Cold, numb and tingly fingers and toes are telltale signs of Raynaud’s disease. If you have this disorder, you’ll experience an extreme reaction to cold and/or psychological stress. Your blood vessels will quickly narrow, reducing blood flow to your extremities. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even have to be freezing for symptoms to appear. Simply spending time in an air-conditioned room can be enough to trigger symptoms. When Raynaud’s strikes, the hands and feet turn white or even blue/black. In fact, the first time I saw someone with the condition, I was just a child and it was a dear family friend whose fingers had turned almost black after she had gone skiing in near-zero temperatures. After a few minutes, the white extremities turn bright red as blood flow is restored, but it may take up to 30 minutes for coloring to return to normal.
Even though the signs of Raynaud’s are fairly straightforward, many people are confused about the condition because there are two forms—primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud’s, for which there is no known cause, is the most common. It is really more of a nuisance than a medical disability. Secondary Raynaud’s, on the other hand, is caused by an underlying condition—often an autoimmune disease such as lupus, scleroderma or Sjögren’s syndrome…an injury from repetitive hand movements such as carpal tunnel syndrome…a disease that causes narrowing of blood vessels, such as diabetes…or even the use of certain medications, including some blood pressure and migraine drugs.
If you have Raynaud’s symptoms: The first step is to make an appointment with your doctor so he/she can check for underlying conditions. If you have primary Raynaud’s, your symptoms may improve if you just make sure to wear gloves and socks whenever you’re exposed to cold and do your best to avoid extremely stressful situations. But if it’s secondary Raynaud’s, you’ll need treatment for the underlying condition (or have any medication that could be causing your Raynaud’s reviewed and possibly changed by your doctor). However, both forms of the disorder also can be helped by natural medicine. What I recommend…*
Targeted vitamins. B vitamins help with nerve function, circulation and stress management. Typical daily dose for Raynaud’s: 100 mg each of B-3, B-5 and B-6 in a tablet or liquid and 1,000 mcg of B-12 in a sublingual (under-the-tongue) form. Vitamin E is also important—it helps with circulation and promotes the health of your blood vessels. Typical daily dose for Raynaud’s: 400 international units (IU) to 800 IU.
Hawthorne. This herb, in supplement form, can help by improving blood flow. Typical daily dose for Raynaud’s: 60 drops of tincture in one ounce of water taken 15 minutes before or after meals, twice daily.
Gentle exercise. As long as you’re careful to avoid chilling, activities such as walking, biking and yoga are great ways to reduce stress and enhance circulation—both of which will help you avoid Raynaud’s attacks.
Bonus: Even if your cold hands and feet are due to something other than Raynaud’s, these steps may help.
*Check with your doctor first if you take any medications.