COLD FEET? WARM UP WITH EASTERN MEDICINE
The Eastern Medicine Approach To Poor Circulation
Got cold feet but it’s not your wedding day? Having cold feet and hands can be uncomfortable and even painful! Here’s what you need to know about the Eastern and western perspectives on poor circulation and cold extremities so you can warm up.
What is Reynaud’s?
In western medicine, perpetually cold hands and feet is usually diagnosed as Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon. It’s when your blood circulation to your fingers, toes, ears and nose gets cut off because your blood vessels shrink. The blood can’t get to your extremities, so they can feel ice-cold and can even turn blue or purple!
If you have Reynaud’s but no other underlying health issues, it’s called Primary Reynaud’s, but if your poor circulation is the result of another health problem, it’s called Secondary Reynaud’s. Either way, Reynaud’s attacks (known as vasospasms) can be triggered by high stress levels or cold temperature.
Symptoms of Reynaud’s
If you think you have Reynaud’s, your doctor will ask about your symptoms. Here are some typical symptoms that you might display:
- The most visible sign of Raynauds is discolored extremities, like blue fingers or purple toes. At first, your skin will get very pale as the blood drains out of them. Then they might start to turn bluish purple.
- Your extremities will feel very cold and may even go numb even if the rest of your body is warm.
- You might also notice some tingling, or pain when you have an attack.
- Attacks will be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour or two.
- Once the attack is over, your hands and feet might turn bright red and start to throb as the blood starts to flow again and you warm back up.
When it comes to Reynaud’s, westen medicine doesn’t have a miracle cure. Instead, there are some treatment options that are typically suggested:
- Limit caffeine and nicotine: these products can restrict your circulation, so it’s best to avoid them because they can trigger an attack.
- Layer up: Because cold can cause Reynauds to act up, it’s a good idea to dress warmly and bring extra layers in case you get chilly.
- Watch your blood sugar: Diabetic neuropathies can mimic Reynaud’s.
- Chill out: Because stress can also affect Reynad’s disease, it’s important to limit stressful activities and practice stress management techniques like deep breathing or exercise (which also helps to boost your circulation).
- Prescription meds: If Raynaud’s attacks are a major issue in your life, your doctor might prescribe you medication to help open up your blood vessels and boost circulation. Depending on what your doctor thinks is best, you might be prescribed antidepressants, antihypertensive medications, or erectile dysfunction drugs.
- For urgent care: if you’re in the middle of a vasospasm, there are things you can do to help it pass faster. You can put on gloves or warm socks after running your hands and feet under warm (but not hot!) water. Go for a walk or give yourself a little massage to get the blood flowing. If you think the attack was triggered by stress, try focusing on your breathing and slowing down your heart rate.
The Eastern Perspective
Cold Hands and Feet in TCM
If you go to an MD and complain of cold hands and feet, they’ll probably tell you that you have poor circulation or Reynaud’s. But if you bring the same complaint to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, they’ll look at the problem holistically. They might ask about your emotional state, check your pulse, or look at your tongue to figure out what’s going on.
But generally, in TCM, cold hands and feet generally indicate imbalanced qi. Qi is made up of yin and yang energy. Yin energy goes to the organs, while yang goes to the limbs. But for either of these energies to do their job, they need to work together. When they can’t connect and work together, your limbs won’t get the energy and warmth they need.
But what stops these yin and yang energies from working together? It could actually be a few things: qi stagnation, blood stasis, and even indigestion. Often working on strengthening your yang energy can be a good way to get your blood and energy flowing again.
Ginseng is another herb that can help with poor circulation that leads to cold hands and feet. This superfood is chock full of antioxidants, helps lower inflammation, and even boosts memory and concentration! But researchers think that Korean Red Ginseng in particular might help with bad circulation because it boosts blood flow. That’s the same reason it helps with erectile dysfunction!
Ginkgo Biloba Leaves
Ginkgo Biloba leaf is a remedy used to treat everything from a low libido to too much anxiety. And studies show that it might also be a helpful treatment for Reynaud’s. That’s because it works to increase blood flow thanks to compounds known as terpenoids. These compounds dilate the blood vessels in your body, helping your blood circulate better.
Having needles stuck in the top layer of your skin may not sound like it would be helpful for circulation issues, but researchers have been looking at the link between this TCM practice and Reynaud’s for decades. Back in the 90’s, scientists had Reynaud’s sufferers receive acupuncture treatments 7 times over 23 weeks. By the end of the trial, participants had their attack frequencies cut in half! Researchers think this increase in circulation might be because acupuncture promotes the secretion of nitric acid around the needles, which relaxes blood vessels.