Diet for Venous Insufficiency
If you have been suffering from pain, cramps, and discomfort of the lower leg or noted the development of spider veins on your lower limbs, then it might be the start of venous insufficiency.
Venous insufficiency has been around for thousands of years and presently, it has been estimated by the American Heart Association (AHA) that about 2.5 million people experience venous insufficiency in the country, and 20% or 500,000 people of the total number will develop ulcers in the future.
In venous insufficiency, you may also notice that your legs will darken in color and your skin starts to become more leathery in texture.
Aside from the usual medications and the use of graduated compression stockings, you can help your body overcome and prevent this disease through the proper diet for venous insufficiency. In this article, we will be discussing the recommended food that you can include in your diet to help manage venous insufficiency.
Introduction to Venous Insufficiency
To discuss a little background on venous insufficiency, we must first understand how it happens and why it affects your body.
Venous insufficiency is brought about by defective valves in the veins of our legs. These valves work to aid in pushing blood back up to the heart, but when you have venous insufficiency, the damaged valves become leaky and cause blood to stay pooled in your legs. (1)
Clots can also develop in your leg veins because of blood stasis (pooled blood) and these are in turn called deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
Deep vein thrombosis is also a precursor of venous insufficiency. Other causes of venous insufficiency are trauma, hormonal changes, and prolonged standing.
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Risk Factors for Venous Insufficiency
Venous insufficiency only worsens as it progresses. Like any disease, it has modifiable and non- modifiable risk factors. Non-modifiable risk factors mean that these are the risks that cannot be changed. It won’t always mean that you will have the disease if you have these risk factors, but it increases your chance of getting the disease.
Examples of non-modifiable risk factors are age, gender, and genetic predisposition. We can’t stop growing old and we cannot change our DNA or our gender, this is why these are non-modifiable.
Conversely, modifiable risk factors are those we have control over like our diet, our lifestyle, and our weight. This is good news because the best thing you could do to prevent the development of venous insufficiency is through knowing what your modifiable risk factors are and making adjustments.
Here is a list of the risk factors of venous insufficiency divided into the non-modifiable and modifiable:
|Non- Modifiable Risk Factors||Modifiable Risk Factors|
|Family history of venous insufficiency||Pregnancy|
|History of deep vein thrombosis||Use of oral contraceptives|
Diagnosis of Venous Insufficiency
To diagnose venous insufficiency, doctors will need your medical history. This is a series of questions about the signs and symptoms of the disease and other diseases that may affect your veins.
Closer physical examination of your body may also be done and will focus on your vascular system. Measurement of blood pressure on all of your limbs may also be taken to solve for your ankle-brachial index but this is strictly avoided for patients with a high index of suspicion for having deep vein thrombosis or those with a history of deep vein thrombosis.
This is coupled with diagnostic tools such as blood work-up (D-dimer), venous duplex ultrasound scan, magnetic resonance venography, and venous plethysmography. (3) Imaging is often done to examine the blood flow and to rule out other disease entities that could present with the same symptoms.
Management of Venous Insufficiency
To date, no oral medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of venous insufficiency. The cornerstone in treatment is still the use of graduated compression stockings. (4)
Graduated compression applies the greatest compression at the ankles, and then gradually decreases as it moves upwards. The pressure applied to the lower limbs would ensure that blood won’t reflux. (5)
For severe cases, patients are often advised to undergo surgical treatment. This includes sclerotherapy, vein ligation stripping, and radiofrequency ablation.
Lifestyle change has also been recommended for those with venous insufficiency. One change to aid the prevention and progression of venous insufficiency is to stop smoking.
Regular structured exercise is also suggested as walking improves calf muscle function. (1) Rehabilitation through structured exercise for those with severe venous insufficiency has also been studied. It is said that rehabilitation for 6 months proved to be beneficial for calf muscle function. (6)
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Diet for Venous Insufficiency
Aside from all the treatment mentioned, how do we protect our vein health? One important way is to modify our diet. Our diet is a very important factor, not just in the health of our veins, but also for our overall well-being. The food we choose to nourish our body would significantly affect the risk of contracting diseases.
