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varicose veins

  • By understanding the role of your skin, as the largest organ of absorption and elimination, you have a first line of defense against factors that most profoundly influence its condition – from sun exposure, nutrition and hydration to internal and external skin stressors – you can optimize the health, look and feel of the skin you’re in, and also reap whole-body health benefits in the bargain.

    If skin were merely a sausage casing for the rest of you, it wouldn’t be nearly so useful. An organ itself (your body’s largest in terms of both weight and surface area); skin protects against invasive bacteria, regulates body temperature, and picks up information from the stimulation of touch, pressure, pain, heat, and cold. Little wonder, then, that when there’s something wrong with you on the inside, your skin sometimes sends up the first warning flare. Not paying attention to skin signals is likened to ignoring the warning light on the dashboard of your car.

    The skin is so vital that it is known as the third lung in Chinese herbal medicine. Skin care begins from the inside out – all the expensive natural or synthetic products cannot make your skin glow if you are: stressed, constipated, invaded by yeast overgrowth, consuming junk food, sleep-deprived, exposed to environmental toxins, and live a sedentary lifestyle. Stress ages and depletes vitality and combined with a negative consciousness secretes toxins.

    Did you know that each of us is covered in approximately twelve pounds of skin? Skin, after all, is where we literally meet the world – the interface between our body and its surroundings. Our skin is both the face we show the world and our most intimate means of physical connection and manifestation of inward health.

    It is imperative that we provide our skin, and our body, a nourishing diet with adequate hydration, appropriate exercise, good stress management, periodic detoxification protocols to reduce our overall body burden, and high-quality sleep. When these protocols are practiced, you’ve providing a solid foundation for the systems that help build, nourish, protect and repair your skin. But when it comes to understanding the messages your skin is sending, you’ll also want to keep the following key stressors and solutions in mind:

    10 Things Your Skin Says about Your Health

    Diabetes, for example, is generally a silent disease, but it can lead to distinct changes manifested in the skin. The skin may in fact be the first indicator of what’s happening,” notes dermatologist Amy Newburger, MD, of Scarsdale, New York, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

    The following are a summary of Dr. Newburger’s explanations for ten dermatologic oddities worth watching for in yourself or someone you love.

    1. Red flag: Yellowish skin, orange palms and soles

    What it means: The yellow skin hue shown in the photo is Carotenemia, the result of an underactive thyroid gland — hypothyroidism — which causes increased levels of beta-carotene in the blood. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, found in fruits and vegetables, which normally get processed by the thyroid. When there’s a thyroid disorder, the gland doesn’t metabolize the vitamins as quickly, so beta-carotene accumulates. You can also get Technicolor skin due to beta-carotene buildup thanks to a diet heavy on carrots, carrot juice, sweet potatoes, and squash.

    More clues: The skin of someone with hypothyroidism also tends to be dry and cold, and sometimes more pale than yellowed. Feeling tired, sluggish, weak, or achy are the main symptoms, along with possible unexplained weight gain. Women over 50 most often develop hypothyroidism.

    What to do: Carotenemia caused by a skewed diet isn’t serious and resolves itself when a broader range of foods is consumed. Hypothyroidism, however, is a medical condition that can lead to such complications as heart problems, so a combination of skin changes plus fatigue warrants attention from a health care professional.

    2. Red flag: Breaking out in hives in the sun

    What it means: Being truly allergic to the sun is pretty rare (although this kind of immune system response can happen in some people). A more likely explanation for going outside on a sunny day and coming back with an itchy rash that looks like hives or eczema is having taken a photo-sensitizing drug or supplement. A chemical in the medication causes changes that increase the person’s sensitivity to light.

    “It’s common in the Northeast to have no problem all winter long, and as soon as the weather gets nice and folks are outside less bundled up, the rash appears,” says Newburger

    More clues: The rash is limited to sun-exposed areas, including the forearms, the neck, and, less commonly, the face. It can feel worse and last longer than a sunburn. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fair-skinned or dark-skinned; anyone can have a photo-reaction. One of the most common drug culprits: thiazide diuretics (Hydrodiuril, Dyazide), which are a first-line treatment for hypertension. Other meds that can produce this effect include antihistamines, excessive vitamin D, tetracycline, the anti-aging and anti-acne drug tretinoin, and tricyclic antidepressants – two different people can react quite differently to the same drug, or you may have no reaction one time but a severe reaction later.

