by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCP
This article is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. It is meant for educational purposes only. Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health, and Nature’s Sunshine Products accept no responsibility for results you get, whether good or bad, from using this information. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.
Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.
Do cold hands always mean a warm heart? Or could they just be a symptom of something else?
I worked with a client some time ago who had been diagnosed as having Raynaud’s Disease. When her hands got cold, they would turn white, then blue, and literally seize up to where she could not move them; they were literally ‘frozen stiff’. Finally the affected part turned red, tingled, and burned as blood flow began to return. She had lived in the Yukon Territories for a time and had to leave because of her hands. She could not buy a jug of milk, because touching the cold jug long enough to load it into the grocery cart would start the Raynaud’s reaction.
The trick here, according to the medical profession, is to make an accurate diagnosis. These types of circulatory symptoms can be caused by many things, including hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, reactive hypoglycemia, and other circulatory problems. Cigarette smoking and certain drugs, including the birth control pill, blood pressure medications, migraine medications, and caffeine, can also stimulate this kind of circulatory compromise.
This condition is called Raynaud’s Phenomenon when it is a secondary problem associated with other disease processes like scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroiditis, trauma, primary pulmonary hypertension, and thoracic outlet syndrome.
Just as Raynaud’s can be a symptom of another problem, it can also cause other disease processes such as migraine headaches and Prinzmetal’s angina (angina caused by spasming of coronary arteries).
Raynaud’s, itself, is a condition that involves spasms of the arterioles of the hands, feet, ears, and nose. These spasms may be caused by cold, emotional upsets, stress, vibrations (such as with construction equipment), or food sensitivities. Episodes may last just a few minutes to several hours. The pain caused by the impaired blood flow can be excruciating, and other symptoms can include tingling, numbness, and burning. If allowed to progress unchecked, Raynaud’s can damage tissues and lead to ulcers, chronic infections, and even gangrene in the affected body parts. This condition is more common in women than men.
In the clients I have worked with I have found a common problem. Many of them internalize stress to an extreme degree. The demand this places on their adrenal glands is more than their tired adrenals can stand.
Many foods have been found helpful in supporting the body against Raynaud’s. Two tablespoonfuls of unrefined, cold-pressed flax oil per day can improve circulation and enhance the body’s ability to produce stress-controlling hormones. Beets, carrots, artichokes, parsnips, dandelion greens, watercress and burdock root all have a cleansing effect on the liver and seem to help with the normalization of circulation.
Avoid alcohol and foods that are refined. Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar, and anything that is processed), especially, can send the blood sugars on a wild roller-coaster ride that can cause adrenal stress and blood sugar imbalance, and upset the circulatory balance.
Things to avoid
There are also foods that should be avoided. These foods stress the liver and have a significant impact on the body’s internal energy system. The list includes beef, pork, alcohol, hot sauces, spicy foods, fried foods, processed foods, cold foods and foods that have a cooling reaction in the body – like the mint family.
Drugs from the calcium channel blocker family, including nifedipine (procardia, adalat, and others) and verapamil (calan, isoptin, verelan), can have a bad impact on Raynaud’s.
Sympathectomy, a surgical procedure wherein appropriate fibers of the sympathetic nervous system that regulate the tension in the capillaries are severed, is used as a desperate measure to improve circulation.
Of course, there are several herbs that may be helpful in controlling this most uncomfortable condition. There are two clear herbal approaches that may be used simultaneously. The first is to work with the circulatory system. By choosing herbs that may dilate the capillaries, circulation to the extremities will be enhanced. The second is to support the adrenal glands, reducing the release of the stress-coping adrenal hormones that constrict the capillaries, thus allowing better circulation even under stress.
Circulatory System Support. Capsicum is known as a circulation normalizer. If capillaries need dilating or constricting, capsicum knows just what to do and does it. A little capsicum sprinkled in gloves or socks can keep hands or feet warm in cold weather. I like to don a thin cotton glove first to keep the capsicum off my skin. The capsicum gets sprinkled into my ‘big’ mitts. It’s the volatile oil – capsaicin – in capsicum that creates the vasodilation effect, and those oils will percolate through the cotton liner glove. Prolonged direct skin contact with capsicum can ‘burn’ the skin. Always be sure to wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and water when you are finished with your capsicum gloves. Rubbing your eyes or touching other delicate parts of your body when they have capsaicin on them will cause ‘burning’ in those delicate tissues.
Combining capsicum with garlic and ginger can produce a dynamic trio. Garlic is well known for its ability to remove obstructions from the circulatory system, and ginger is known for its strengthening effect on other herbs.
Butcher’s Broom is another excellent choice for peripheral circulatory insufficiency. It has a tremendous ability to strengthen capillary walls. It also has been found in testing to increase circulation to the arms and legs. It does have a cathartic (bowel-loosening) action, so a little caution is a good thing.