Here are some tips that have been proven to aid venous insufficiency:
Drink More Water
Water is essential in our diet. Our bodies are composed of up to 60%. Our internal organs like the brain, lungs, and heart are partially made up of water.
Water is vital in the lives of all living things. It functions from being a building block of our nutrients to the regulation of our temperature through sweating and breathing. Water also aids in the health of our veins. Coupled with fiber, it reduces the risk of venous insufficiency by flushing out our waste products. It also helps ease symptoms of venous insufficiency.
Less Salt, More Potassium
Sodium (or salt) and potassium are basic electrolytes present in the human body. Salt and potassium work to maintain the volume of blood and fluid. Excessive consumption of salt is linked to higher blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of having hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. (7)
On the contrary, potassium intake is linked to a reduced risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease. This is true in the human body since as potassium moves into the cell, simultaneously salt moves out.
Natural food has less salt content but in the advent of food processing, salt is usually amplified. Salt has a large role in the preservation of food, enhancement of taste, and texture improvement. Vigilance must be done to avoid food with high salt content.
Here are examples of food containing high levels of salt:
- Cured, smoked and processed meat
- Canned goods
- Cheese and deli meals
- Instant noodles
- Instant meals
- Salted snacks (nuts, seeds, pretzels, popcorns, crackers)
These are just a few of the list of food with high salt content. Our daily diet only calls for about 2 grams of food per day.
Food rich in potassium is easily available and we often take them for granted. Now that we know that potassium lowers the risk of developing hypertension, let’s take note of potassium-rich food:
- Fruits (Bananas, watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe)
- Dried fruits (Prunes, dates, and raisins)
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Cooked spinach and broccoli
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Orange, tomato, prune, and grapefruit juices
- Fishes (Cod, tuna, trout)
- Beans and legumes
Hypertension is one risk factor in developing venous insufficiency that we can modify through diet. Early prevention through low salt, high potassium diet lowers the risk of getting high blood pressure. By choosing to eat less salt and consuming more potassium-rich food, one could prevent acquiring venous insufficiency. Stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are also prevented by eating less salt and more potassium-rich food!
High fiber diet
When we say a high-fiber diet, it means eating complex saccharide-based molecules, meaning, eating food that takes long to digest. Dietary fiber is a very broad term that covers several food ingredients. It has been well studied and the risks of several disease entities have been lowered by having high-fiber in the diet.
Risks for Type 2 Diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases have been reduced significantly by having this diet.
Dietary fiber functions in various ways. First, it adds bulk to the diet, making you feel full, thus, reducing your appetite and cravings.
Second, it absorbs water and traps carbohydrates and lessens the absorption of sugar, hence lowering the blood sugar levels which lowers your risk for diabetes.
Third, it speeds up the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract and adds bulk to the stool, meaning it cleans your colon well and prevents constipation, thus also decreasing your chance of getting rectal hemorrhoids.
Lastly, it stimulates intestinal fermentation, meaning good bacteria grow in the intestine which reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
So how does this connect to the health of your veins? Varicose veins are often worsened by being overweight. Dietary fiber aids in maintaining weight and losing weight. Another way where dietary fiber helps prevent venous insufficiency is by preventing constipation as it puts a strain on our veins.
Dietary fiber is classified on whether they are water-insoluble or water-soluble. Water-insoluble dietary fibers are further divided into cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. (8)
Vegetables, wheat, bran, agar, flaxseeds, green beans, and peas are part of the water-insoluble fibers. These are less fermented in nature.
On the other hand, water-soluble dietary fibers are divided into pectin, gums, and mucilages. (8) Water-soluble dietary fibers are well fermented. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, seaweed extracts, and plant extracts are considered water-soluble dietary fibers.
Dietary fibers are often incorporated in our food most especially in our breakfast cereals and baked goods. Gradual substitution of our usual diet with fiber-rich food may lead us to better health.
