Why do varicose veins appear with the menopause?
Looking after your cardiovascular health becomes even more important once you hit the menopause. Nutritionist Susie Debice, BSc Hons, Dip ION, explains how changing hormone levels increases the risk of varicose veins for post-menopausal women and suggests some easy-to-follow nutrition and lifestyle tips to support the health, strength, flexibility and integrity of blood vessel walls for menopausal women concerned with varicose veins.
How does oestrogen support artery health?
Oestrogen is the main female hormone that overseas the menstrual cycle during a woman’s reproductive years from puberty all the way up to the menopause. However, this hormone isn’t just limited to its involvement in fertility and menstruation. Oestrogen has many other important roles to play outside of the womb and one of these roles is to help protect and support the function of the cardiovascular system. Blood vessel walls have been found to contain oestrogen receptor sites which enable this hormone to assist in the vasodilation and vasoconstriction processes that force blood to flow easily, quickly and smoothly through arteries, veins and capillaries delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to cells, tissues and organs around the body.
Oestrogen, vitamin C and collagen for artery wall strength
Oestrogen and vitamin C also play a key role in maintaining, renewing and replenishing collagen, a structural protein found in skin and artery walls, which provides strength, elasticity and flexibility to blood vessel walls. As you go through the menopause you may find that your skin isn’t as ‘plump’ as it used to be. This is because the falling levels of oestrogen result in diminished collagen levels leaving the skin showing the visible signs of ageing and feeling a little saggy and baggy. Well, the same loss of tone could also be happening within blood vessel walls. Less oestrogen tends to mean that the tone, flexibility and strength of blood vessel walls could also become baggy and saggy. This results in blood ‘pooling’ or collecting in areas of weakness and a bulging effect within affected blood vessels. This creates a bobbly uneven structure that’s darker in colour often associated with varicose veins. Most women just find these varicose veins an unsightly cosmetic problem but for some menopausal women they may progress into a dull ache, painful area or cause discomfort on standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Nutrition and lifestyle tips to help manage varicose veins
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to reverse or eliminate a varicose vein once it’s formed, unless you choose to have them surgically removed. But you can make some diet and lifestyle changes to help minimise the risk of more varicose veins developing. Here’s what to focus on…
- Weight management – being overweight or obese puts the cardiovascular system under a stress and strain so engaging with a healthy and sustainable weight loss plan is highly advisable not just to help reduce your risk of varicose veins but for your general health and wellbeing. Aim to achieve a healthy BMI and set yourself realistic goals and targets.
- Keep moving – sitting or standing for long periods of time simply encourages the ‘pooling’ affect. Set alerts on your phone to remind you to take a quick walk around the block or a few hours to power up and down the stairs a few times to get your circulation flowing again.
- Improve leg strength – most varicose veins occur in the legs so keep your legs toned and fit with regular swimming, cycling, walking and running or if you have mobility problems then sign up for a course of physio so you can get some expert advice on a weights and recovery program to help get you back on your feet.
- Fat balance – when it comes to cardiovascular health swapping saturated fats and triglycerides, found in red meat, cheese, cream and fried or processed foods - which increase the risk of clogging up artery walls - for healthy fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds is a great step forward for cardiovascular function. If you don’t enjoy eating fish you could top up on omega-3 with a Cleanmarine Krill Oil supplement.
- The power of C – out of all the nutrients it’s vitamin C which supports the formation of collagen and helps support the normal function of blood vessel walls. Make sure you eat a daily supply of red/purple berries and green leafy vegetables which are a good source of vitamin C.