About five million years ago, human kind took an important step in its evolution: standing upright and walking on two legs. Among other advantages, this enabled him to gain a better overview of surrounding terrain, but at the same time left him susceptible to the health challenge of vein disorders.
Arteries transport (for the most part) oxygen and nutrient rich blood from the heart to the whole body. Arteries have smooth muscle and can therefore contract and relax. Veins transport blood back to the heart to release carbon dioxide and other toxins. Veins do not have smooth muscle, but valves that close and open, thereby pushing blood in an upward direction. The surrounding muscles in the legs also assist in this process while we are moving around. Standing upright and still, exerts enormous strain on the veins in the legs, up to 10 times that of other postures.
The upright position encourages the flow of blood downward while simultaneously forcing the body to work against gravity to return the blood, about one and a half meters, from the feet to the heart. To ease the tremendous effort it would take for the heart to handle this task by itself, the legs contain a series of muscle driven pumps and one-way valves, a system called the “second heart”. This second heart requires a lot of exertion to perform this task, which was not a problem so long as human beings remained hunter gatherers, because the calf muscles and the soles of the feet were utilized through continuous moving around, to keep the blood circulation going.
But modern man and woman’s lifestyle causes blood circulation to stagnate, blood congests in the veins, the walls of the veins become weak, and the valves malfunction. Spider veins and painful, swollen legs begin to appear, and later bulging, deep purple varicose veins weave their way through the calves.
By age 30, about 44% of women and 19% of men begin to see signs of vein problems. By age 50, more than 64% of women and 42% of men are affected by some form of varicose veins.
The onset of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) usually goes unnoticed. Early symptoms such as spider veins or tired, heavy legs in the evening are often not taken seriously enough. The symptoms also often subside overnight.
Risk factors that adversely affect leg vein health
- lack of exercise
- standing still for long periods
- poor nutrition
- excess weight, also as part of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar or insulin resistance and excess weight)
- hot and humid weather
- tight and restrictive clothing
- advancing age due to mostly lack of exercise and movement
Lifestyle factors to help us address the risks
- eat healthy, enjoyable, fresh, organic fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds
- use the right food supplements and natural remedies to restore the function of your veins and circulation
- manage your weight
- do fun, enjoyable exercise, especially foot and ankle exercises to encourage blood flow
- apply cold water compresses to your legs
- elevate your legs when sitting or lying down to assist the drainage of blood
- go for regular lymph drainage massage
Notice CVI stage 1 symptoms and start to manage it immediately as this will slow down the process:
- tired, heavy legs
- spider veins
- tingling calves
- edema (swelling of the lower legs and ankles)
At first the congestion and swelling recedes overnight, but this temporary relief stops occurring as the health challenge progresses. Cell metabolism deteriorates in the congested leg; fluid and blood pigments are released into the surrounding tissue, the lymphatic system cannot keep up trying to drain all the fluid. This ultimately leads to a brown discolouration of the skin – stage 2 of CVI.
Nature has also provided us with some interesting and very effective therapies, the most successful of which are derived from plants.
French vintners (wine farmers) do not get CVI. They use the red vine leaves from the vine Vitis vinifera as a poultice and infusion to apply to their legs and have healthy legs. Just after the harvest of the deep blue-black grapes, the leaves turn red. This is harvested and used. The red vine leaf extract contains bio-active flaven, that contains the bioflavenoids (quercetin, quercitrin and kaempherol), all antioxidants with many benefits to the human body. An active commercial product of red vine leaf extract, called AS 195 has been made according to the French Pharmacopoeia, has a positive effect on the veins, as does horse chestnut, and Pycnogenol found in grape seed and pine bark extract.
The red vine leaf extract AS195 has been proven effective in the early stages of CVI (stage 1 and 2). A new scientific study supports a bulk of previous positive research results. This study showed that taking AS 195 as found in ANTISTAX ®, containing the red vine leaf extract AS 195, led to an improvement in the clinical profile of patients with CVI.¹ Swelling and pain in the leg were significantly reduced, feelings of tension declined, and “tired, heavy legs” symptoms improved. A previous study had already demonstrated that AS195 leads to a regeneration of damaged cells, positively influences their functional ability, and helps to restore the intactness of the cell layer.² At the same time cells are protected from any further damage. ANTISTAX ® is available in South Africa without prescription, and can be found at most Pharmacies.
In the case of a pronounced chronic venous insufficiency, measures are primarily about stopping the progression of the disease. Varicose veins can become chronic if they are not treated immediately. In the worst-case scenario, leg and foot ulcers can develop – the most severe form of CVI (stage three). These ulcers are the consequence of long-standing circulatory disorders in the leg tissue. Therapy, ulcer treatment, and possible surgical operations are required at this stage, all of which need professional medical care.
How healthy are our veins?
A recent study in Germany concerning the prevalence of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), called “The Bonn vein study”¹ showed that the disease is indeed widely prevalent amongst the adult population.
The study, which spanned almost two years, tested a total of 3, 072 subjects between the ages of 18 – 79. Subjects answered standardised questions regarding socioeconomic aspects, quality of life, and vein-specific details.
