Winter is no wonderland if you've got poor circulation, as it makes cold hands, feet, nose and ears even worse. Naturopath Teresa Mitchell-Paterson has the answers.

Poor circulation is not a condition itself, but it can have serious health implications. Certain diseases can cause it; or, we cause it by sleeping in a bad position, sitting for too long, smoking, not exercising, being overweight, which compresses arteries and veins, and eating high-fat foods – this results in an influx of chylomicrons (little fat particles) to the bloodstream, which slows circulation).

What you can do

A prolonged poor circulatory condition may be related to ulcers and varicose veins. Poor circulation is not the cause; instead, the varicose veins cause poor circulation due to pooling of blood in the extremities. Diabetes affects circulation as it alters blood sugar levels, causes weight gain, and alters blood composition so tissue no longer receives nutrients and oxygen. And, as diabetes affects the nervous system, initially a person may not be aware of circulatory problems. Another condition is Raynaud's disease, which causes narrowing of small arteries in the extremities and cold hands and feet, which may turn blue or even white. This is much worse in cold temperatures, and can also affect the lips, nose, and ears. Other possible associated diseases are peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis, and venous thrombosis.

Vitamin C repairs and produces new blood vessels, and potentially reduces arterial plaque. In an American Heart Journal study, smokers with considerable arterial plaque were given vitamin C intravenously, and subsequently received oral doses; this increased the speed of blood circulation. Eating citrus fruit, berries, kiwifruit, green vegetables, red capsicums, and tomatoes is very helpful. Vitamin E improves circulation by widening blood vessels - supplementation may be necessary as vitamin E is difficult to get from food. The omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA increase blood flow to the liver, which decreases arterial plaque build-up, not by directly affecting the plaque, but instead by flushing saturated fats through the liver, which improves circulation. A Coronary Artery Disease study showed daily supplementation of B vitamins, with reasonably high B12 and folic acid, increased circulation in heart disease patients.

Ginkgo biloba improves circulation to every extremity. Research suggests that capsaicin - the chemical that gives cayenne its heat - enhances blood flow and circulation to hands and feet. A powerful antioxidant, ginger also stimulates circulation by diluting blood flow via its action as a platelet aggregation inhibitor, and improves cellular activity and relieves cramps by encouraging blood flow to the extremities. And there’s nothing better to improve circulation than cardiovascular exercise, which increases oxygen and blood flow to the muscles - even gentle walking, swimming or cycling will help.

Are you at risk?

Signs and symptoms of poor circulation include:
*cold feet and hands.
*thinking and memory problems
*dry skin
*brittle or falling hair
*pins and needles; body parts 'falling asleep' - go for a walk if you sit at your desk for long periods
If skin or extremities have a slight blueish or purplish tinge, or you have regular dizzy spells and headaches, shortness of breath, painful varicose veins or tissue swelling, skin blotches or blemishes in the extremities that aren't healing - see a GP.

Teresa Mitchell-Paterson BHSc(CompMed) MHSc (HumNut) AdvDipNat is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society.