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Do you have cold fingers and toes? Do your fingers and toes turn reddish or even purplish? Do you have a cold nose? Do your fingers and toes sometimes feel tingly or numb? Do your ankles, knees or knuckles get swollen sometimes?
Improving your blood circulation may provide at least part of the solution to these problems.  The blood serves a number of different purposes—first, it provides oxygen and nutrients to every cell of your body.  Second, it helps to balance your body temperature and provides warmth to your fingers, toes (and nose.) Proper blood circulation also ensures that fluids are removed that otherwise might result in edema or swelling.

Poor blood circulation can be a serious problem, and can lead to stroke, heart attack, Reynaud’s disease and DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), among other problems. Often, poor circulation can be caused by smoking, diabetes, kidney, liver or heart disease. Before using any of the following, be sure to see your health professional and at a minimum, have your blood pressure checked. Vasodilating substances will provide increased blood circulation—but they may also lower your blood pressure. 

If you are currently on any blood pressure lowering medication (anti-hypertensives), you will need to ensure that there will be no interactions—monitoring your own blood pressure is also a good idea. Reasonably accurate home blood pressure monitors can be obtained for a relatively low price. Also, as always, make sure your diet is full of fruits and vegetables (various substances in these foods also helps to maintain healthy blood circulation) and get plenty of exercise.  That will help get the blood moving, keeping you warm as you get fit.

Supplements and herbs for circulation

So, what kinds of supplements and herbs might help the blood circulation? Anything that acts as a vasodilator—a substance that allows blood vessels to open up, widen or dilate—would be useful to improve circulation. Some of these substances are foods—cayenne pepper, for example, can be added to your food. 

Cayenne is traditionally known as a warming agent—and when the blood vessels are “warmed”, they dilate or open up.  Most people have witnessed what happens to a person’s face when they have too much cayenne pepper! Very red, right? Too much is obviously not recommended, but adding a pinch of cayenne to your meals can help warm you gently.

Garlic [1] and Onions [2]  are also great for the circulation.  Personally, I love garlic and onions and add them to almost every meal! Raw onions and garlic are best as they contain greater amounts of allicin, the substance which appears to be most important for improving circulation. But, we all know why they are most often cooked!  The allicins also function as a diuretic—meaning that they increase the amount of fluids that are excreted.  This can help the swelling that is often a sign of poor circulation.

Rosemary [3]  is another great herb to use to increase the blood circulation. Fresh rosemary is best, but the dried herb can be used as well. Rosemary is great with lamb and poultry.

Other herbs and spices that you can add to food that will increase circulation are parsley and ginger [2]. Ginger acts as a warming agent but is gentler than cayenne pepper. Many people avoid caffeine and use ginger as a morning “wake-up” beverage.  As an added feature, ginger can help soothe and settle an upset stomach.

Foods rich in magnesium (artichokes, barley, oats, nuts, beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, other leafy greens, and tomatoes) can help you improve circulation and maintain a good blood pressure.  Magnesium also calms and soothes.  And, because modern agricultural practices have depleted magnesium from the soil, it is possible that many people are magnesium deficient and don’t know it! [4]

Other Natural Substances to Improve Blood Circulation

Arginine: Arginine is an amino acid.  It has many functions, but one of its uses is as a precursor to nitric oxide, a very potent natural vasodilator. It can be used to treat high blood pressure also because as it dilates the blood vessels, the blood pressure naturally decreases—picture water rushing through a thin ½ inch tube versus a 3 inch pipe—which one will have the higher pressure? [5]

Niacin is a B vitamin (B3) that can dilate the blood vessels and improve blood flow. 5  It also helps to lower cholesterol.  Be sure to use the “Flush-free” formula—the main side effect of niacin is an unpleasant facial flush.[6]

Ginkgo biloba is a well-known herb that is useful in treating problems of blood circulation. The ginkgo tree is one of most aancient trees and its leaves have been used for centuries.  It is also one of the best-studied herbs. It was studied for its effects on a condition called intermittent claudication [7], where poor circulation in the feet leads to pain while walking. It was shown in this study to be an effective treatment and increased blood circulation. , [8, 9]

Hawthorne (Crataegus) has also been used for centuries to treat circulation and heart problems. Hawthorne berries and leaves contain anti-oxidants and quercitin, a substance that has been shown to minimize histamine release. Hawthorne can be used to increase circulation and lower blood pressure. Hawthorne should be used while under the care of an experienced health professional—interactions between hawthorne and other heart medications such as blood thinners (such as anti-coagulants, high blood pressure medications and anti-arrhythmic agents) can occur.[2, 9, 10]