Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 3/13/22
If you live with Raynaud’s phenonenon (also called Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s syndrome), you are intimately familiar with the uncomfortable and somewhat alarming experience of fingertips, toes, and sometimes nipples (!) that turn white, purple, and hot pink when they cold or you get stressed. Many share the opinion that Raynaud’s is an inconvenience rather than a serious problem. It is easy to find tips for Raynaud’s disease treatment such as “wear gloves”, “stay warm”, and “eat warming foods”. Those deal with the symptoms not the root cause.
If you are more concerned about your cardiovascular health, you will be delighted by the wealth of information contained in this article.
I prefer to understand why Raynaud’s occurs and to focus on improving the health and wellness of my entire body and mind. This article dives into the science of why your fingers lose their blood flow in the cold and offers simple steps you can do on your own to prevent your Raynaud’s symptoms.
Table of Contents
- Discover and Diagnosis of Raynaud’s
- Female Hormones Increase Raynaud’s Symptoms
- 4 Causes of Raynaud’s Disorder
- 20 Ways to Prevent Raynaud’s Syndrome
Discovery and Diagnosis of Raynaud’s
When Frenchman Maurice Raynaud’s doctoral thesis described the symptoms of the disorder named after him, he was studying people with severe cases that led to gangrene. He did not know that the symptoms could be a precursor or accompaniment to future cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other diseases like we do today.
There are no specialized tests your doctor can give you to assess if you really have Raynaud’s. A diagnosis of Raynaud’s is typically given based on your symptoms. On occasion, an examination of the blood vessels in your fingernail bed is done if Raynaud’s symptoms are part of other whole body health issues.
Female Hormones Increase Raynaud’s Symptoms
Raynaud’s disorder is 9 times more common in women than in men which leads to the logical conclusion that female hormones are related to your cold fingers, toes, and nipples! Estrogen hormones encourage blood vessels to constrict or get smaller. Low estrogen encourages dilation of the blood vessels (hot flashes!). High estrogen levels therefore increase the chance of Raynaud’s symptoms.
Women have enormous levels of progesterone during pregnancy and their Raynaud’s symptoms often stop or greatly reduce. Pregnant women also have high levels of the weak form of estrogen called estriol which blocks the body’s use of the strong for of estrogen called estradiol. Progesterone balances “weak forms” of estrogen like estriol but can make your symptoms worse if you are dominant in the “strong” form of estrogen called estradiol. If you track your Raynaud’s symptoms, you just may find that you have more symptoms during one half of your menstrual cycle.
If your estradiol (one of 3 estrogen forms) level is high or your body has inside of it a too-high level of phytoestrogens (found in pesticides and soy products), you likely have symptoms more often. You might want to take a few minutes to read my post about hormones.
- Progesterone : Try using a progesterone cream during the second half of your cycle. If it reduces your symptom frequency and intensity, then you should focus on getting enough magnesium. If it makes it worse, you should focus on reducing the fake or real estrogens in your body, food, and environment.
- Phytoestrogens : Reduce your levels of phytoestrogens – particularly products that end up on your skin since hormones applied to the skin are 10X more effective than those taken orally (because the liver never gets to process what goes through your skin into your bloodstream)
- Iodine : Iodine will help convert the stronger estradiol into the weaker estriol and thereby reduce your hormone related tendency to feel cold fingers and toes. An added benefit is that you might also find the iodine supporting a sluggish thyroid gland resulting in a welcome boost of energy and metabolism.
- Magnesium : Estrogen enhances the uptake of magnesium into the tissues which lowers the available magnesium for your blood vessels. Magnesium helps regulate the interaction between progesterone and your nervous system. If you need more magnesium, try taking Magnesium Breakthrough before bed.
4 Causes of Raynaud’s Disorder
Why do your fingertips, toes, and other small extremities turn colors when exposed to cold and other stressors? When the nerves in your fingertips sense the cold, they send messages initiating blood vessels to shrink (constrict) and stop blood flow to the area. When the blood vessels close down too much you get white fingertips. The “used” or deoxygenated blood gets stuck in the finger giving you purple fingertips. When blood flow returns to the area (after you warm up), then the fingertips get “hot pink” and full of fresh ready to use blood. Then you settle back into your normal state with normal fingers.
Raynaud’s Syndrome is now commonly thought to have multiple components. It is up to you (and your forward thinking doctor) to suss out which component(s) to address for your unique body. Scientists currently believe there are 4 potential reasons for Raynaud’s – and you might be experiencing more than one.
- Blood vessels that constrict or shrink too easily
- Blood vessels that struggle to open up or dilate
- Inflexible, unhealthy blood vessel walls
- Thick blood that can’t get through the small blood vessels
Given these potential reasons, I hope it is easy to see that when you choose to work to prevent Raynaud’s symptoms, you are actually improving both your overall health and preventing future cardiovascular disease.
20 Ways to Stop Raynaud’s Episodes
When you do not know the cause of your Raynaud’s symptoms, it can be hard to figure out what might work to stop or reduce the episodes. Using the science described in the previous section, I want to inspire you to experiment with the following possible solutions that will raise your overall wellness and also improve how your extremities handle cold and stress.
