Even the name sounds ugly. Bluish, purple starbursts of tiny veins tend to creep up on us unnoticed and then surprise us in summer, just as we gear up to show off that new bathing suit.
Spider veins, similar to varicose veins, only smaller and closer to the skin’s surface, appear when blood pools in the smaller veins that lead to the heart. The legs, ankles, and feet are particularly vulnerable as the muscles must work against gravity to pump blood back to the heart. When these pumping valves cease to function properly, the veins swell.
Physicians disagree on the causes of spider veins, but according to David Green, MD, of the Vein Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the most viable explanations point to heredity and pregnancy. “If your parents and grandparents had varicose and spider veins, you’re more likely to have them, too,” he says.
Progesterone and estrogen fluctuations can also cause changes to the smooth muscle walls inside the veins, and this can impair valve function.
That makes spider veins sound like a done deal, but according to Andrew L. Rubman, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Southbury, Connecticut, we can improve their appearance. He says they’re usually part of an overall inflammatory condition, which we can address using a holistic approach. “Introducing diet changes and supplements that reduce inflammation can have a beneficial effect on vein dysfunction,” he adds.
Rubman recommends a high-potency antioxidant complex, including vitamins A, C, and E and zinc, as well as a citrus bioflavonoid complex (500 mg, twice daily) with hesperidin, rutin, and diosmin, which will enhance the benefits of the vitamin C.
Bioflavonoids’ claim to fame? They strengthen capillary and vein walls. You can also find citrus bioflavonoids in the white flesh beneath the skin of citrus fruit, so make oranges and grapefruit a frequent part of your diet.
Rubman also suggests regular leg-toning exercise. “This supports the tissues surrounding the veins, which helps the valves function properly.” Mick Grady, yoga therapist and instructor at the Himalaya Institute of Healing in Honesburg, Pennsylvania, treats spider veins and other circulatory problems with inverted poses, such as lying on your back with your legs straight up, heels leaning against a wall—a pose even a novice can manage. “This allows the blood to drain from swollen veins and relieves the pressure on stressed valves,” Grady says. Hold the pose for five to 10 minutes while breathing deeply and flexing the feet slowly to tone the calf muscles. (Advanced yogis can do Shoulderstand instead—it works wonders for overall circulation.)
Although there is no magic bullet for spider veins, diet, supplements, and exercise will do them a world of good.