Do you suffer from cold, numb and painful fingers at the slightest hint of cold weather? Then you may be suffering from Reynaud’s syndrome.
February is often the coldest month of the year, meaning misery for the ten million Raynaud’s sufferers in the UK. This month sees Raynaud’s Awareness Month, aiming to increase understanding of this condition. Many people don’t put their symptoms down to having Raynaud’s, believing they simply suffer from poor circulation.
In this blog we’ll explore some natural options for managing Raynaud’s.
Much more than just feeling the cold, your fingers may turn white, blue or red, with pain and tingling. Your toes, lips, nose, ears and even your nipples can be affected too.
When your skin senses coldness it sends a message to your brain to constrict the blood vessels in your extremities, reducing heat loss from your body.
If you suffer from Reynaud’s, your blood vessels react to even tiny changes in temperature by narrowing excessively, reducing blood flow. This causes the numbness and colour change, and when your circulation returns, you’ll feel pain and tingling in the affected area.
More women are affected than men, and the condition often develops before the age of 30.
There are two types of Raynaud’s, primary being the most common, meaning it isn’t caused by any underlying condition. Secondary Raynaud’s is associated with another disease, often scleroderma. This is where the immune system attacks the connective tissue, leaving the skin thick and hard with a build-up of scar tissue. Secondary Raynaud’s can also be connected with other autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of both types are similar, but secondary Raynaud’s is usually more severe and can lead to complications such as ulcers.
It seems people with Raynaud’s have a lower threshold for the body’s normal reaction to cold. This is governed by your body’s stress response, the protective fight/flight mechanism. If you suffer from Raynaud’s, you may notice attacks can be triggered by emotional stress as well as temperature changes.
When stress hormones are released, blood flow to large muscles is increased so you can run away or fight. Meanwhile, it’s decreased to the smaller extremities like your fingers. Stress also suppresses your immune system and may make it more likely to attack your own body.
So a stressful situation can trigger an attack and being stressed can mean your episodes of Raynaud’s are more severe.
If you have secondary Raynaud’s, the first step is to manage any underlying condition, and to understand why your immune system has become confused and is attacking your tissues. Good gut health is key, because your immune system health is greatly influenced by the condition of your gut. The bacteria calling your gut their home educate and interact with your immune cells. If your intestinal lining has become too permeable or leaky it can allow undesirable substances to pass into your blood, sparking off an attack from your immune system and a cascade of inflammatory reactions.
Many people with primary Raynaud’s have been found to have a bacterial infection of Helicobacter pylori in their stomach. When the bacteria were eradicated, the frequency and severity of Reynaud’s attacks reduced.
An anti-inflammatory diet, one which includes plenty of colourful vegetables, berries, fresh nuts, seeds and wild-caught salmon while avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates not only helps regulate inflammation but supports gut health as it includes plenty of natural fibre.
Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and spending some time outdoors daily – wearing warm weather gear – can help manage your body’s response to emotional and physical stress. Another great stress reliever is simply allowing yourself enough sleep. Making sure you’re consuming plenty of B vitamins can also support your body’s stress response.
Magnesium is needed to allow the muscles in your blood vessel walls to relax, increasing their diameter and allowing blood to flow freely. One study found lower than expected blood levels of magnesium in Raynaud’s sufferers after they were exposed to cold, although more research is needed to discover the significance of this. Try an Epsom salts bath – your skin will absorb magnesium from the water.
Avoid nutritional and lifestyle factors encouraging blood vessels to constrict, such as smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
Research on fish oil, rich in Omega 3, found people taking supplements had fewer attacks of primary Raynaud’s.
The herb ginkgo biloba, along with ginger and cayenne, can support circulation. Panax ginseng has been found in studies to improve reduce skin hypersensitivity to cold.
I can help by analysing your nutritional status and health history to determine the imbalances in your body leading to your health condition. Functional testing can assess the health of your gut and immune system, enabling dietary and lifestyle strategies to be personalised to you. Contact me today to start your journey towards managing Raynaud’s.
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