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Everyone gets cold hands and feet sometimes, especially during winter. The difference is that those suffering from Raynaud's disease lose blood circulation in their outer extremities at the slightest change in temperature.

In people with Raynaud's disease, the fingers and toes turn white or take on a bluish tinge as they get colder, and they may feel painful or numb. When they warm up again, they become red as the blood returns and may throb with pain for a few minutes to several hours, depending on the severity of the reaction. [1]

However, Raynaud's disease is a rare disorder and there are other causes why one might experience cold hands and feet. Believe or not, cold hands could also be the sign of iron deficiency. [2]

How To Deal With Cold Hands And Feet?

Raynaud’s disease may be the result of overactive blood vessels, disorders of the connective tissue or emotional upsets. [1] Whatever the cause, these feelings of chilliness or numbness are truly uncomfortable. That is why each person who has cold hands and feet because of Raynaud's disease should know the following.

There are some ways to give your blood flow a little nudge to get your extremity temp closer to normal.

You should get into eating herring and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and anchovies.

Omega-3 fatty acids will help you reduce the painful blood vessel spasms that cause the shutdown of blood flow.

That is why one should try to eat plenty of these cold-water fish to ease the pain of Raynaud’s or other circulatory problems due to cold weather or emotional stress. [3] A study concluded that fish oil, which is, of course, rich in omega-3 fatty oils, improves the tolerance to cold exposure and its consumption also delays the onset of vasospasm in patients with primary Raynaud's syndrome. It is also important to bring out that these improvements in tolerance to cold are associated with significantly increased digital systolic blood pressures in cold temperatures. [3]

As an added bonus, several studies proved that fish oil also helps cut triglycerides [4], a contributing factor to a global epidemy of heart disease.

It is also important to know that woman’s core body temperature is one or two degrees lower than a man’s [5]. Also, women are more likely to have cold hands and feet, whether due to Raynaud’s or not. One reason for the lower average body temperature is that many women are iron-deficient. In developing countries, every second pregnant woman and about 40% of preschool children are estimated to be anemic. [6]

A lack of iron can alter your thyroid hormone metabolism [7], which regulates body heat generation, so women who are aware of this try to consume the recommended 18 milligrams of iron a day [8], but even so, iron stores are depleted during menstruation [9]. Very heavy menstrual bleeding, long periods, or other types of vaginal bleeding may suggest that a woman is at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. 

If your body iron is low, greater iron consumption translates into more body heat, which is a good way to counteract your cold hands and feet. Since dampness leads to chilliness, you should also try to keep your hands and feet dry; absorbent foot powders are excellent for helping keep feet dry. Using foot powder on a regular basis is recommended, even sprinkling it between the toes.

Could Iron Deficiency Lead To Cold Hands And Feet?

Sure it can, and this condition is called anemia. In general, anemia causes [10]:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • And often cold hands and feet

At the same time, signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, in particular, may include:

  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or pure starch
  • Headache

People with iron deficiency anemia often experience poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia. Some people with iron deficiency anemia experience restless legs syndrome, which is an uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in your legs that’s generally relieved by moving them. [10]

If you or your child develop signs and symptoms that suggest iron deficiency anemia, you should see your doctor, because iron-deficiency anemia can put children at greater risk for lead poisoning and infections [10]. Initially, iron deficiency anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed, but as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia progresses, the signs and symptoms intensify.

What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?

Iron-deficiency anemia is a common and easily treated condition. This condition occurs when there is not enough iron in the body and is the most common type of anemia. A lack of iron in the body can come from bleeding [9], not eating enough foods that contain iron, or not absorbing enough iron from food [8]; this varies from case to case.

The term anemia is used for a group of conditions in which the number of red blood cells in the blood is lower than normal. It is also used for a condition when red blood cells do not have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives the red color to blood. It also carries the oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. [11]

In people with anemia, their blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide, a waste product, from cells and carry it to the lungs to be exhaled, so as we can see, they have a very important role in the human organism. Red blood cells (RBC) are also called erythrocytes. Normal red blood cells are all about the same size and look like doughnuts without a hole in the center. They are produced by the spongy marrow inside large bones. Healthy red blood cells have an average lifespan of 120 days, so when they die, the iron from the hemoglobin is recycled to make new red blood cells. [11]

There are many different types of anemia. The three major causes of anemia are:

  • Blood loss
  • A decreased production of red blood cells
  • Increased destruction of red blood cells

White blood cells and platelets are the two other kinds of blood cells that help fight infection [12], while platelets help blood to clot. In some kinds of anemia, there are low amounts of all three types of blood cells. The most common symptom is feeling tired because the body is not receiving enough oxygen. Iron-deficiency anemia also can develop when the body needs higher levels of iron, such as during pregnancy.