    What to do: Check the labels of your prescription medications. Look for phrases such as “May cause chemical photosensitivity.” Use a high-SPF sunscreen or sun block but know that this may not prevent the rash; the best advice is to wear sunglasses and a broad-rimmed hat, cover the skin, and limit sun exposure. Tell your doctor, too; a switch in medicines or supplements, or changing the dosage may prevent further rashes.

    3. Red flag: Long dark lines in the palm

    What it means: A palm-reading mystic might have her own interpretation, but to a physician, a deepening of the pigment in the creases of the palms or soles is a symptom of adrenal insufficiency, an endocrine disorder. Also known as Addison’s disease, the name comes from its discoverer, physician Thomas Addison, or rather its two most famous victims, President John F. Kennedy and — it’s thought — the writer Jane Austen.

    More clues: Hyper-pigmentation may also be visible around other skin folds, scars, lips, and pressure points (knees, knuckles). Addison’s sufferers have low blood pressure, which falls further when the person stands. Salt loss can lead to a craving for salty food. The disease affects men and women equally but is found most commonly between ages 30 and 50.

    What to do: It’s important to mention this visible symptom to a doctor, as skin changes may be the first symptoms seen before an acute attack (pain, vomiting, dehydration, and loss of consciousness, a cascade known as an Addisonian crisis). Lab tests to measure cortisol (which is produced by the adrenal gland) provide a diagnosis.

    4. Red flag: Large, dusky blue leg veins

    What it means: Some of your veins are no longer working properly when you see ropy, blue-to-purple lines snaking up your legs. Venous disease — a.k.a. varicose veins — can be a mere cosmetic annoyance or can cause pain, cramping, and difficulty walking. Veins rely on one-way valves, like shutters, to keep blood circulating; when they stop working, blood leaks back into the vein and pools there.

    More clues: Varicose veins are sometimes mistaken for spider veins, a web-like network of smaller blue or red veins closer to the skin’s surface. Varicose veins tend to be larger, darker, and sometimes raised, with a twisted appearance. (The name comes from the Latin varix, or “twisted.”) Half of all people over age 50 have varicose veins, especially women – first appearing in pregnancy.

    What to do: Exercise, compression stockings, and avoiding constricting postures (like crossing your legs when seated) can help ease discomfort, but they won’t make varicose veins disappear. Not all faulty veins cause problems. However, if the veins cause pain or become warm and tender to the touch, contact your physician – severe venous insufficiency can lead to dangerous blood clots. Treatments with good success rates include sclerotherapy (injecting a solution to shut the vein) and surgery — also options if you just can’t bear how your legs look at the beach.

    5. Red flag: Brownish spots on the shins?

    What it means: The fronts of the legs along the shins tend to bang and bump into things a lot. For someone with diabetes, the damage to the capillaries and small blood vessels that are characteristic of the disease will cause them to leak when traumatized, leading to brown discoloration known as diabetic dermopathy.

    More clues: The brownish patches may also be rough, almost scaly (although they don’t open up), and tend to form ovals or circles. They don’t hurt. Another common skin change of diabetes to look for: An open, unhealed sore on the foot. Diabetics lose the perception of pain, temperature, and touch on their feet, making them unlikely to notice common foot blisters — which then go untreated and may become infected.

    What to do: There’s no health danger from diabetic dermopathy, and no need for treatment. But if someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with diabetes shows these signs, it is worth checking for other signs of diabetes, such as thirst, excessive urination, tiredness, or blurry vision.

    6. Red flag: Persistent rash that you want to scratch raw?

    What it means: Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) — clusters of small, ferociously itchy blisters that show up repeatedly in the forearms near the elbows, the knees, the buttocks, the back, or the face or scalp — are a hallmark of celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten – one in four people with celiac disease have DH.

    More clues: The rash appears on both sides of the body – itching and burning are so intense you can hardly quit scratching. People with DH don’t usually have the digestive symptoms of celiac disease, but they’re intolerant of gluten just the same. DH often shows up between ages 30 and 40, and most often in people of northern European heritage.

    What to do: Report the rashes to your regular doctor or a doctor who specializes in skin disorders to evaluate and rule out other causes. Blood tests and a biopsy of tissue from the small intestine are used to diagnose DH. A gluten-free diet for life is usually advised to keep symptoms at bay; this includes banishing foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Drugs may be needed at first to help control the rashes and regain quality of life before natural remedies will be effective.