You have probably heard of flavonoids in people who take antioxidants. Flavonoids are a class of natural products that contain a polyphenolic structure, meaning this structure help antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress (which may cause inflammation, cancer, and even venous insufficiency). (9)
Vegetables, fruits, and other beverages made from plants contain flavonoids. In plants, flavonoids are said to work by protecting the plants from different stresses. (9)
Several studies have been done to examine the effects of flavonoids and it has shown to have beneficial effects on the human body. This includes its anti-oxidative activity, hepatoprotection, anti-inflammatory, and free radical- scavenging activities. (10) Free radicals are atoms that seek to find pairs in the body but in the process, damages it. Flavonoids help in seeking these atoms and get rid of them.
Some flavonoids also help strengthen the blood vessels in the body. Flavonoids have been studied to help combat Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and atherosclerosis. Currently, flavonoids have become the focus of different clinical trials as it has been showing promising effects in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. (11)
One study noted that a deficiency in flavonoid may cause fragility of the capillaries. (11) With this, we could help prevent capillary fragility by supplying our body with the right amount of nutrients. In the same study, flavonoid was recommended as an adjunct in cardiovascular diseases as it also helps ease pain, discomfort, and edema. (11)
Flavonoid-rich food is noticeable because they are bright and vibrant in color. Flowering and fruit-bearing plants are rich in flavonoids. To supply your diet with flavonoid-rich food, take note the following food and beverages:
- Green tea, black tea, oolong tea
- Red and green pepper
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits (Lemon, lime and orange)
- Soya beans and tofu
These are just some of the food which contains flavonoids. Eating flavonoid-rich food could help us prevent capillary fragility which is common in venous insufficiency. (11) Flavonoids also help ease leg discomfort and edema. There is no better way to prevent venous insufficiency than having to do it naturally. Your diet for venous insufficiency should not be too hard to follow, just add these flavonoid-rich food to your daily meals.
Oftentimes, we forget to keep ourselves checked. We tend to let go of ourselves just for the sake of enjoying life. We forget that everything has to be in moderation and we end up risking our health. Luckily, nature has a way to help us reach our prime. All we have to do is to keep track and choose the proper food to eat and follow this diet for venous insufficiency guide.
Our blood vessels may be small but they play a big role in our overall health. A little spider vein on your ankle may be a start of a larger problem if without any intervention.
Your diet may prevent venous insufficiency but always keep in mind that when your body is not working the way it usually is, then don’t forget to always come back to your doctor. Diet for venous insufficiency can never replace the proper treatment.
In this article, we discussed the following:
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Venous Insufficiency
- Risk Factors for Venous Insufficiency
- Diagnosis of Venous Insufficiency
- Management of Venous Insufficiency
- Diet for Venous Insufficiency
If you want to learn more about venous insufficiency or its treatment, you can book here for a free consultation.
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- Weiss, R., Anariba, D. E. Z., Lanza, J., & Lessnau, K. D. (2018). Venous insufficiency. Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1085412-treatment
- Lim, C. S., & Davies, A. H. (2014). Graduated compression stockings. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 186(10), E391–E398. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.131281
- Kahle B., Leng K. (2004) Efficacy of sclerotherapy in varicose veins: prospective, blinded, placebo-controlled study. Dermatol Surg. 30:723–728.
- Aaron, K. J., & Sanders, P. W. (2013). Role of dietary salt and potassium intake in cardiovascular health and disease: a review of the evidence. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 88(9), 987–995. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.06.005
- Kaczmarczyk, M. M., Miller, M. J., & Freund, G. G. (2012). The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 61(8), 1058–1066. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017
- Panche, A. N., Diwan, A. D., & Chandra, S. R. (2016). Flavonoids: an overview. Journal of nutritional science, 5, e47. https://doi.org/10.1017/jns.2016.41
- Kumar, S., & Pandey, A. K. (2013). Chemistry and biological activities of flavonoids: an overview. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2013, 162750. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/162750
- Rabe, E., et al. (2013). Treatment of chronic venous disease with flavonoids: Recommendations for treatment and further studies. Phlebology / Venous Forum of the Royal Society of Medicine. 28. 10.1177/0268355512471929.
Co-Author | Dr. Tee Villanueva, MD
Dr. Nima Azarbehi
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