Effects Of Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia can range from mild to severe, although a mild case usually causes no symptoms or problems. However, a severe case can cause extreme fatigue or tiredness and weakness. Severe iron-deficiency anemia can lead to serious problems for young children and pregnant women, and it can affect the heart as well.

In young children, iron-deficiency anemia can cause a heart murmur and delays the child’s growth and development. It puts the child at greater risk of lead poisoning and infection. It could also cause behavioral problems. [13

In pregnant women, the most common problems iron-deficiency anemia can cause is an increased risk of a premature delivery and a low-birth-weight baby. The heart is affected when there is a lack of oxygen in patient’s body, and then the heart has to work harder to get enough oxygen throughout the body. Over time, this stress on the heart can lead to a fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, an enlarged heart, and even heart failure in some cases. [14]

Important General Information About Iron Deficiency

A lack of iron in the body is the most common nutritional problem, where iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. It is most often found in young children, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age. In fact, iron deficiency affects half of all pregnant women and 1 out of 5 women of childbearing age. [6]

Iron-deficiency anemia can be treated successfully, and usually its causes as well. However, if left untreated, it can lead to severe symptoms and serious problems.

What Causes Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when there is too little iron in the body, and the three main reasons for that have already been listed. These are blood loss (either from disease or injury), not getting enough iron in the diet, and not being able to absorb the iron in the diet. In general, when blood is lost, iron is lost, so if the body does not have enough iron reserves to make up for the iron loss, a person will develop iron-deficiency anemia. Blood is lost in a number of ways, for example in women, iron and red blood cells are lost when bleeding occurs from very long or heavy menstrual periods as well as from childbirth [6]. Women can also lose iron and red blood cells from slowly bleeding fibroids in the uterus. Blood is also lost through internal bleeding, where most often this loss of blood occurs slowly and can be due to a bleeding ulcer, colon polyp, or colon cancer.

Regular use of Aspirin [15] or other pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [16], hookworm infection [17], urinary tract bleeding or bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract [18], and rapid loss or removal of blood can also cause iron-deficiency anemia.

Keep in mind that

  • meat (particularly red meat) 
  • poultry,
  • fish,
  • eggs,
  • iron-fortified foods
  • peas, lentils, white, red, and baked beans, soybeans and chickpeas
  • tofu
  • dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins, and apricots
  • spirulina, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • prune juice

are the best sources of iron. [2] 

It is also very important to notice that vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Good sources of vitamin C are vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits. if you want to boost your iron levels, avoid eating iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements with foods high in calcium like dairy products, because they prevent the absorption of iron. So, when you're trying to get iron levels up, drink your milk away from your iron-rich meals.

Moreover, certain factors make it hard for the body to absorb enough iron from food. These factors include intestinal surgery or diseases of the intestine, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, prescription medicines that reduce acid in the stomach, low levels of folate, vitamin B12, or vitamin C in the diet.

Eating patterns that exclude iron-rich foods or food supplements may lead to problems with iron-deficiency anemia. For example, some people do not eat enough foods containing iron, while other people get iron-deficiency anemia because of eating poorly due to alcoholism or aging.

Following a diet that has an imbalance of food groups can lead to this type of anemia as well. Examples of diets that can lead to iron-deficiency anemia are low-fat diets, because following a low-fat diet over a long period of time may limit sources of iron from animal foods, or other foods that are rich in iron. Diets high in sugars are often low in iron, while high-fiber diets can slow the absorption of iron.

It is also important to know that people may need more iron at some periods in their lives (pregnancy, surgery, some medications..). If they do not get more iron at these times, they may develop iron-deficiency anemia.

So, if you 're constantly suffering from cold hands and feet, and of course some other accompanying symptoms, that we listed above [10], it is time to ask yourself whether this could be a sign of iron deficiency. A simple blood test will reveal the truth.