    7. Red flag: Purple stains or splotches?

    What it means: What looks a bit like a bruise, is often mistaken for a bruise, but tends to hang around longer because it’s not exactly a bruise? Purpura (from the Latin for “purple”), or leaking blood vessels under the skin. It has several possible causes, ranging from a bleeding disorder to scurvy (vitamin C deficiency). But in adults over age 65, in whom it’s common, the main explanation is thin skin, often made even more fragile by years of sun damage and weakened blood vessels – known by the unfortunate name of senile purpura.

    “A substantial excessive intake of aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, vitamin E, or the herb ginkgo biloba, which older adults often take to boost memory, can worsen the condition,” says dermatologist Newburger. Additionally, blood thinners, such as coumadin, alcohol, and steroids can cause or contribute to this condition.

    More clues: A classic bruise tends to turn black and blue following an injury. With purpura, in contrast, there doesn’t need to be any trauma; the discoloration starts as red and turns purple, persisting longer than a bruise before fading or remaining brownish. The purple skin doesn’t blanch (fade or lose color) when you press it. Purpura can cover large patches of skin or show up as small purple speckles called petechiae. No matter what the size, the purple areas are most common on the forearms, legs, and backs of the hands.

    What to do: Extensive or persistent bruises should always be evaluated by a physician, as should someone who seems to bruise easily. It’s important to rule out underlying causes such as a bleeding disorder.

    8. Red flag: Intense itchiness without rash?

    What it means: Feeling itchy in more than one specific spot can have many causes, but when there’s no accompanying visible skin change, it may be pruritis, one of the first symptoms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). In fact, it’s known as the “Hodgkin itch” (the two main types of lymphoma being Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).

    More clues: The itchiness is more intense than that caused by ordinary dry skin. It can be felt generally or, most commonly, in the lower legs. Less often, the skin also looks reddish and inflamed. Another common symptom of both Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, collarbone, or groin. Note that lymph nodes can swell because of common infections as well, including infections within the mouth.

    What to do: Report persistent, intense itching to your doctor.

    9. Red flag: Pallor, especially with blue-tinged nails?

    What it means: Severe anemia, a blood disorder, can show up as pasty, paler-than-usual skin on the face and palms. Anemia can be the result of iron deficiency, chronic blood loss from bowel disease, or ulcer disease, among other reasons. Iron-deficient anemia is sometimes seen in people over age 70, who may no longer prepare nutritious meals or have interest in eating them because of depression or other health problems.

    More clues: Unlike merely having a pale complexion, the pallor of anemia tends to affect the usually-reddish tissues of the mouth, gums, and lips, too. Look for nail beds to be very pale, almost bluish. Other symptoms include being quick to tire, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

    What to do: Consult a nutritionist or nutritionally-aware physician. Over-the-counter or prescription iron supplements usually correct anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. It helps to eat more iron-rich foods (red meat, egg yolks, dark leafy green vegetables, dried fruit without sulfites), especially in tandem with vitamin C (as in orange juice) for best iron absorption. Cooking in an all iron skillet adds iron, too.

    10. Red flag: Tingling skin followed by a rash on only one side of the face or body?

    What it means: An often painful condition called shingles (herpes zoster) announces itself in this distinctive way. Shingles is caused by the same virus that gives people chicken pox. In eight out of ten people who get chicken pox, the virus retreats to the body’s sensory nerves and stays there. But stress, infection, certain medications (such as those used in chemotherapy and after transplants), or an aging immune system can reactivate the virus years later, producing shingles.

    More clues: A burning sensation and sensitivity to touch often precede the shingles rash by days or weeks – in some lucky people, the pain may be mild. The rash itself first looks like raised red bumps, not unlike chicken pox, appearing in a band or strip on the trunk, legs, face, neck — but only on the left or the right side. Within a few days, the bumps turn into fluid-filled pustules, which crust over a week to ten days later.

    What to do: See a health professional as soon as you feel the pain, especially if you suspect you’re in a high-risk group. Starting antiviral medication within 72 hours of the rash’s appearance can reduce the severity of the disease and lower your odds of developing a complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). In PHN, the searing pain of shingles can continue for weeks, months, or even years. People older than age 70 are most likely to develop PHN, but anyone can. Nutraceuticals available from a naturopath or natural health professional are very effective for those not choosing to use prescription medications which are somewhat effective but can also carry side-effects.

