That’s the calf of the great American cyclist George Hincapie, currently riding in this year’s Tour de France. It’s an unsightly case of varicose veins, which are very common not just with cyclists, but other athletes too, including ordinary, everyday people. Although common, they are definitely not normal, and there are steps you can take to lessen your chances of developing a varicose veins, and perhaps dampen your problem if you’re already dealing with a road map on your legs.
When a vein fails and the valves within the vein breakdown, it is unable to carry blood back to the heart which eventually results in increased pressure, swelling, and inflammation – a varicose vein. The pooling blood can cause pain and cramping too. There is a lot of speculation as to what causes varicose veins. In Hincapie’s case, hours and days of sitting in the saddle is thought to be the culprit. But why then doesn’t everybody who logs in those hours on the bike get varicose veins? Or how about prolonged sitting at a desk day after day?
Although prolonged sitting and standing can restrict circulation and add pressure to veins, other more significant factors are responsible for varicose veins. Hormonal influences on the veins are a very common, and not normal, reason for torturous veins. This is why many women experience varicose veins during pregnancy and menopause. Yes, some of the varicose veins during pregnancy can be attributed to the weight gain and extra pressure on the legs, but again, it is just another contributing factor. Any excess weight is an additional factor too, yet clearly Hincapie is not overweight. Genetics and age, as with most ailments, always play a factor, but these tend to reveal themselves more due to the health of the individual failing as they get older, and I’m pretty sure we don’t have a genetic test for varicose veins. Actually, one of the most common types of varicose veins a person gets is a hemorrhoid, though we don’t tend to think of a hemorroid in such a way. Although a hemorrhoid can be due to constipation and/or excess weight gain, one of the most common reasons for hemorrhoids and all varicose veins is hormonal stress, particularly that of the adrenal glands. I think it’s safe to say that Hincapie, and all riders in The Tour, suffer a lot of adrenal gland stress.
Dealing with the current stress that is contributing to or causing the varicose veins is a priority. This could mean changing the current training/exercise program from one that’s more anaerobic to more aerobic so cortisol (stress hormone) levels can decrease and inflammatory levels can subside. Increased hormonal stress also causes liver congestion, which can be a factor with varicose veins. Nutritional stress from a poor diet and emotional stress can also tax the adrenal glands resulting in veins resembling a can of worms.
Antioxidants play a huge part in maintaining the integrity of the vascular system. When vessels enlarge, lose tone, and become distended, look to those colorful bioflavonoids that give fruits, vegetables, and herbs their bright robust colors and flavors. The extract of grape seeds and pine bark both contain oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) which are flavonoid-rich antioxidants that can strengthen the connective tissue structure of blood vessels and reduce inflammation. Some other flavonoids-rich foods are cherries, blackberries, apricots, buckwheat, raspberries, green tea, red wine, bell peppers, onions, asparagus, brussels sprouts, apples, pears, and the thin inner layer of citrus rinds (that’s the white stuff between the orange peel and the part most people eat).
Quercetin, rutin, and hesperidin are common supplemental forms of flavonoids and may be beneficial. The herb collinsonia root (stone root) can act as a powerful vascular astringent to help lessen and sometimes resolve hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
So if you’re dealing with a varicose vein, whether it’s a hemorrhoid, a thick vein running down your calf, or a clump of swollen veins like George, take a look at your stress levels and diet. Yes, many hours in the saddle and standing or sitting a lot during your day may contribute to the problem, but the hormonal and dietary effects far outweigh them. Even if you require surgery to resolve unsightly and painful veins which has progressed too far, you’ll still want to make changes so other veins don’t pop up, or out, again in the future.