I woke up to my first frosty morning last week. Just a gentle sheen of icy mist covering the car windows, and a soft crunch to the grass as I walked across it. Nothing like what I expect from the depths of mid-winter.
The leaves are still turning and we’re still enjoying the Autumn sun, but I felt the air chill in my lungs as I took a deep breath and for the first time this year, I got a taste of the winter mornings to come.
I look out for this early hint that winter is approaching because it gives me ample time to prepare my winter remedies. I know I’m not the only one to have sensed it, because I get calls and requests from patients who struggle with ailments that only come with the winter frost.
One of those ailments, one that stands out as being significantly worsened by the cold, is poor circulation and Raynaud’s syndrome.
In Raynaud’s syndrome, the tiny blood vessels that are close to the skin become narrower. Since they are already incredibly small, this can restrict blood flow to areas like the fingers, tones and even your nose and the tips of your ears. These areas are exposed to the cold, even through winter gloves and warm boots. The this lack of blood flow can cause pain, tingling and numbness in the affected areas. It might be difficult to move your fingers or toes, especially when out in cold weather.
Visibly, the skin can turn white or blue as the area is deprived of blood and you may notice reddening as the blood returns to the area and the tissues warm up again.
Another problem, linked to poor circulation and blood vessels narrowing when exposed to cold, is chilblains.
Chilblains cause the skin to become swollen, red, itchy and sore. Chilblains can blister and cause swellings and lumps that burn or feel painful. They occur in response to cold weather and can last anywhere from days to weeks. Since the most common place for these sores is the hand and the feet, although they are generally thought of as benign, when bad they can make walking and attending general tasks with the hands particularly bothersome.
In worst cases, chilblains can become infected, so it’s important not to scratch at the inflamed skin and to keep the areas clean and warm.
Keeping wrapped up and staying warm is good advice for anyone who experiences poor circulation, cold hands and feet, chilblains or Raynaud’s syndrome. Obviously, we all need to leave the house at some point or another, so extra warm gloves, socks and hats or ear muffs can help protect the exposed skin from the cold.
From a herbal perspective, now is the time to start taking herbs that can improve circulation from the inside. A number of herbs spring to mind as being specific for helping the blood get where it needs to be, but I’ll list the main ones here.
First of all, Ginkgo blows everything else out of the water when it comes to circulation. It doesn’t just push the blood further or thin the blood so it can get through the narrow gaps. Ginkgo actually helps to widen narrowed arteries, making room for the blood in vessels that had previously been shut off.
I’ve seen video evidence of this, in trials on Ginkgo and it’s effect on the micro vasculature. If you try nothing else for your circulation this year, try gingko.
Keep in mind though, for those on blood thinners from your GP, ginkgo may not be appropriate. So in this instance, I’d suggest using hawthorn.
Hawthorn helps the heart pump blood further, into the extremities. I often use it alongside ginkgo for poor circulation where there is tiredness involved, especially in the elderly of if there is any form of heart weakness involved. It’s protective effect on the heart makes it the perfect herb for heart health.
Remember, check with your pharmacist or a medical herbalist before mixing herbs with your medication. Herbs are incredibly effective at improving circulation but it’s important to choose the one that is safe for you.
l For more information or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.