The only reason I hold back on booking a ski holiday - other than the eye watering budget they require - is the painful feet and fingers that can blight even blue bird days. In most cases the major cause of poor circulation is lack of exercise, smoking or poor diet or a combination thereof but for me and others like me, Raynaud's disease is another possible cause, indicated where the affected body parts can change colour, feel painful or numb when blood vessels go into a temporary spasm which in turn blocks the flow of blood. The condition is triggered by cold temperatures or stress and is largely inherited, although stopping smoking can improve the symptoms.
While no research can definitively say one nutrient or herb can prevent circulatory problems, there are many ways to help boost your circulation naturally - ideally in conjunction with an exercise programme.
Garlic and onion form the basis of many a meal and they are positively indicated to help boost circulation. Both are rich in salicylic acid and related plant compounds that have long been used as a natural anti-inflammatory. Ginger, cayenne and turmeric are also helpful. If you are not a fan of spicy food then you can take curcumin, extracted from turmeric, in supplement form.
Studies on dietary phytoestrogens, such as those found in seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower have shown that a high intake of phytoestrogen-containing foods can increase dilation (expansion) of small arteries, thus improving blood flow. Adding a tablespoon of seeds to salads or stir-fries is the easiest approach.
If you were choosing a protein then foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids inhibit clotting and decrease the production of the pro-inflammatory compound leukotrienes. Some omega-3 rich foods include mackerel and salmon, or, for non-fish eaters, a handful of nuts. Certain brands of eggs are a helpful source of essential fats but you will need to read labels for guidance.
Foods containing vitamin C and vitamin E would be helpful to strengthen capillary walls. Citrus fruits, green vegetables and most nuts - especially almonds – fall easily into this category. The B vitamins are helpful too and food sources include whole grains and those all-important green vegetables! In supplement form they are most effective if taken as a group in a B complex.
When it comes to herbs, for most people, the Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is known as a memory booster but it is interesting as a remedy for circulatory problems too. The Ginkgo tree is one of the oldest living tree species grown in China where it has been used for centuries for its medical properties. The effectiveness comes down to two types of chemicals (flavonoids and terpenoids) found in the Ginkgo leaves that have potent antioxidant properties. Although Chinese herbal medicine has used both the ginkgo leaf and seed for thousands of years, modern research has focused on the standardized Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE), which is prepared from the dried green leaves which is more concentrated and is considered more effective.
Studies throughout the years have found evidence to support all these uses, although like many scientific studies, the results often conflict. Overall though, ginkgo is considered effective in boosting circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets.
If you have circulatory problems then giving up smoking is a must. Caffeine is a common trigger for smoking so phase out the java fix for Green tea or Roobois tea, both of which contain protective antioxidants. To make the process a little easier, start shoring up deficiencies such as zinc and chromium which can help balance blood sugar and in turn allow for better management of cravings.
Lastly, don’t forget to drink plenty of water - one of the key triggers on the aforementioned ski slope. In cold, windy conditions sweat dries quickly off the skin so the usual "I'm thirsty" signals don't register as quickly as they would in summer.
Even slight dehydration can impair circulation by making blood thicker and harder to move through the body. To boost flavour and vitamin C, add a squeeze of lemon or lime. Or just avoid too much alcohol the night before....