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You may have noticed an older person walking slowly in a busy street then stop to look in a shop window

You may have noticed an older person walking slowly in a busy street then stop to look in a shop window. He seems to be recovering from exertion and pain. This could be someone suffering from a condition which affects one to two per cent of our population: intermittent claudication.

The unusual name, claudication, comes from the Roman emperor Claudius, who suffered from a limp. It's a form of peripheral arterial disease and is caused by narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the legs, usually the iliac or femoral arteries. The result is that on exertion, the muscles are starved of blood and oxygen. The legs are at best tired. At worst, they ache.

The typical sufferer from intermittent claudication:

  • Male over 60 or female after menopause
  • A smoker
  • Has high blood pressure
  • Has raised blood cholesterol
  • Overweight
  • Takes little exercise (the condition contributes to this)
  • Has a family history of atheroma
  • Diabetic

There are three main features, which include pain in the buttocks, thighs or calf muscles. The onset of pain is brought about by a constant amount of exercise. Patients will say things like "I can walk a block and then the pain starts." The third indication is that the pain stops promptly when the exercising stops.

As with other peripheral arterial disease there may be sores on the leg that do not heal well. Additional symptoms include numbness, weakness and a heavy feeling in the legs. People who have diseased arteries in the leg or foot are likely to have them elsewhere, mainly in the heart and brain. This condition isolates older people by greatly reducing their mobility.

Herbs That Heal

Herbal therapy has much to offer in the treatment of intermittent claudication. As this condition involves many of the processes of cardiovascular disease the recommendations and herbs indicated are similar. These include reducing the intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars; eating high-fibre foods that are low in saturated fats; eating plenty of foods rich in vitamin E, including dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wheat germ; using only cold-pressed unrefined oils; adopting a daily regimen of antioxidant vitamins and minerals like coenzyme Q10, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, B6, B12, folic acid and vitamin C with bioflavonoids, as well as a high quality one-a-day multivitamin and mineral supplement. Exercise to maintain circulation.

Modern scientific research has shown that some herbs are amongst the most valuable treatments for peripheral arterial disease.

Capsicum or cayenne is often overlooked in its role in arterial disease. It is a potent antioxidant and promotes vasodilation (an increase in the diameter of arteries, which relaxes artery walls and lowers blood pressure). Capsicum helps with pain by mediating nerve transmission. The herb inhibits the rise of cholesterol in the liver and reduces platelet aggregation, so reducing the risk of clots.

Prickly ash bark is a native North American remedy which has long been used for peripheral circulatory diseases. The bark is known to increase the capillary circulation and is specific for cramp-like pains of the leg on walking. Prickly ash is valuable for the fatigue that is associated with intermittent claudication.

Garlic is not only beneficial in intermittent claudication, it is known to aid in preventing arterial disease. Garlic reduces the oxidation of cholesterol and low density lipoproteins (LDLs) or "bad fats" as they are known, reducing the formation of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. It improves the peripheral circulation, so hands and feet feel warmer after its use. This also happens with both capsicum and prickly ash.

Hawthorn is one of the best known circulatory remedies. As well as improving peripheral circulation and benefiting the heart, the herb is an antioxidant and reduces LDLs in the blood.

Recent research from Denmark, Israel and Poland has shown that a traditional Tibetan herbal formula may be one of the most effective treatments for intermittent claudication. This formula, now available as Padma Basic, is a combination of 19 herbs and two minerals and is a licensed product in Switzerland, where it is manufactured to Tibetan and European standards. It showed excellent results in randomized, double blind trials over six months. Further trials have shown the formula to be a potent antioxidant.

Sufferers from intermittent claudication have options. A change of lifestyle and eating habits are often all that is required to reduce the severity of the disease and improve health. The recommendations and herbs given above are a sound place to start.

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