Circulation of the blood, and the oxygen and nutrients that it carries, is absolutely essential to life. Any problem in the circulation can therefore lead to serious health problems. There are a number of different circulatory problems that can affect a person. One of the most common circulatory problems is arteriosclerosis, which is strongly related to heart disease. Arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, is discussed in the article Heart Disease and Metabolism. Other serious circulatory problems include blood clots (arterial embolisms), aneurysms, thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, circulation-related skin ulcers, Raynaud’s disease, and Buerger’s disease. These will be discussed in more detail below.
How do blood and nutrients circulate through the body? There are two circulatory loops in the body. One is to bring oxygen from the lungs to the heart, and to dispose of carbon dioxide in the blood by pumping it from the heart to the lungs. The other loop is the heart pumping blood containing oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body through the arteries. Later, carbon dioxide and other waste products are returned to the heart through veins, and then they cross over to the other circulatory loop for exhalation by the lungs.
Blood clots are one of the most common, and serious, circulation disorders. There are two types of blood clots---a thrombus and an embolus. A thrombus is a blood clot that does not move from its location in the blood vessel. An embolus is a blood clot that has broken away from its original position in the vessel and now blocks blood flow downstream from its original site. An aneurysm is a weakening and widening of a blood vessel. If a blood clot in a vein causes inflammation, it’s known as thrombophlebitis.
Varicose veins are usually visible on the legs and ankles. They are caused by small valves in the veins becoming weak and unable to close, which makes the blood back up in the veins. There are two types of circulation-related skin ulcers. Skin ulcers caused by veins are basically varicose veins that have worsened, and the blood eventually makes it to the skin’s surface. These particular types of ulcers are called venous ulcers. Ischemic ulcers are from circulation problems in the arteries, and are the cause of intermittent claudication. Buerger’s disease is associated with smoking. It is a disease of the extremities caused from blood vessel blockages that supply oxygen and nutrients to the hands and feet.
Raynaud’s disease is a special circulatory condition that usually occurs when emotional distress or cold temperatures cause an exaggerated an abnormal blood vessel constriction. Extremities (hands and feet) can lose circulation and turn blue. People may not have full use of their hands and feet during this time, which can be a serious problem. People with Raynaud’s disease may want to restrict or eliminate coffee, since it constricts blood vessels. Raynaud’s disease may be an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. People with Raynaud’s may have a strong sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for constricting blood vessels.
There are a number of natural supplements that can help increase blood circulation. Vitamin E may help circulatory disorders, since it thins the blood; as you have read above, the main circulatory problems involve blood clotting or vessel constriction. Inositol Hexaniacinate (or Nicotinate) enhances blood flow to the hands and feet (1). Magnesium may be helpful for Raynaud’s disease, since it can relax constricted blood vessels (1). Magnesium may also be beneficial for circulation problems, especially during the winter. One study found that magnesium levels were significantly lower in women with Raynaud’s disease who were exposed to cold temperatures than women who didn’t have the disease (2). Vitamin C is an excellent supplement to help circulation. It helps strengthen arteries (3), is a cleaner and detoxifier, and it helps combat oxidation. It also can help lower blood pressure (4) and cholesterol modestly.
Below is some general advice before starting any plan to help increase circulation. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program to increase blood circulation. Certain high blood pressure drugs, including calcium channel blockers and alpha- or beta-adrenergic blockers, can mimic Raynaud’s disease symptoms. If you are on these medications, talk to your physician about alternative medications for your high blood pressure. There are also natural therapies for helping to control blood pressure; Dr. Jensen can provide more information on how to control high blood pressure naturally.
There are a lot of different supplements that supposedly help to increase circulation. Some may help and some may not, but if you decide to try some of the supplements below, then it’s important that you understand the potential side effects and drug interactions of each one. Pregnant and nursing mothers should not take the supplements below. Always notify your physician before taking any supplement.
Accessory supplements for circulation problems should not be taken with aspirin, NSAIDS (ex. Ibuprofen), Warfarin, or other blood-thinning drugs. Uses of the circulation-enhancing supplements below are not recommended, and any serious side effects are noted.
Inositol Hexaniacinate: relatively few side effects
Ginko Biloba can cause seizures, serious skin disorders, internal bleeding
Evening Primrose oil: may cause seizures in susceptible persons
Fish Oil: none serious; however, fish oil contains trace amounts of mercury, which is a neurotoxin. This makes fish oil questionable as a supplement, since the drawbacks of ingesting a mercury-containing substance may outweigh any benefits from the fish oil itself. Flaxseed oil may be a better alternative
Feverfew: relatively safe
Garlic: can cause serious allergic reactions, skin burns, internal bleeding, liver toxicity
Flaxseed oil: relatively safe
Vitamin E: do not supplement with more than 200 IU/day unless directed by your physician
L-Carnitine: may rarely cause seizures
Chlorophyll: relatively safe, but no convincing evidence for helping circulation problems
Chondroitin sulfate (Shark cartilage): can inhibit blood formation; not a good supplement for people with circulation problems
1. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1999.
2. Leppert, J., et. al. (1990). Lower magnesium levels after exposure to cold in women with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Journal of Internal Medicine, 228: 235-239.
3. Pauling, L. (1974). Are Recommended Daily Allowances for Vitamin C Adequate? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov., Vol. 71, No. 11, pp. 4442-4446.
4. Ettarh, R., Odigie, I., &Adigun, S. (2002). Vitamin C lowers blood pressure and alters vascular responsiveness in salt-induced hypertension. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Dec, 80(12): 1199-1202.
About the Author:
Dr. Jensen is both a consultant and author in the BioMedical and Nutrition fields. He has previously written a book on both topics, The Failures of American Medicine, published in 2002. Dr. Jensen has also written a doctoral dissertation on how Vitamin C can reduce stress and allergies via its antihistamine effect. He has worked in a broad range of BioMedical fields, such as gene regulation, cancer research, and HIV vaccine development. However, Dr. Jensen eventually decided that helping people more directly would be more rewarding for everyone involved. He has since helped clients with dozens of different ailments. Dr. Jensen is a practitioner in the field of Metabolic Typing, which characterizes different biochemistries among people based on certain physical and behavioral traits they have.