February is Raynaud’s Awareness Month, a campaign aimed at increasing understanding of this debilitating condition amongst the general public.
Many sufferers of Raynaud’s are unaware that their condition has a name and do not know that there are therapies available to help.
Raynaud’s Phemomenon (RP) affects somewhere between 3-20% of the population worldwide, with women more commoly affected than men.
Raynaud’s is characterised by problems with blood flow to the extremities, causing pain, tingling sensations, numbness or discomfort. These symptoms are most often present in the hands, but can also occur in the toes, ears and nose.
During a Raynaud’s episode, the fingers will turn white as blood supply is interrupted. They may then turn blue before blood flow resumes, accompanied by a feeling of burning. Episodes can be triggered by emotional stress or by temperature changes.
There is currently no documented cure for Raynaud’s. However, studies suggest that some nutritional supplements may be useful in relieving symptoms.
The herb ginkgo has been reported to improve the circulation in small blood vessels and reduce pain in people with Raynaud’s disease. In a recent double blind study, Ginkgo supplementation taken over a 10-week period reduced the number of attacks experienced by Raynaud’s sufferers (1).
Essential fatty acids are also reported to be beneficial for those with Raynaud’s. Fish oil has a number of effects that may improve blood circulation. It reduces vascular reactivity and blood viscosity, suggesting that it should help improve blood flow and circulation in Raynaud’s patients. A double-blind study did in fact find that fish oil supplementation improved tolerance to cold and delayed the onset of symptoms. Other studies have found fish oil to be useful in decreasing both frequency and severity of attacks (3).
Evening primrose oil has similar vascular effects to that of fish oil, and a small double blind study found it offered similar benefits in Raynaud’s (4).
A form of Vitamin B3 known as inositol hexaniacinate, reduces spasms in the arteries and improves peripheral circulation. For this reason it has been tested as a therapy for Raynaud’s and in larger doese has been found to improve circulation and reduce attacks (5,6). Larger doses of 3-4 grams, like those used in the studies, should only be taken under the supervision of a medical practitioner.
Problems with magnesium metabolism may also factor in Raynaud’s (7). Magnesium deficiency can cause blood vessels to spasm. Ensuring an optimal intake of this mineral helps blood vessels to ‘relax’ and encourages healthy blood flow. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 300mg for men and 270mg for women, but many adults in the UK fall short. Increasing intake of green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses can boost magnesium levels significantly.
Finally, dietary and lifestyle changes can also help to manage this condition. Smoking, which constricts blood vessels, will aggravate Raynaud’s and so giving up the cigarettes should improve symptoms immensely. Relaxation techniques and stress management are also recommended.
Other helpful dietary measures include cutting down caffeine and alcohol, and reducing fatty and fried foods.
If you’d like more information on Raynaud’s you can visit the Raynaud's & Scleroderma Association website which is dedicated to helping those affected by the condition.
References 1. Muir AH, Robb R, McLaren M, Daly F, Belch JJ (2002) The use of Ginkgo biloba in Raynaud's disease: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Vasc. Med 7(4):265-7. 2. DiGiacomo RA et al. (1989) Fish-oil dietary supplementation in patients with Raynaud's phenomenon: a double-blind, controlled, prospective study. Am J Med 68:158–64. 4. Belch JJ, Shaw B, O’Dowd A, et al. (1985) Evening primrose oil (Efamol) in the treatment of Raynaud’s phenomenon: a double-blind study. Thromb Haemost. 54:490-494. 5. Holti G (1979) An experimentally controlled evaluation of the effect of inositol nicotinate upon the digital blood flow in patients with Raynaud’s phenomenon. J Int Med Res 7:473–83. 6. Ring EF, Bacon PA. (1977) Quantitative thermographic assessment of inositol nicotinate therapy in Raynaud’s phenomenon. J Int Med Res. 5:217–22. 7. Leppert J, Aberg H, Levin K, et al. (1994) The concentration of magnesium in erythrocytes in female patients with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon; fluctuation with the time of year. Angiology 45:283–8.