A: Reduce Vasoconstriction to Prevent Raynaud’s Symptoms
Vasoconstriction occurs when your blood vessels shrink and go from a big firehose to a tiny straw. Constricted blood vessels reduce blood flow downstream which prevents nutrients from getting to the cells, prevents waste products from leaving the area, removes sensation from the local nerves, and lowers muscular control. In order to prevent white toes and fingers, you need to reduce the reasons your body has to constrict your blood vessels.
How do you discourage vasoconstriction? Take away localized stress inside your blood vessels!
- Boost Magnesium : Smooth muscle, like in the blood vessels, will contract more when you have low levels of magnesium inside and in between the cells. This is particularly important if you are supplementing with calcium in your endeavor to maintain strong bones. Magnesium and calcium affect blood vessels in opposite ways. By raising your magnesium intake, you can prevent the need to go on calcium-channel blocking medication. An added benefit is that when you boost your magnesium levels, you will experience less pain and happier bowels! Read Zoa’s post about magnesium and try Neuro-Mag or Magnesium Breakthrough before bed.
- Check your Selenium Intake : The mineral selenium is an important ingredient for making your master antioxidant (glutathione) in addition to participating in the regulation of your immune systems’ whole body inflammatory response. Consider your dietary intake of selenium – you want enough but not too much. If you are low, add a single Brazil nut to your daily diet (or eat kidneys or supplement) and see if your Raynaud’s symptoms decrease – and you might feel better overall!
- Increase your antioxidant intake : antioxidants are the antidote to the oxidative stress happening all the time inside your body. Existing creates stress on a chemical level. Antioxidants are created by your body and provided via your diet. An antioxidant rich diet is full of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, grass-fed protein sources, wild caught fatty fish, and supplements to round out what your unique body needs. If you want to know the antioxidant content of your favorite foods, explore the ORAC values at Superfoodly.com.
B: Vasodilation to Reduce Raynaud’s Symptoms
Vasodilation is the act of opening up the blood vessels to encourage greater blood flow. People experiencing Raynaud’s will appreciate the shorter time they have to deal with bloodless extremities when the have improved vasodilation – and they are not the only ones.
Greater blood flow encourages better healing to injuries, better thinking, and better sexual arousal!
So how do you encourage vasodilation? Relax!
- Boost your Nitric Oxide : Nitric oxide stimulates vasodilation and can be produced right in the blood vessels. Our ability to make nitric oxide goes down as we age, so this is also an important anti-aging tool! Medications such as Viagra stimulate vasodilation, but who wants to rely on a medication when you can improve your whole body through lifestyle changes? To make more nitric oxide you need the following nutrients:
- L-Arginine: Increase your intake of the amino acid L-arginine via foods or a supplement to provide an important building block for nitric oxide. L-arginine rich foods include Spirulina (algae)!
- Vitamin B-6 (folate) and Vitamin B-12: Adjust your intake of these B vitamins whose presence is required in order to make nitric oxide. Note that if you have impaired methylation genes such as MTHFR, you should take the methylated forms and check your levels for optimal overall health.
- Beet Juice: Beets contain nitrites which your body uses to make nitric oxide. A great way to incorporate beets into your life is to drink beet juice – like the Golden Beet Fuel flavor available in your monthly Farmer’s Juice share.
- Get Hot in an Infrared Sauna : The heat of an infrared sauna session warms you from the inside out, bringing blood flow to your extremities. Warm fingers and toes are the result of blood vessels dilating and stretching to accommodate the warm blood near the skin as your body attempts to cool your internal organs. A sauna session can be used as a temporary fix (I’m cold!) or as a regular part of your healing plan to prevent future Raynaud’s symptoms. You can use the infrared sauna at Zen and Vitality near Waldorf, MD or purchase your own sauna!
- Exercise Your Body : Doctors recommend exercise as a prevention tool for almost every illness and disease. Raynaud’s is no different. Exercise raises blood flow to your extremities and warms you up! Especially during the colder months, daily exercise can help you minimize episodes of cold fingers and toes.
- Improve your Niacin Intake : Vitamin B3, specifically niacinamide, is known to encourage the dilation of small blood vessels. Some people experience a “niacin flush” after they take their niacin supplement – getting hot cheeks and sometimes warm, red, tingly skin because of the increased vasodilation. Niacin also helps raise HDL cholesterol which cleanses the blood and makes it flow easier! Vitamin B3 is best taken with the other B vitamins due to their synergistic nature – like in BioAvailable Complete B Complex.
C: Healthy Blood Vessels as Raynaud’s Prevention
Blood vessels are composed of smooth muscle with an interior lining called the endothelium. Blood vessels with a healthy endothelium are associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis and less intense Raynaud’s symptoms.
Every muscle fiber in your body, even those in your blood vessels and intestines, is coated with a sheath of connective tissue called fascia. Blood vessels are expected to be able to enlarge and shrink with every pump of your heart in order to move the blood through your entire body and back to the heart.
