Did you know that February is Raynaud’s Awareness Month? More importantly, do you know what Raynaud’s Syndrome actually is? It’s a condition I’ve suffered with for years, since my early 20s in fact – and I’m far from alone. Raynaud’s is thought to affect up to the 20% of the adult population worldwide. In fact, there may be as many as 10 million people with the condition in the UK. Interestingly, it’s been well established that women are more likely to be affected by the condition. Also, this is more likely to affect populations based in colder climates. There are two main types: Primary (which I have) and Secondary (usually caused by another health condition). There’s no specialist cure, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and help prevent attacks. So, speaking from years of experience, planning ahead is vital!
What is Raynaud’s Syndrome?
In simple terms, Raynaud’s Syndrome (sometimes referred to as Raynaud’s Disease) affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body. However, this is usually the extremities, such as the fingers and toes. These areas turn white, then blue as the oxygen supply runs out. I then find my fingers and toes become red as the blood supply is finally resumed. Believe me, this process can be quite painful, especially when the circulation eventually returns! So why exactly does this happen?
“The main cause [of Raynaud’s Syndrome] appears to be oversensitive blood vessels that contract too quickly when exposed to a drop in temperature, preventing blood from reaching the far-flung regions of the hands and feet,” explains A.Vogel Nutritional Therapist and Education Manager Ali Cullen. Alas, nobody knows exactly why these blood vessels become so sensitive in the first place. It seems nobody knows how to reverse it – but a number of factors can play a role.
What can make this condition worse?
“Smoking will worsen this condition, as it affects the blood flow through the smaller blood vessels,” Ali confirms and adds: “A sedentary lifestyle will exacerbate symptoms. Low blood pressure (below 170/75) can also be a contributory factor, as is anaemia and poor digestion. Even mild anaemia can contribute to low blood pressure, and therefore circulatory sluggishness,” Ali acknowledges. “Poor digestion can make it harder to absorb iron, and the B12 needed for iron absorption.”
Oestrogen (a hormone produced at higher levels in women than in men) may be another important factor. One recent study suggests that oestrogen interacts with cell surface receptors to control the blood flow around the body. Experiments showed that mice with higher levels of oestrogen circulating through their system had an increased sensitivity to cold temperatures in their extremities. This may explain why Raynaud’s Syndrome is more common in women, but further work is necessary to fully understand the connection.
Easy treatments and coping strategies
Frustratingly, there are lots of us fit and active non-smokers, with zero anaemia issues, who still succumb to Raynaud’s Syndrome. For obvious reasons, it’s much worse during the winter. And as you and I know, in the UK, this sometimes seems to last for at least six months of the year! So, I’ve put together some treatments and coping strategies to help any fellow sufferers out there.
A lot of it is plain common sense. Wrap up warmly; take regular exercise; if you smoke, stop; and eat sensibly. “It’s extremely important to avoid sudden temperature changes, and to make every effort to dress appropriately,” notes Ali. “You should wear hats, gloves, scarves and warm footwear – even when other, warmer-blooded creatures are scampering around in scanty clothing!” She adds: “Check your blood pressure with your doctor, and take regular exercise (even if only gently) to improve blood flow around the body.”
Foods and supplements
Warming foods, with plenty of stimulating spices, such as ginger and pepper, can also prevent/alleviate Raynaud’s Syndrome symptoms. Certain dietary supplements can also have a positive effect. “[Like smoking], stress has a similarly adverse effect on blood flow, so nutrients that support the nervous system, such as Vitamin B and magnesium, may be helpful,” Ali explains. Fish oils and garlic help blood flow, so do include these within your diet, and/or take as supplements. Cullen also advocates replacing caffeinated drinks with herbal teas such as hyssop and lime blossom.
Given the role that anaemia can play within Raynaud’s Syndrome, it’s important to eat a wide range of foods that are rich in iron. Good sources include green leafy veg, sea vegetables, pistachios, soy beans, apricots, chickpeas, artichokes and beetroot. “If you’ve started a vegan diet…a natural iron tonic such as Floradix liquid iron (available from health stores and pharmacies) can be helpful,” notes Ali.
One other supplement to consider is gingko biloba. I haven’t tried this yet but hope to shortly. Ali explains: “Gingko biloba helps to relax spasm in the smaller arteries. This allows blood to flow more smoothly to outlying areas served by the blood vessels.” However, it shouldn’t be taken if you’re also on blood thinners or anticoagulents. I would always advise checking with your GP before starting any over-the-counter dietary supplements or medication.
Now Omni oil is another promising treatment to try to alleviate the symptoms of Raynaud’s Syndrome. This is a plant-based, natural warming balm, which should stimulate circulation, reduce inflammation and relax stiffness. It’s presented in a portable 12ml pump bottle – the idea is you carry it with you at all times, ready to use whenever an attack occurs. When symptoms start, you simply massage a few drops of the oil into the affected area(s), which works to restore normal circulation within a few minutes. In additional to Raynaud’s Syndrome, you can use Omni Oil to ease a wide variety of symptoms arising from joint and muscular pain. I tried it this weekend as the weather has been so bitter and it certainly worked for me! It actually helped to stop the stinging, throbbing pain I tend to get when the circulation starts to return to my fingers and toes.
Sujata Jolly from Clinogen, the brand behind this oil who describe themselves as innovators in aesthetic treatments and medical devices, explains more: “Omni Ol was originally developed to help with the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, arthritis, muscular pain and bruising. However, we later discovered that Omni Ol helps with the symptoms of Raynaud’s, also a disorder of blood circulation. Omi Oil works by helping to reduce the “thawing pain” felt when blood vessels dilating and by increasing blood flow in to the micro capillaries.
The best time to use it is when you feel the attack coming. But as maintenance use it twice a day – morning and before going to bed. Many patients have reported a reduction in the frequency and severity of their attacks.”
Wearing warm socks and gloves might be a no-brainer for us Raynaud’s Syndrome sufferers – especially during the winter. But the sad fact is not all accessories are created equal. This season, I’ve been experimenting with some items from Kymira: namely these Infrared Fleece Gloves and Infrared Ankle Socks.
“Kymira fabrics have a unique set of properties built into them,” explains Kymira Inventor & Founder Tim Brownstone. “They have a particular array of minerals woven into the fabric. We select these minerals for their ability to absorb otherwise wasted energy from the wearer and surrounding light. This is then re-directed into the body, stimulating a series of positive biological processes.”
It all sounds a bit sci-fi, but Kymira products have been independently lab tested to prove they work – and have even been certified as a medical garment. “Studies show that our fabric insulates 63% better than other fabrics of the equivalent weight,” Tim adds. “With warmth being so important to combatting Raynaud’s Syndrome, Kymira is a potent weapon against the condition.”
Keen to keep warm this winter, even if you don’t suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome? Click here to read my blog on the best stylish walking gear.