so why not provide it with some phytochemicals that can help with that work right there at the source!
Sleep, movement, food – three things that you’ve got to take seriously in order to get your legs to a healthier place. In my case, between concentrated effort on those three things and working with herbs that support lymphatic and circulatory function, I’ve been able to reverse some of my varicosities, to improve others, and to halt any further from showing up. On the original blog post, lots of people commented to say they had similar experiences. Others commented to say they don’t believe it could work so they won’t try, or they won’t try without proof, or they won’t try if it hasn’t been scientifically tested, or that they tried it and it didn’t turn their legs into the legs of a person who never had any varicosities to begin with. Your mileage may vary! What’s important is that you try something – nothing will change if you don’t change. Even if you do change, what changes might not be visible – it takes a long time for damage to get so bad that you can see it through your skin, but that damage also needs to be repaired. It may be that you do all this work and find that you still have “ugly legs” – well, that’s probably going to be the case. It took a long time for your legs to look like they are now, and you may not be able to turn those legs into the kind of legs you wish you had. Making peace with your “ugly legs” is a different issue than working to bring them to a healthier place. This is the same kind of work that a person has to do after they have lost a lot of weight: they still have stretch marks and saggy skin they will have to come to terms with. They might not be their ideal model picture of how they thought they would look when they lost weight, but they *are* healthier.
The last part of the list of things to do to make sure you don’t get varicose veins is herbal. For the fifty-thousandth time: these herbs will not cure your varicose veins, especially if you don’t change your lifestyle habits that caused the varicosities in the first place. But they will help you improve the quality of tissue, improve circulation, improve lymphatic action, and have generally healthier legs!
First, I use a lotion on my legs. The lotion I use is different every time I make it. There are lots of videos on YouTube that will teach you how to make your own lotion, but the basic process is to blend up some water and some oil, and put it on your skin. You can read more about the instructions on the original post, as well as the herbs I was using at that time. These days I tend to favor Violet, Calendula, Rose, Witch Hazel, Alder, and Ocotillo. I also don’t usually use alcohols in my lotions anymore, just because I got tired of runny lotions – these days I use Thayer’s brand Rose Witch Hazel as the water, and all the other herbs I infuse into the oils.
You can try your lotion with any of the herbs listed in this post or the original post. They all have fantastic attributes! But when you try it, don’t take my word for it. Research these herbs yourself! Check out the blogs of other herbalists like Jim McDonald and Kiva Rose, Rebecca Altman and Traci Picard, and of course Henriette Kress – see what they have to say about these plants! Don’t try these herbs because I said they will work – let this list be a starting point in your own research. Try various different ones and see what you like best in (and on!) your own body.
You can make a tea too – the original post listed Calendula, Red Clover, and Yarrow, and those are fantastic! You could also use Violet, Nettle, Dandelion, to stay in the lymph-moving theme (plus, they’re very high in minerals!), or go with some Ginger or Damiana to stimulate circulation. You could even add in things like Tulsi to give you a lift – and motivation to make change in your life. This is, again, a list of herbs that you can start researching, start developing knowledge of and relationship with. You can start feeling for yourself how they feel in your body, and determine what kind of effect they have for you.
If this sounds too hard, then start easy. Eliminate sugar. Go for a walk. Get more sleep. Pick one herb and work with it. Keep track of all the things you feel and notice, and then after a month or so, add on some new experiments! Every day is an experiment – we usually try the same old thing every day, and we’re of course stuck with the same old results. But what if today you try something different?