  • It is easy to overlook the health benefits of common foods, especially if, as is true of the orange and other citrus fruits, we typically consume only the juice. Yet components found in the pulp and peel of citrus fruits long have been known to offer a variety of health benefits. More interesting still is the fact that one or more compounds found in citrus rinds can be turned into even more potent health protectors with a little help from science. Diosmin is a good example of a health protective substance already found in nature that today is produced by taking the common citrus flavonoid hesperidin and converting it to an even more potent compound. As a result, diosmin is available as a supplement to provide benefits against a variety of ailments. Common to most of these complaints is the fact they involve poor circulation and the veins.

    Although the circulation usually is associated with cardiovascular health, a whole slew of other—and notoriously annoying conditions related to the veins—respond nicely to diosmin supplementation. Under the overarching category of “chronic venous insufficiency,” these conditions run from easy bruising, edema, restlessness and swelling in the legs to varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Diosmin provides a safe, natural solution worth trying for these and related ailments.

    Poor circulation means various things. Cold hands and feet may indicate poor circulation. Varicose and spider veins by their very existence indicate that circulatory issues exist. Edema, which is often experienced as puffiness and heaviness in the lower extremities, arises from the leakage of fluids across the walls of the capillaries and generally indicates poor circulation. Hemorrhoids are another form of poor circulation. In all of these conditions, the structures that make up the capillaries and the veins have lost a portion of their integrity. This allows blood to pool, fluids to pass into the tissues, and inflammation to develop. Circulatory and venous issues, moreover, are not merely “cosmetic.” Current research has begun to stress that cardiovascular diseases are caused, at least in part, by localized inflammation in the arteries of the affected parts of the body and, likewise, by damage to the structure of the artery walls.

    Circulatory problems are amazingly common. Indeed, varicose veins alone afflict one half of all adults past middle age. The condition is so common that in the United States and Great Britain it is largely accepted that the development of venous problems is merely another age-related decline. Many of our everyday activities—or a lack of activity-exacerbate circulatory problems. Stress tends to reduce circulation as the “fight or flight” response closes down blood flow to the extremities. Long bouts of standing or sitting in one place cause a pooling of blood in the legs and can cause damage to the capillaries and veins, thereby resulting in edema in the feet and lower legs. A reduced basal metabolic rate (the energy production of the body at rest), likewise, slows circulation and can lead to cold hands and feet, especially if combined with stress.

    Varicose veins are typical of damage to the circulatory system which we suffer as we age. By definition, varicose veins are those that are permanently dilated and bulging. Varicose veins are due, in large degree, to structural failures in the one-way valves which line the veins and the subsequent damage to vein walls, which then “balloon” into the surrounding tissues. To be sure, varicose veins offer no great health risk unless they are unusually large. The general loss of muscle tone in the walls of veins is common as we age. Obesity and pregnancy place special stresses upon the veins of the legs. More generally, occupations which call for extended stretches of standing in place are damaging to the veins of the legs. It is not walking, but rather prolonged standing which is damaging. Walking actually uses the muscles of the legs to improve blood flow. Even sitting for long periods without moving can lead to a pooling of blood in the legs and thus to increased pressure, which may damage the veins. Women are about four times more likely than men to have varicose veins. Pregnancy and occupations more typical of women than men account for part of this. The sex-linked lesser degree of muscle tone in women’s legs may account for the rest, just as cellulite is found in women rather than in men due to a differing matrix of structural support in the tissues.

    More annoying than varicose veins are hemorrhoids. It is often claimed that hemorrhoids are really a special type of varicose vein. However, these blood vessels do not contain the one-way valves which are typical of veins. Rudolf Weiss in his book Herbal Medicine observed that experiments suggest hemorrhoids have some relation to the arterial system and, for this reason, can be more difficult to treat than varicose veins. Modern anatomy finds hemorrhoids do, in fact, involve vessels which are returning blood to the heart and thus are veins, albeit unusual ones.

    Popularized medical accounts of hemorrhoids and their treatment seem to share this confusion. Robert M. Giller and Kathy Matthews in their book Natural Prescriptions claim that four out of five Americans will suffer from this condition during their lives. However, Julian Whitaker in Dr. Whitaker’s Guide to Natural Healing, places the figure as one out of three Americans, with the proportion rising to nearly one in two for those who are over fifty years of age.

