Cold Hands and Feet:
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Limbs get cold when blood vessels constrict or become obstructed. The hands or feet may change in color from pink to purple, blue, or white. Causes include exposure to extreme cold, poor circulation due to heart disease, frostbite, stress, side effects of medications, and prolonged work with vibrating equipment such as jackhammers.
Raynaud’s syndrome is a disorder that constricts the flow of blood to the fingers and toes, and shows up as cold hands and feet. Some people who suffer from low thyroid function experience cold hands and feet, as the thyroid controls and maintains body temperature. Cold extremities are more common in women than in men.
Chinese medicine considers coldness in the body to be a lack of or diminished flow of the body’s yang, or fire energy, or as the result of insufficient blood. Since cold hands and feet are common to many imbalances, this symptom often abates when patients are well. I stress to my patients that changes to diet and lifestyle, along with exercise, can help relieve the symptoms. If the symptoms persist, as with Raynaud’s disease, I often use acupuncture to increase circulation of the warming yang energy and prescribe Herbal Therapy to nourish the blood and vitality. Here are some of my favorite recommendations.
HOME REMEDIES FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
- Cinnamon & clove tea for cold hands and feet: make a tea by steeping 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cloves in 3 cups of hot water. Drink 1 cup of this tea in the evening to warm your insides, and to encourage a good night’s sleep.
- Hot spice bath for cold hands and feet: take a hot spice bath by boiling the following spices in a large pot for 15 minutes: 1 tablespoon each of crushed black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, sage, and cumin. Pour the mixture into the bathtub through a strainer and fill the tub with hot water. You’ll feel warmed by the spices and you’ll also smell good. Taking the bath before bedtime is preferable, but anytime will do.
- Keep warm: wear socks and gloves to bed to maintain warmth in the extremities.
SELF-ACUPRESSURE FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
- First find the acupressure point to unblock energy located in the web between your thumb and index finger on your right hand, named Valley of Harmony (LI-4). Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand. This is used to unblock energy and blood stasis.
- Next find the acupressure point to release blocked chi located in the natural indentation on the top of your right foot between the big and second toes, called Great Surge (LI-3). Apply moderate pressure with your right thumb for 5 minutes. Repeat on the left foot. This point is traditionally used to release all types of blockages.
WARM UP MOVEMENTS FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
Regular physical activity is essential for smooth flow of energy in the body and for preventing blockages and promoting healthy circulation. I also recommend energy exercises like the qi gong warm-up exercise for cold hands and feet I outline below. By tapping the trunk, arms, and legs, you activate the flow of energy and blood in your body. Practice the warm-up for 15 minutes - or more often - every day.
• To start: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, spine erect, and head tilted slightly forward.
- Make your right hand into a loose fist and begin tapping your lower abdomen with mild to moderate strength in a rhythmic fashion. Proceed to the middle and upper abdomen, then the chest.
- Start tapping under the armpit of the left arm, then the inner part of the arm and down to the palm. Then tap the outer part of the arm back up to the shoulder. Tap the shoulder muscle 7 times.
- Repeat the same movement with the left hand.
- Begin tapping the lower back on both sides with both hands in loose fists. Move the tapping down the back of the legs to the outsides of the ankles.
- Start tapping on the insides of the ankles, working your way up the insides of the calves and thighs.
- Finally, return to a standing position, again tapping your lower abdomen. End by placing your palms on your lower abdomen, left hand on top of the right. Make clockwise circles, rubbing the lower abdomen 36 times.
NUTRITION FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
- Eat plenty of omega-3-rich foods, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and anchovies.
- Emphasize blood-building meats such as lamb, beef, and wild game as well as iron-rich foods like spinach, broccoli, prunes, figs, raisins, oats, spelt, quinoa, sunflower and sesame seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, yams, squash, kale, onions, leeks, chives, garlic, scallions, parsley, parsnips, and jujube date.
- Liberally use spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, fennel, anise, cardamom, and cayenne pepper. Drink only warm or hot water.
- Avoid raw foods and icy-cold foods and beverages as well as alcohol and coffee. Avoid foods containing preservatives and additives as well. 
- Avoid alcohol: although alcohol may temporarily be warming, it actually lowers body temperature.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
- Use ginkgo, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger for cold hands and feet. All of these herbs can improve circulation in the fingers and toes.
- Traditional Chinese herbs for cold hands and feet: I recommend our formulation Dragon Male, which supports healthy circulation and warms the yang energy of the body. It contains naturally shed deer antler velvet, ginseng root, morinda root, cistanches, psoralea fruit, fennel, clove flower bud, frankincense, myrrh, horny goat weed, and other Chinese herbs.
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR COLD HANDS AND FEET
- Taking a daily dose of vitamin B3 (100 milligrams), or niacin, can be helpful in treating Raynaud’s phenomenon. 
- Taking omega-3 fish oils (1,000 milligrams EPA; 800 milligrams DHA) on a daily basis may also help treat cold hands and feet.
- Evening primrose oil or borage oil provides a good source of GI.A (gamma-linolenic acid; 400 milligrams), an essential fatty acid that has been shown to reduce symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome.
COLD HANDS AND FEET: WHAT TO AVOID
- Avoid smoking, as it impairs circulation.
- Avoid caffeine, as it constricts blood vessels and can cause cold hands and feet.
- Avoid alcohol, as its warming effects are only temporary.
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©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
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