Living with Raynaud's
February is Raynaud’s Awareness month. It affects millions of us so it is important that we increase awareness and understanding of the signs and symptoms, as well offering widespread advice on lifestyle and how the condition can be managed and improved, alongside potential treatments that might help.
What is Raynaud’s?
Raynaud’s (also referred to as Raynaud’s Phenomenon) is a medical condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body. Spasms in small blood vessels supplying the extremities cause episodes of reduced blood flow. It is an over response that occurs and affects the blood circulation as a result of changes in temperature, the cold, and sometimes even from anxiety and stress.
Most commonly the fingers and toes are affected, but other extremities can be affected such as the ears, nose and lips. Attacks are uncomfortable and can become very painful for some, even making everyday tasks such as zipping a purse or fastening buttons incredibly difficult.
Typically the area affected, for example the fingers, will turn white and then blue, numbness, pain or tingling can occur. As the blood flow begins to return to normal the area turns red and is often accompanied by swelling and a burning or stinging sensation. Episodes typically last for minutes, but can last for hours depending on the severity of the condition. Symptoms vary greatly from person to person, ranging from mild to severe.
Raynaud’s can be primary – where a person has just developed the condition but suffers from no other complications; or it can be secondary – where it is resulting from another condition. There are a wide variety of other conditions it is secondary to, but these can include autoimmune conditions, such as lupus for example.
How can symptoms be improved?
If you suffer with Raynaud’s there are several things you can do to help you manage the symptoms and learn to live with the condition more comfortably...
Try to stay warm
As Raynaud’s is usually triggered by the cold you should try to limit exposure to freezing or wet conditions, and wrap up warm to try and keep the body temperature stable. Whenever possible, avoid getting cold or moving quickly between warm and cool temperatures as this can trigger attacks. You should wear protective clothing and accessories (such as mittens or gloves) when exposed to cold, and try to avoid putting your hands in water if it is not the right temperature. If you’re handling cold objects such as frozen food for example, then remember to put a pair of gloves on beforehand.
It is especially important in the winter months to wear warm clothes and extra layers, including hats, gloves and thick socks, and to keep your house warm. You may also want to wear socks and gloves in bed at colder times of the year, and buy other additions such as hand warmers to keep in your pockets when you are out and about.
Try to manage stress
Stress and emotional factors are often associated with Raynaud’s and can be a trigger for attacks, so taking steps to help you relax, cope with stress and reduce anxiety levels are important. Yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises can be beneficial, as well as making sure you stick to a regular sleeping pattern. Try to take your scheduled breaks at work, and get enough rest if you are feeling fatigued. Learn to recognise when you are taking on too much and share the load to avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself and reduce pressure; this can help to keep the symptoms at bay.
Stay active and exercise regularly
Regular exercise is recommended as it will help to boost circulation, as well as this it can help to lift your mood and alleviate stress. 150 minutes of moderate activity a week is ideal, but work within your own limits. Even a gentle stroll if you are cold, swinging your arms as you walk, can be good enough to get your blood flowing. Cycling and swimming are other good examples of low-impact aerobic activity.
Eat a healthy and balance diet
Good nutrition is important. Eat small regular meals including healthy snacks to try and maintain a well-balanced diet containing all of the major food groups; include wholegrains and plenty of fruit and veg. A healthy diet can help the immune system, keep blood sugar levels stable, improve brain function, reduce toxin levels and lower blood pressure. You should try to avoid consuming too many stimulants such as caffeine. Your diet can play a major role in how your body reacts to stress which can impact how the nervous system controls the blood vessels. The mineral magnesium is actually thought to calm the nervous system, helping the body to relax and cope with emotional stress - a trigger of Raynaud’s. It can help to open up tightened blood vessels. Good sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, dark green veg such as spinach and broccoli, and dark chocolate.
Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do to help improve your circulation and lessen the symptoms. The nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict, which reduces the blood flow to your extremities.
Ginkgo Biloba has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. It is one of the most well-known and recommended herbal supplements for Raynaud’s. Studies have shown that Ginkgo Biloba may be effective in reducing the number of Raynaud's attacks per week. It is believed the ginkgo leaf contains unique compounds which may prove useful for blood flow to the brain, hands and feet thus helping to maintain a healthy circulation. Ginkgo thins the blood and opens capillaries to increase blood flow.
Ginseng is a member of the ginger family which is a warming spice. It is another herb that has traditionally been used for hundreds of years. It is adaptogenic and works to modulate the body’s response against stress and fatigue, improve blood flow and support normal functioning of the nervous system. In a study it has shown some benefits in reducing cold hypersensitivity to the hands and feet so may prove effective treatment for Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
Pycnogenol® is a branded form of a natural pine bark extract with a high flavonoid content, making it a powerful antioxidant. It is promoted for a number of health benefits, one of which is improved circulation. This is because it aids in the production of endothelial nitric oxide which helps to dilate blood vessels. Studies have shown significant benefits with Pycnogenol® supplementation in treating primary Raynaud’s syndrome.
Fish Oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These are believed to improve blood flow and circulation. Evidence in studies show that taking fish oil supplements may reduce the symptoms in those suffering with primary Raynaud’s.
DSM Vegan Algal Oil 500mg Capsules are a vegan-friendly option containing DHA and EPA. Made from refining marine algae into an oil, they are a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to source omega-3, and an ideal alternative to fish or cod liver oil.
As with any new supplement we would always advise seeking diagnosis and discussing options with your doctor before introducing them into your diet, especially if you are taking any existing medications.
We hope you’ve picked up some useful information and advice throughout our article that you can carry forward with you and put into practice in the hope of successfully managing and reducing the impact of Raynaud’s on your daily life.
To order, or for further product information visit www.hellenia.co.uk