Since blood is essentially water with a bunch of useful (and sometimes harmful!) things in it, the lining of the blood vessels needs to be smooth so none of the “stuff” gets stuck. You want your blood vessels to resemble a fast moving riverbed with no rocks. Healthy blood vessels therefore need happy, pliable fascia and an endothelial layer which is smooth and solid.
- Get More Vitamin C : Increase your daily intake of Vitamin C because it supports the production of collagen and elastin in your fascia and reduces tissue damage in your endothelial linings. Vitamin C also protects the enzyme that drives the creation of nitric oxide. Remember that it is water soluble so you need it every day since you pee it out daily.
- Add Ginkgo Biloba : this time honored herb has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve the elasticity of blood vessels in addition to its benefits to nerves and antioxidant capabilities – when you select a Ginkgo Biloba Extract supplement make sure it has 24% flavone glycosides (to maximize the herb’s antioxidant and anticlotting potential) and 6% terpene lactones (for improved blood flow and nerve protection)
- Check Your Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 Intake : to encourage calcium into your bones instead of allowing the calcium to stiffen your blood vessels – added benefits include an immune system boost and a better mood!
D: Easy Flowing Blood for Easing Raynaud’s Symptoms
Inside your blood vessels, your blood should swoosh from the heart to the capillaries and back with no problems. Thick blood does not swoosh well and it does not get all the way through tiny capillaries. Thin blood is not ideal either since it might not contain enough nutrition for your cells and it need to be able to clot at the right time to stop external bleeding. You need “Goldilocks” blood – just right – full of iron, nutrients, platelets that don’t travel in clumps, and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
- Up Your Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin E, and Selenium : to keep platelets from sticking together so your blood only clots when needed.
- Proper hydration : you need to drink water and also get both trace and big minerals so your water is used to make perfect blood and hydrate you on a cellular level. Don’t skip the minerals – your supplement might not be enough! Consider drinking a cup or more of water in the morning with LMNT electrolyte powder or Ultima electrolytes and see if your whole day improves!
- Spice Up Your Diet : Warming and anti-inflammatory spices will do more than just warm you. They will also work with your immune system in a way that thins your blood and reduces your Raynaud’s symptoms. Spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper all have a history of improving your cardiovascular health.
E: Whole Body Solutions to Preventing Raynaud’s Episodes
For me, that feeling of cold fingers, toes, and more (a Raynaud’s attack) is a sign that I need to focus on my overall wellness – that I have been slacking.
- Take a Fulvic Mineral Supplement : Our food and supplements are supposed to nourish and sustain us. Sometimes we make great choices, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes our modern food choices actually contain great nutrition and sometimes they don’t! Supplementing with the incredible diversity of trace minerals your body needs is a terrific way to ensure that the nutrients you do put into your body actually get to where they are needed Fulvic minerals transport 60 times their weight of nutrients into a cell. Wow, what a wellness helper!
- Check Your Iron Levels : Check your iron levels both in your blood (free) and your stored iron (ferritin). Iron brings oxygen to your cells for energy production and acts as antioxidant. If you are too low (anemia) you will likely feel cold all the time and experience more Raynaud’s symptoms. If it is too high, your blood will be thick and not flow easily. You can get a Iron Panel Blood Test through me or your doctor.
- Address any Autoimmune Disorders : Raynaud’s is often thought of as an autoimmune disease affecting the blood vessels. People experiencing other autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis (joints), scleroderma (skin), and lupus (fascia) will often experience Raynaud’s as well. Talk to your doctor, begin working with a functional medicine doctor (often virtual appointments are easiest), or talk with me to approach this from a wellness perspective.
- Avoid Gluten for Better Gut Health : Gluten is inflammatory in nature to many people and compromises your gut health by damaging the tissues that act as the innermost lining of your intestines. This damage allows inflammatory “bits and pieces” through the intestinal wall before they are properly broken down – Leaky Gut. It also compromises your ability to absorb nutrients from your food and supplements leading to a decreased state of overall health.
- Remove Toxins : If you have been exposed to environmental toxins or have difficulty detoxifying the body of the unneeded byproducts of living, your blood may be thick, your immune system will be on high alert, and nothing is working quite right. Consider some detoxification activities and see if your Raynaud’s symptoms decrease and your overall wellbeing increases!
- Lower Stress : Cortisol is your main stress hormone and is an important contributor to your Raynaud’s symptoms. Cortisol interacts with both the lining and the smooth muscles of your blood vessels. In the endothelial lining, cortisol reduces the production of the vasodilator nitric oxide. In the smooth muscles of your blood vessels, cortisol stimulates the muscles to contract which shrinks the available space for blood to flow. There are many techniques to reduce your stress and to manage stress better, the important part is to get started!
- Make Time for a Light Therapy Session : The benefits of direct sunlight exposure are numerous. When you can’t get outside and experience the actual sunshine (schedule, weather, too damn busy), you can still make time for a red/infrared light therapy session. Standing nude in the bright lights brings warmth to the body, reduces stress for both body and mind, encourages healing sleep, lowers inflammation, and stimulates circulation. Sounds good to me!
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