    As is true of varicose veins, hemorrhoids have many possible causes. The lack of fiber and the refinement of the diets found in Western industrialized societies appear to be strongly contributory to the development of hemorrhoids because this type of diet induces an increase in straining during defecation. Other possible factors are any which might push the pressure in the rectum beyond its capacities. These include pregnancy, coughing, sneezing, vomiting, physical exertion, portal hypertension due to cirrhosis of the liver, even excessive standing or sitting.

    It should be pointed out refined diets may be significant for more than their lack of fiber. Rutin and hesperidin, two natural bioflavonoids, are sometimes used successfully as part of the treatment of both varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Pycnogenols or oligomeric proanthocyanidins (from grape seed extract) are similarly used. This suggests a dietary lack of plant antioxidants which have a protective affinity for collagen-based structures, such as the veins and the arteries, may be important for the development of venous problems.

    Dilated superficial veins in the lower extremities are the most common diagnostic criteria for chronic venous insufficiency. Chronic venous insufficiency is found in at least two-thirds of patients with leg ulcers, and therefore this condition should not be dismissed as being merely cosmetic. Other symptoms may include leg fatigue, aching discomfort, a feeling of heaviness, or pain. Edema is not uncommon in older patients. Along with ulceration, there may be pigmentation of the affected sites. Medical assessments may find abnormal phlebography, phlethysmography, and Doppler ultrasonography assessments. Localized inflammation is concomitant with many of these symptoms.

    Diosmin is a natural remedy suitable for amelioration of the symptoms of the various manifestations of chronic venous insufficiency. This flavonoid first was isolated in 1925 from the knotted figwort (Scrophularia nodosa L.) and introduced into therapeutic practice in 1969. “Diosmin’s mechanisms of action include improvement of venous tone, increased lymphatic drainage, protection of capillary bed microcirculation, inhibition of inflammatory reactions, and reduced capillary permeability.”

    Support for diosmin’s benefits can be found in a number of clinical trials. For instance, in one study carried out across 23 countries and involving 5,052 patients over a period of two years, it was found that 450 mg diosmin combined with 50 mg of hesperidin daily for six months led to clinically-significant improvements in the conditions associated with chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. These included pain in the legs, heaviness, a sensation of swelling and cramps. Even the much more serious conditions characterized by venous ulcerations and delayed healing responded to a higher level of supplementation. In a randomized multicenter trial, compared with standard ulcer management alone, the addition of 900 mg diosmin and 100 mg hesperidin almost doubled the percentage of patients experiencing complete healing of the ulcers. As opposed to only 28 percent in the conventional treatment group, 47 percent of the group receiving diosmin experienced healing of ulcers less than 10 cm in diameter.

    Hemorrhoids, similarly, have been shown to respond to treatment with diosmin. Patients ingesting 450 mg diosmin combined with 50 mg of herperidin twice per day (in the form of one tablet two times per day) for two months exhibited improvements in pain, discharge, edema and bleeding compared with controls in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 120 subjects.This is but one of several clinical trials with similar findings.

    Diabetics as a group experience certain more serious conditions under the heading of diabetic complications for which diosmin is helpful. Reduced blood flow, increased glycation and signs of oxidative stress are parameters that have been clinically tested. Diosmin even may normalize capillary filtration rate and help to avert ischemia in diabetics.

    Returning to the issue of edema or fluid retention, it should be understood this often can involve not just venous and capillary leakage into the surrounding tissues, but also poor performance by the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a non-blood system of drainage of fluids from the tissues. Diosmin has been shown to act on the lymphatic system by increasing lymph flow and lymph pressure. In practice, this means not just improving drainage in the lower limbs, but also reducing upper limb volume in conditions of swelling.

    What about use as a supplement? Safety is not an issue with diosmin—long-term trials with animals have shown no side effects even with intakes representing 35 times the suggested intake by humans. Typically, diosmin is taken at the rate of 500 mg twice daily. For some purposes, a loading dose of 1,000 mg three times daily for four days is recommended, followed by 1,000 mg twice daily for three days, and a maintenance dose of 500 mg twice daily for two months. What this means is that for most purposes, there is remarkable benefit in the areas of vascular-protection, chronic venous insufficiency, hemorrhoids, lymphedema and varicose veins with one small tablet taken two times per day.

    It is enough to make an orange proud.