Vitamin B3 (niacin, found in NSP’s Stress Formula) has a strong vasodilating effect. A definite symptom that vasodilation is taking place is the ‘niacin flush’. As large doses of niacin are assimilated, capillaries dilate, causing hot blushing and itching, usually starting at the top of the body and spreading down. These symptoms are not harmful; they are simply an indication that an excess of niacin has been consumed and is working well. Obviously, dilating the capillaries of the hands and feet during an episode of Raynaud’s is a desirable outcome. Caution should be exercised since large amounts of niacin (2000 mg per day), taken on a regular basis, can be hard on the liver. Circulatory problems should respond well to amounts of between 50 and 500 mg per day. (Niacinamide does not produce this same vasodilating effect.)
Adrenal gland and nervous system support. Ginkgo Biloba exhibits beneficial effects on Raynaud’s on several levels. This herb’s ability to scavenge free radicals from the brain and nervous tissue is notable. It also prevents metabolic disturbances in the brain by enhancing oxygen utilization and increasing cellular uptake of glucose to maintain steady energy production in the brain. This may keep the nervous system on a steady enough keel to prevent the adrenal gland over-reactions that would cause the capillaries to constrict.
Licorice Root is an amazing adrenal support herb. By strengthening the adrenal glands and making them more able to balance their output of stress-coping hormones, we increase the body’s ability to respond to stressful events without creating major imbalances in its normal functioning.
Adrenal Support and AD-C are two more supplements that do an excellent job of supporting the adrenal glands, helping to bring their functioning back into the normal range.
You know when your adrenal glands and nervous system are working well. You will handle stress with grace. The same situation with poorly functioning adrenal glands and nervous system will produce much more out-of-control reactions.
Pain control can be a challenge with Raynaud’s. St. John’s Wort is an effective choice for pain, as well as for anxiety and nervous tension, both of which can make Raynaud’s symptoms worse. St. John’s Wort strengthens capillaries, dilates coronary arteries, and contains the bioflavonoids rutin, quercetin, and hyperoside.
Passion Flower has the ability to reduce muscle spasms and relax the nervous system. Remember that arteries are muscled vessels that feed into the capillaries. If the arteries are spasmed and constricted there will be less blood flow into the capillaries.
Several other supplements have proven helpful with controlling or relieving Raynaud’s. Nitric Oxide has been studied most recently and is showing promise. Nitric Oxide dilates blood vessels and enhances circulation throughout the body. Cases have been reported where Nitric Oxide successfully controlled symptoms of Raynaud’s, even reversing tissue damage. The amino acid, L-Arginine (Arginine Plus) has been proven to help build the body’s levels of Nitric Oxide.
Other Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements
Blood flow to the extremities has been improved and numbness relieved by using Vitamin E. The d-mixed tocopherol form is the most bio-effective. Doses of up to 1200 IU are usually well tolerated and have been used with good results. This vitamin can be found in avocados and fresh, raw wheat germ.
The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids (think of Evening Primrose Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Super Oil, or Super Omega 3) do several things that can be helpful in working with Raynaud’s. These oils prevent blood clots, break down blockages in arteries, and provide the essential fatty acids needed by the adrenal glands to balance the production of stress-coping hormones. Common doses used in Raynaud’s are 3000 mg per day in divided doses. This amount of oils can sometimes loosen the bowels, so be sure to divide the dose.
The proanthocyanadin complex (Grapine) can also be beneficial. It seems to have a positive, normalizing effect on nearly every tissue in the body and, while it is 50 times stronger than vitamin C and 20 times stronger than vitamin E, there has been no evidence of toxicity at any level in any studies done to date.
Another nutrient that prevents and corrects muscle spasms is the mineral magnesium. Its ability to relieve muscle spasms allows the capillaries to relax and dilate, warming the extremity more quickly. Since magnesium can also loosen the bowels, be sure to balance it with an equal amount of calcium.
It makes good sense to do what one can to prevent Raynaud’s from exacerbating. Easy-to-do things include being properly dressed for the weather, taking care to wear warm gloves, socks, boots, and hats. Avoid repeatedly immersing the hands into cold water or substances. Limit stress, and learn stress-coping techniques.
Using the proper diet, supplements, and lifestyle skills can go a long way to warming one’s heart and hands.
If you have concerns about Raynaud’s, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available. I also invite you to like us on facebook and visit our other websites:
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Return to the Joy of Health, Zoltan Rona, 1995
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Balch & Balch, 1997
Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, Michael Murray, 1996
The Healing Power of Herbs, Michael Murray, 1995
Today’s Herbal Health, Louise Tenney, 2000
The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, Lieberman and Bruning, 1990
Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).