And the all-natural options that can break the cycle for good
It’s December. The cold weather has finally taken hold. And like clockwork, it starts…
First, your fingers or toes feel ice cold, numb, and stiff—they look pale-white, even slightly blue. So you crank the heat to warm up—and just like that, your previously freezing extremities flush red and start to tingle, swell, and throb. Until the cold sinks in again, of course. And then the whole uncomfortable ordeal repeats itself.
It’s irritating—even painful. And it happens every winter. Sound familiar?
Well, there’s a name for this phenomenon—and it’s not just “bad circulation.” (Although your circulation does play a major role.)
It’s called Raynaud’s disease. Roughly 10 percent of the population has it. And if you’re one of those people, odds are you haven’t sought treatment for it. Nine out of ten Raynaud’s sufferers don’t.
And that’s a shame. Because as usual, there’s actually a lot you can do to help break this dreaded cycle for good. But first, let me take a moment to talk about what causes this surprisingly common syndrome.
Big spasms in your smallest arteries
Your body’s smallest arteries naturally constrict in response to cold—and everyone is going to suffer symptoms with exposure to frigid temperatures to some degree. But for Raynaud’s sufferers, these spasms are especially quick and severe.
Simply washing your hands in cold water, or grabbing something out of the freezer could trigger an attack. In some cases, stress is the culprit. (Blood vessel constriction is a part of your body’s natural “flight or flight” response to danger.)
It isn’t always just your fingers and toes that feel the freeze, either. It’s less common, but you may also experience symptoms in your earlobes, your nose, or even on your tongue.
So why does Raynaud’s affect some people and not others? Well, that depends.
For some patients, Raynaud’s syndrome is secondary—that is, it’s a side effect of another underlying problem. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, carpal tunnel syndrome, connective tissue disorders, and arterial disease are all associated with this phenomenon.
Certain drugs can also be to blame. Over-the-counter cold medicine—like Sudafed and Dimetapp—are associated with Raynaud’s phenomenon. So are beta-blockers, birth control pills, and certain chemotherapy agents.
Chemical exposure—to vinyl chloride in particular—is another potential factor. As is cigarette smoking, which I’m sure comes as no surprise.
But for most people, Raynaud’s disease is idiopathic—which simply means that there’s no underlying disorder causing it. It affects both men and women—but it’s more common in women. And it may be hereditary, though researchers aren’t certain.
Ultimately, most doctors will dismiss Raynaud’s disease as a “nuisance condition” and will simply write it off with a prescription for the mainstream treatment option—calcium channel blockers or ACE inhibitors. But considering the fact that attacks can occur daily and last for hours, I take issue with this attitude—there’s a little more to it than that.
Sure, staying warm and wearing an extra pair of socks is always a good idea. And obviously, kicking caffeine, nicotine, and any offending cold medicines is a must. But there are other natural strategies that can help, too.
A better way to relax your blood vessels
First, let’s talk about what you don’t want to do. As you may have guessed, taking calcium channel blockers or ACE inhibitors is at the top of that list.
As we discussed on page 2, blood pressure drugs have side effects—and some of them are pretty nasty. Unfortunately, most conventional doctors still consider them to be perfectly safe. And they don’t think twice about handing out prescriptions.
Your doctor might also tell you that this is the only treatment available for Raynaud’s disease. And that would be true… if you were only looking at what Big Pharma has to offer. But as usual, there are safer options to choose from. And Pycnogenol and magnesium are the most obvious to start with.
Pycnogenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark, is always my number one pick for any issue related to microcirculation. Magnesium, meanwhile, nourishes both the nervous and circulatory systems. (Both are staples in my blood pressure protocol, which you can find on page 4.)
I also recommend taking a comprehensive B-complex supplement daily. Niacin in particular may help to reduce arterial spasms and prevent Raynaud’s attacks—but all of the B-vitamins help to keep your circulatory and nervous systems in order.
Finally, invest in a high-quality fish oil supplement. One study showed significant improvements in both cold tolerance and vasospasms (the loss of blood flow in certain extremities due to a spasm in the blood vessels) among patients with primary Raynaud’s disease taking high doses of omega-3s.1 I recommend taking at least 3,000 mg of EPA/DHA daily.
Controlling stress and nourishing your adrenals can also go a long way toward boosting circulation and reducing Raynaud’s attacks. I’ve covered my adrenal protocol many times—most recently in the April 2016 issue. (To download this issue from the archives, you can sign in to the “Subscribers” section of my website, DrPescatore.com, with your username and password.)
With the holiday frenzy about to hit fever pitch, I can’t think of a better time to revisit that article. It’s important information for anyone to have. But for Raynaud’s sufferers in particular, it could be life-changing.
- DiGiacomo RA, et al. Am J Med. 1989 Feb;86(2):158-64.