~ written by Katolen Yardley, MNIMH, Medical Herbalist
Circulatory problems can be a sign of underlying and undiagnosed health concerns such as varicose veins, thrombosis and plaque buildup in the arteries, high or low blood pressure, chilblains, Reynauds syndrome, and diabetes. Tingling, burning,or pins and needle sensations in the hands and toes are also common signs of circulatory issues and should be specifically addressed by your medical herbalist. A lack of oxygen to the tissues due to disrupted circulation can lead to a whitish or bluish hue to the fingers and toes; and when left untreated, gangrene may result from chronic contraction of the arteries.
Tips for Improving Circulation
- Cut out smoking! Many chemicals added to commercial tobacco are known carcinogens (known to be cancer causing) and are extremely damaging to the heart and circulatory system. It is understood that smoking contributes to elevated cholesterol levels by affecting the livers biofeedback mechanisms ~ mechanisms that regulate how much cholesterol is manufactured. Smoking is known to promote platelet aggregation (clumping) and increase the risk of heart disease and strokes.
- Decrease the consumption of tea, coffee and caffeinated drinks ~such as cola and red bull. Caffeine constricts blood vessels and decreases peripheral circulation, leading to a rise in blood pressure. A high intake of caffeine in tea or coffee promotes the ‘fight or flight’ response, raises the blood pressure and contributes to irritability.
- Replace the salt and pepper shaker with cayenne pepper powder. Use cayenne pepper to season your food and keep on the counter where you normally would keep the salt shaker. Traditionally, Cayenne is known to improve circulation and improve blood flow throughout the body.
- Add freshly chopped garlic to ones diet. Garlic is known for both enhancing immune system function and for its heart health benefits. Studies on garlic have shown it to be helpful for improving cholesterol levels and decrease the likelihood of platelet clumping.
- Keep fresh ginger in your pantry and chop, grate or slice the fresh root, adding it to soups, stews, stir fries or even herbal teas for an added spicy flavor. Ginger is known to improve circulation and blood flow to the hands and feet, traditionally used for chilblains, and gently easing the symptoms of frostbite.
- Herbal Teas are ideal for improving and supporting healthy circulation: Herbal teas such as ginger root, hawthorn berries, yarrow flowers, linden leaves, rosemary leaves, ginkgo leaves are all rich in flavonoids and have the effect of strengthening the walls of blood vessels, improving circulation and used long term for reducing hypertension.
- Reduce stress levels: Long term stress can cause a domino effect of health concerns in the body. Continuous stress increases the release of adrenalin into the blood stream, leading to a rise in blood pressure. Deep breathing techniques, stress management, regular exercise, yoga and tai chi can all go a long way to reduce the impact that stress plays on the body.
- Uncross your legs. Frequent leg crossing looks pleasing to the eye, but can hinder circulation, further contributing to broken veins and spider veins.
- Choose Movement! Instead of sitting for long periods of time, take a moment to raise up both legs off the floor and flex and point your toes OR take a time-out moment and walk. Sitting for long periods of time can decrease blood flowing to the peripheries and raise the risk of thrombosis ~ clot formations in veins deep within the body.
- Witch hazel water applied topically to the skin is cooling to local inflammation and promotes circulation.
- Consume buckwheat. This tasty grain is packed full of bioflavonoids which assist to enhance circulation.
- Horseradish: this spicy condiment is traditionally consumed to alleviate symptoms of sinus congestion and to improve poor circulation.
- Home remedies for circulatory issues: Due to direct exposure to the cold, chilblains can cause surface inflammation, itching and redness of the hands and feet. Traditional home remedies include rubbing the affected hands and feet with raw onion, or bathing in potato water, (hot water containing grated fresh potato). Apple cider vinegar is also used to improve circulation and used as a topical soak. Essential oils such as ginger, cypress, and release essential oil blend can be diluted in a base oil and rubbed topically on the hands and feet and areas of poor circulation.
- Traditionally, Gingko biloba has been used to increase the blood flow to the upper part of the body. Individuals on blood thinners should consult their medical herbalist prior to use.
- Regular exercise: Increasing the pumping mechanism of the heart is extremely important for cardiovascular health ~ as exercise enhances blood flow, improves the circulation of blood from the heart to the peripheries, helps reduce obesity and regulates blood pressure.
- Decrease the intake of trans fatty acids (bad fats contained in margarine, shortening, and most processed foods) and avoid deep fried and fatty foods; instead increase the intake on Omega 3 fatty acids in forms such as flax seed oil, fish oils, extra virgin olive oil increase the intake of deep sea- cold water fish such as: mackerel, herring, salmon and halibut ~ especially rich in Omega 3. Or take Nutra Sea Oil, a high quality fish oil supplement.
- Dry skin brushing aids poor circulation; use a vegetable bristle brush and begin brushing from the feet and work up towards the heart, brushing in a clockwise motion. Avoid brushing over areas of varicose veins, thin skin or open wounds.
- Increase the intake of fiber: fiber can help lower elevated cholesterol levels. Foods high in fiber include: psyllium seed powder, oat bran, brown rich, beans, onions, pears, peas, and broccoli.
- Coenzyme Q 10: helps to improve tissue oxygenation.
- Keep hands and feet warm in cold weather and wear gloves whenever possible.