THE BLOG

Yoga "Treatment" for Varicose Veins

18/12/2013 11:50 | Updated 17 February 2014

Pseudo-medical claims are nothing new. As far back as history can record, there have been claims made for "miracle cures" for a whole variety of medical conditions. Most of these are to promote a belief system to gain followers or promote a product to earn money.

Of course this does not mean that all claims of "miracle cures" should be dismissed. Some will have been based upon personal experience or observation of others whilst others may be correct, even if largely by luck. The role of medical science is to try to understand the disease processes, test any such claim of a "cure" and then to see if our understanding of the disease processes can be modified if an unexpected success or failure of a treatment can be found.

I personally do not believe in the distinction between medicine and "alternative medicine". I would simply say, if something works to cure or alleviate a medical condition it is medicine and if it does not, it is not medicine. To label something as "alternative medicine" seems to be more of a marketing ploy than a classification based on any logic. There will always be a proportion of the population that wants to prove that everybody else is wrong and who will spend money on something that is somewhat an antiestablishment. I do not mind this provided people are not misinformed by false claims.

The Internet has had a massive impact into the dissemination of information throughout the world's population. As with all technology, this can have both good and bad consequences. From a medical point of view and on the positive side, patients and interested parties are now able to access medical information and research, allowing virtually anyone to check information about possible diagnoses and treatments. However on the negative side, it also provides a highly effective medium for "miracle cures" to be peddled to an information hungry public.

By the very nature of the complexity of science and research, the number of people able to produce good quality and accurate medical articles are going to be far fewer than people who will write an article on a condition that they know little or nothing about and a treatment they either sell or are personally passionate about. These latter articles and associated adverts appear all over the Internet and often make it very difficult for those that have a medical condition to identify what is safe medical information and treatments.

One of the many pseudo-medical claims that now appear widely on the Internet is the use of yoga to "treat" varicose veins.

A brief search today on Google for "yoga treatment for varicose veins" resulted in over 250,000 links to journals, books, DVDs and classes for those with varicose veins wanting a cure.

Contrast this with a search of the PubMed database for any research published in a scientific journal anywhere in the world linking the two, and not a single relevant paper or case report is found.

Could it be that yoga is so effective for treating varicose veins that research publications are unnecessary? This, of course, is not the case as such a revolutionary treatment for such a common condition would have had at least one major trial to prove it so that healthcare providers would fund it for patients.

So is the successful treatment of varicose veins by yoga a "pseudo-medical" claim? Reading many of the websites promoting this idea, almost all of them has a brief description of varicose veins as "twisted" or "distended" veins in the legs and most state that they are caused by "damaged valves". We know that when we stand up, even normal veins in the legs swell like varicose veins, and when we lie down they disappear. Furthermore, exercise pumps the blood out of the leg reducing the pressure in the varicose veins.

However, simply elevating the leg or exercising the leg muscles doesn't "cure" varicose veins any more than elevating the legs in bed at night does. Following a yoga session, as soon as the sufferer stands up again, the valves will still fail and the varicose veins will still be there.

So what should we do about the pseudo-medical claims made by yoga enthusiasts that they can cure varicose veins? Simply, if anyone really does believe that yoga can cure varicose veins and are not just making such claims to sell products or promote classes, then all they need to do is to set up a clinical study to prove their point and publish the results.

Until such a trial is performed and reported, I think that it would be safe to conclude that yoga is excellent exercise with many positive benefits which can even relieve the aching of varicose veins - but any claims of a cure should be dismissed as "pseudo-medicine".