The constant chatter of rising energy costs and looming Winter woes is enough to turn anyone’s blood cold but for some people, living with extraordinarily cold hands and feet are bracing themselves as we move into the Winter months. Raynaud’s Syndrome which can be triggered by cold temperatures is surprisingly more common among Irish people than those living in Scandinavia and the Arctic. Could it be that even though we talk incessantly about the weather, we are not great at dressing for the very cold weather? We love donning puffa coats and fleece jackets but our heads, hands and feet are often left to fend off the icy chills with little or no protection. Hats, gloves and appropriate footwear are obvious items to add to your Winter wardrobe but there are also plenty of foodie remedies inside your kitchen that can keep you toasty from the inside out, keeping both your heart and your hands warm throughout the cold months.
Raynaud’s Syndrome is a condition which affects the blood supply to certain areas of the body, mainly fingers and toes. It is caused by temporary spasms of the small arteries responsible for bringing blood to the skin. The skin may appear white at first, then blue and once the spasm has passed, the rush of blood to the affected area, it can become quite red. It can be accompanied by numbness, tingling and pain. An episode can last from a few minutes to several hours. Triggers for Raynaud’s Syndrome include exposure to cold temperatures, stress, anxiety and fear (blood vessels are controlled by our nervous system). Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome is the most common form, accounting for 80-90% of cases and develops by itself though the reasons are unclear. Secondary Raynaud’s can develop with autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Lupus. People with primary Raynaud’s also have a higher risk of developing RA and Lupus - there is a link though not yet fully understood. While Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome is not considered serious, it is worthwhile to get a clear diagnosis from your GP and to rule out any underlying issues,
Keeping the body warm, particularly hands and feet is number one on the agenda to manage Raynaud’s. Activities such as cardio-type exercise will improve circulation and may prevent the frequency of vasospasms. The nervous system controls the contraction and dilation of blood vessels which is why strong emotions such as stress, anxiety and fear can trigger an episode. Managing stress through exercise, yoga and breathing makes sense as does seeking help with on-going anxiety or fear. Nutrition-based remedies for Raynaud’s target circulation and the stress response and luckily, there is a wide range of ingredients to suit everyone’s taste! These nutrients are useful in heart and circulatory health, maintaining normal blood pressure and preventing damage to blood vessels, making them relevant to most of us and not just those affected by Raynaud’s Syndrome.
Vasodilators such as ACE inhibitors and Betablockers are medications used to open up blood vessels and prevent heart-related health conditions. Viagra is also a vasodilator and in a round-about way improves matters of the heart too! Certain foods can dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow though maybe not as immediate as drugs, but certainly worth throwing into the pot if cold hands and feet, poor circulation and Raynaud’s syndrome are affecting you. Niacin (vitamin B3), found in seafood, chicken liver, portobello mushrooms, sunflower seeds and green peas is beneficial to the small capillaries bringing blood to the skin, making it a key nutrient to improve blood flow. All B-vitamins, including B3 and folic acid are involved in the stress response and nerve health. Although found in a huge range of foods, in times of increased demand or risk, it may be necessary to supplement with a good quality B-complex.
Nitric Oxide is a strong vasodilator found in flavonoid and L-arginine-rich foods. In 1998, three American pharmacologists picked up the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their discoveries of the role of Nitric Oxide in the body. These include widening blood vessels, helping to regulate blood pressure, initiating erections, battling infections, preventing formation of blood clots and acting as a messenger in the nervous system. Foods to boost your Nitric Oxide levels include argula (also known as rocket, now we know why!), beetroot, leafy greens, citrus, high-quality dark chocolate, walnuts and pomegranate. Spices such as garlic, cayenne and ginger improve circulation too and have a warming effect in the body, particularly useful during cold weather. Add them in food or let them infuse in some olive oil (or mustard oil) to apply to hands and feet in chilly weather. Ginko Biloba, available with prescription, showed a 60% reduction in symptoms of Raynaud’s Syndrome and is used widely for both circulatory and nerve health. Vitamin E in avocados, olive oil, wheatgerm, pumpkin seeds and walnuts protects blood vessels and omega 3 keeps blood from getting too sticky, improving blood flow.
The food you eat every day has the greatest influence on your health and as you have just read, the range of health benefits of heart-warming ingredients are far-reaching. A little kitchen medicine may well be the best remedy to make cold hands, cold feet and even the cold shoulder a thing of the past.