TREATING RAYNAUD’S WITH TCM
When East Meets West
What is Raynaud’s?
Have you ever noticed your hands and feet get cold very easily? Maybe they turn a light shade of blue or purple when it gets cold or when you’re stressed out. In the west, we call that Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon. Basically, it’s when your blood doesn’t circulate to your fingers, toes, ears and nose because your blood vessels shrink. Because blood can’t get to those body parts, they can get very cold and turn pale.
There’s two kinds of Raynaud’s: Primary (when there’s no other cause for the circulation issues) or Secondary (when it’s the result of another health issue). And when Raynaud’s flares up, those attacks are called vasospasms. They’re usually caused by stress or the cold.
Western Treatments for Raynaud’s
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for Raynaud’s in either western or eastern medicine practices. But both traditions have ways to treat the symptoms and make attacks less frequent. There’s three main techniques:
- Boost circulation
- Chill out, and
- Stay warm.
Here’s the western approach.
When it’s cold outside, your circulation can go down. So another way to boost your circulation is to dress especially warm when it’s chilly out. It’s also smart to dress in layers so you can always take some off or add them on so you can stay warm inside and outside.
There’s a few things you can do to make sure you support your circulation. First of all, you can cut nicotine and alcohol out of your daily routine. They can both restrict your circulation, so try to avoid them as much as possible–especially when it’s cold out.
If you do everything you can to improve your circulation but are still having issues with Raynaud’s, your doctor might have you take certain pharmaceuticals that help to open up your blood vessels to improve circulation. There’s many different medicines that can help with this, including antidepressants, antihypertensive medications, or erectile dysfunction drugs.
When you have Raynaud’s, it’s important to stay warm. But you also have to chill out! When you’re super stressed out, your circulation goes way down. Your doctor will probably encourage you to limit stressful activities and take up stress-relieving hobbies or activities.
The Eastern Perspective on Raynaud’s
Sometimes, Western treatments by themselves just don’t cut it. And when that happens, many turn to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). By combining the best that the East and West have to offer, many people with Raynaud’s can live comfortably without their condition impacting their life very often. Here’s how to use TCM methods to complement Western treatments.
If cutting out nicotine and alcohol alongside a prescription medicine doesn’t boost your circulation enough, there are some herbal options from TCM that can help. Talk to your Primary Care Physician or TCM practitioner about what western methods you’re using to boost circulation to see if any of these herbs would complement your existing treatment.
- Ginkgo Biloba: Ginkgo Biloba is a TCM remedy that is used to treat a bunch of different issues, including a low sex drive and anxiety. And studies have found that it can help boost circulation by dilating your blood vessels, making it easier for blood to flow through your veins.
- Ginseng: Ginseng is another cure-all herb from TCM. It’s loaded with antioxidants that help to lower inflammation so it’s great for many different health problems. One study found that Korean Red Ginseng is especially good for boosting circulation by increasing blood flow, so it’s a great treatment for Raynaud’s.
- Evening Primrose Oil: Evening Primrose Oil, or EPO for short, is another herbal medicine that can help with Raynaud’s. That’s because it contains a certain kind of fatty acid that lowers the amount of chemicals your body makes to restrict blood vessels. One study found that people who have Raynaud’s and took EPO had fewer attacks, and the ones they did have weren’t as bad. However, if you get seizures you shouldn’t take EPO. Make sure to check with your doctor if it’s a good choice for you.
When it comes to stress management, TCM knows what it’s doing. One option is to take up a practice like yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation that has been clinically proven to reduce stress and keep anxiety low. But there’s also plenty of herbal options that can help fight stress from the inside. Here’s a few good options:
- Banxia Houpu: Banxia Houpu is a popular herbal formula in TCM made up of Banxia (Pinellia ternata), Poria, Magnolia, Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens), and ginger. According to TCM theory, this formula can stimulate Qi. And according to medical studies, it’s a great natural option for reducing anxiety that works just as well as Prozac!
- Xiao Yao San: This is another herbal formula that’s supposed to boost your Qi, but this one works by clearing up Liver stagnation. It’s made up of bupleurum, dong quai, white peony root, white atractylodes, poria, peppermint, quick fried ginger root, and licorice root. Used to treat both anxiety and depression, Xiao Yao San is another natural alternative to SSRIs like Prozac that can help keep you stress-free.
In traditional Chinese medicine theory, Raynaud’s is poor circulation to the hands caused by stagnation of qi and blood. So on top of layering up when you go outside and using heating pads to warm up, you can also add some warming foods to your diet like ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric.
Another TCM heat therapy that can work alongside western treatment is moxibustion, sometimes called moxa. You can usually get this done at an acupuncturist’s office. Your practitioner will set fire to dried mugwort on certain parts of the body to help warm up your meridians and boost circulation.
So far, there’s no cure for Raynaud’s. But with a combo of eastern and western medicine, hopefully you can have fewer attacks and less painful symptoms.