The incidence of prior vein-specific conditions among the subjects turned out to be surprisingly high: leg swelling, the typical characteristic of vein disease, occurred in almost every second woman and every sixth man. The prevalence of swelling increased with age. If one takes all of the symptoms typical of blood vessel illnesses together, then in fact every second subject indicated symptoms.
At 62%, women were considerably more commonly afflicted with symptoms like feelings of heaviness, tension, and swelling, as well as pain after standing for a long time. 6% of those questioned experienced a reduction in their quality of life.
At the end of the study, doctors conducted an examination of the leg veins of all the subjects in accordance with the CEAP classification for chronic vein disorders (C Clinical, E Etiology, A Anatomy and P Pathophysiology). The results were less than positive: only about 10% of the participants had completely healthy veins, 59% of the participants had developed spider veins and small aneurysms located in the upper skin layer. 14% had varicose veins without further signs of a chronic vein disease. At the time of examination, every seventh subject had fluid build up which indicated CVI.
Altogether the study indicates that every fifth woman and every sixth man in Germany have indications of CVI.
On the positive side, only about 4% of the test subjects showed evidence of adverse skin changes as a symptom of an advanced chronic vein disease, which is an improvement from the Tuebingen study of 1979, which showed a rate of around 13%. ²
This shows that the severe complications of the disease have significantly decreased in Germany, probably due to improvements in medical care, considering that the diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities have increased in the last several years. People afflicted with vein disorders in Germany today are better informed. As many as 23% of all test subjects had already taken therapeutic measures: the use of compression hosiery (15%), vein medications (7%) and operations (7%). The knowledge and use of therapeutic options increased significantly with age.
So where does that leave us as South Africans? Although no formal trials have taken place here, we must assume that we are far behind in terms of education and knowledge regarding vein health than say Germany is.
Although there are treatments for CVI as mentioned above, prevention is always the best medicine, and perhaps education is what is needed in our country. It is widely understood that the possibility of developing the disease has increased due to modern living habits. Nowadays many people work in sedentary jobs – the body, the legs and especially the leg veins get too little exercise and the danger of developing vein disease increases.
There are many things that people can do to promote their vein health. Regular exercise such as cycling, swimming, or walking stimulates the work of the leg veins, as does taking Scottish (alternating hot /cold) showers and splashing cold water on the legs.
In addition, medical research offers hope. In 2002 a study took place which attracted a great deal of attention: a laboratory experiment conducted by Prof. Dr. Dr. Stephan Nees observed the onset and progression of cell damage as it occurs in CVI. In the experiment it could be shown that during inflammation, large gaps opened up between the cells causing them to loose their cohesion and so discharge water, plasma and inflammatory factors into the surrounding tissue, leading to a typical edema or swelling.
The most interesting part of this experiment occurred when Prof Nees treated the damaged cells with AS 195, a special extract derived from red vine leaves. The cells recuperated and recovered their functionality and the cell layer was restored intact. ³
These observations showed that the red vine leaf extract contained in the ANTISTAX ® tablets is to some extent able to reverse existing damage in the veins. One tablet daily is recommended to stimulate blood flow and strengthen and seal the vein walls, thereby protecting against further advanced changes in the veins.
It is good to know that there is a product now available in SA that medical practitioners can offer their patients at the onset of the CVI. It is still a disease that cannot be cured, but if therapy is started early enough it can drastically alleviate symptoms and avoid the damaging consequences.
The healing power of red vine leaf
Knowledge of the healing powers of red vine leaf dates as far back as ancient Rome: Galen, the famous doctor to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, made use of vine leaf in his medicinal treatments. Modern science has since medically researched, proven, and substantiated its benefits, the major one of which is in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Veins transport blood to the heart from the body’s organs. To reach the heart, the blood often needs to flow upward, against gravity, from the veins in the legs. To do this, the calf muscles and the muscles in the feet need to contract with each step to squeeze the veins and push the blood upward. To keep the blood flowing up, and not back down, the veins contain one-way valves. With the onset of vein disease, veins become dilated and the valves responsible for the blood-flow to the heart, no longer close properly, allowing blood to pool in the veins.
Through the increased pressure, the veins become permeable and the fluid seeps out into the surrounding tissue. This results in the accumulation of fluid, so called oedema. The increased amount of fluid in the tissues of the legs causes pain, swelling and this can cause further damage to the veins.
Historically, treatment for CVI has included compression stockings and in more severe cases, invasive therapy and interventions such as sclerotherapy (localized injections), ablation and vein stripping, which thankfully brings us back to Roman times and the healing power of the red vine leaf.
Research, special analysis, and processing of the plant have led to the development of an effective therapy: AS 195, an extract derived from red vine leaves, which exerts a protective effect on the veins. This extract is a highly effective natural vein therapeutic that produces very successful results even in the early stages of CVI.
The efficacy and tolerability of AS 195 was put to the test in a six week observational study conducted in Switzerland in 2003.¹ Sixty-five male and female patients between ages 25 – 82, suffering from CVI, received a single daily dose of 360 mg of AS 195 over a period of six weeks, and were asked to evaluate symptoms of tired, heavy legs; tension; tingling; and pain in the legs. The study was a complete success: in their total evaluation at the end of study, the patients and clinical investigators found that all the leading symptoms of CVI had receded by at least 50%.
For more information on CVI and the health of your veins, go to www.antistax.com