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Warm Feet, Warm Heart

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Do you have cold hands and led? Docs it seem that you can never warm them up? You may suffer from poor circulation

Do you have cold hands and led? Docs it seem that you can never warm them up? You may suffer from poor circulation. This condition is often related to how efficiently blood flows. Natural medicines work well to optimize blood flow and improve those annoying cold extremities.

One of the first things I look at is thyroid function. The thyroid gland is the major centre of body metabolism and temperature regulation. Cold hands and feet, as well as general body chilliness, can be a sign of an under-functioning thyroid. This is particularly common in women over the age of 40.

A blood test looking at thyroid markers such as thyroid-stimulating hormone and Free T3 is a good screen for thyroid abnormalities. However, many doctors, including myself, have found that up to 50 percent of low thyroid cases do not show up on blood tests.

Basal body temperature is also an indicator of thyroid health. For three consecutive mornings upon awakening, one takes one's temperature. Readings that are consistently low are signs of a sluggish thyroid. In this case supplements such as thyroid glandular, homeopathics, herbs such as kelp and possibly natural thyroid medication are prescribed.

Circulation Stoppers

Another disease that may be involved in cold hands and feet is Raynaud's phenomenon or Raynaud's disease, two variations of a similar condition where the arteries that feed the hands constrict. A preexisting condition, emotional upset, or coldness may trigger this event. Circulation can be affected so much that one's hands turn blue!

Cardiovascular disease can be a major factor in poor circulation to the extremities. Besides atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a poorly functioning heart (perhaps due to congestive heart failure) can lead to cold hands and feet. In these cases the contraction force of the heart needs to be strengthened. This can be done with herbal extracts such as hawthorne berry (Craiaegus oxycuntha), cactus (Cereus grondiflorus) and high doses of nutritional supplements such as co-enzyme Q10, 1-Carnitine, taurine and magnesium.

Uncontrolled diabetes is another common reason why circulation to the extremities can be impaired. High blood sugar levels can lead to hardening of the arteries, as well as damage nerves that help control circulation. A comprehensive approach is required in these cases. However, the supplements alpha-lipoic acid and ginkgo biloba can provide much benefit.

Lifestyle Lessons

I always ask my patients if they smoke and/or drink coffee. Both cause constriction of the blood vessels resulting in reduced blood flow through the hands and feet. Smoking tends to be more of a major factor than coffee consumption. Smoking not only causes constriction of the blood vessels but is a major cause of atherosclerosis.

I recommend coffee drinkers reduce their intake to one or two cups daily, while switching over to teas such as ginger root, which warms the body. Smokers need to gradually cut down and increase their intake of antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, carotenoids, and selenium. Most smokers improve with the use of the herb ginkgo biloba.

Ginkgo biloba deserves special mention because of the vast studies done on its ability to improve circulation to the extremities. One of the ways it improves circulation is by stimulating the release of chemicals that cause blood vessel dilation. Ginkgo showed positive benefit in nine double blind, randomized studies of people with poor blood supply to the legs. Most herbalists and naturopathic doctors prescribe ginkgo by itself or in formulations for circulatory problems. The typical adult dosage is 60 milligrams three times daily of a 24 per cent standardized ginkgo extract.

One of the cheapest and most successful ways to improve blood flow is through regular exercise. It not only dilates blood vessels, but it reduces the effects of stress, which can cause constriction of blood vessels and hinder circulation. Consult with a certified trainer or doctor before starting an exercise program.

Another technique one can use to improve circulation to the feet is the alternating hot and cold foot bath. In this therapy, one alternates one's feet in buckets of warm (one minute) and cold water (10 seconds). This causes a pumping action in the blood vessels and thus improves circulation.

Acupuncture, chiropractic and physiotherapy are all valued therapies in relieving cold hands and feet. See a practitioner for specific treatment.

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