Understanding Raynaud’s Phenomenon
Let’s talk about Raynaud’s phenomenon and my experience with managing it.
Approximately ⅓ of people with lupus experience Raynaud’s.
Raynaud’s affects blood circulation and it can be very painful for most.
I have experienced the worst of symptoms, where no matter how much heat I applied to my fingers and toes, they could not get warm. This led me to spend endless days inside the house, especially on cold winter days, until I could defrost somehow miraculously. Even in the fall, when the temperature begins to drop below 60 degrees F, my hands begin to turn purple and white and feel like I left them in the freezer for at least 5 minutes.
Raynaud's phenomenon is complicated … which is why it is called a phenomenon in the first place.
Raynaud’s Causes and Treatments
To treat Raynaud’s symptoms with pharmaceutical medications, anti-hypertensive, antidepressants and calcium blockers are typically prescribed to treat symptoms of pain, swelling, numbness, and tingling, to name a few. Side effects of taking calcium blockers can include constipation, dizziness and headache.
In severe cases, blood flow can be completely restricted and can result in amputation of the limbs. Now that is concerning.
Certain medications can also worsen Raynaud’s, such as nasal decongestants (containing phenylephrine, e.g., Sudafed).
Raynaud’s is still a big mystery. Doctor’s do not understand what causes it. It could be because of genes, though. In an article published in October 2023, studies show that a specific gene“ affects how blood vessels narrow.”
In an article published in the UK, “One was the alpha-2A-adrenergic receptor for adrenaline, ADRA2A, a classic stress receptor that causes the small blood vessels to contract.”
From this research, it appeared to me that both emotional stress and physical stress, e.g., our fight or flight (parasympathetic nervous system) is a big factor in how Raynaud’s flares up.
Could the change in season, our imbalance in circadian rhythm, adrenal fatigue and shorter days (causing seasonal affective disorder,) cause our emotions to go haywire, especially in the colder months, thus causing Raynaud’s to become more prevalent? I know, a mouth full, aka, phenomenon.
This led me to exploring natural ways to manage my nervous system to improve Raynaud’s, thus lowering disease activity and improving my overall well-being.
I do my best to manage Raynaud’s holistically and naturally. But, it requires a multifaceted approach. I find that when my lupus is controlled, with less anemia and inflammation, I experience less symptoms with Raynaud’s.
Natural Ways to Managing Raynaud’s
Here are some natural ways to manage Raynaud’s to improve blood circulation and flow:
Keep warm: Dress warmly and over-layer, if there is such a thing. Use hand and foot warmers. Use a heating pad or warm compresses to improve blood flow. I recently read that gloves made with silver can help Raynaud’s. I have yet to try that.
Manage stress: Stress can trigger Raynaud's attacks. Practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation, deep diaphragmatic breathing, and hot yoga. This has been a saving grace for me.
Exercising regularly: This may be hard, depending on where you are in your lupus recovery journey. But, regular exercise can improve circulation and reduce Raynaud's attacks. Even going for a walk can help. Hot yoga has done wonders for me.
Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid triggers like smoking, eating processed foods, junk and sugar, drinking caffeine, excessive alcohol, being in high-stress environments, and consuming cold foods and drinks. Yes, this also applies to drinking smoothies and eating cold salads or drinking iced drinks in the winter. This can make Raynaud's worse.
Eat an omega-3 rich diet: Include anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty foods in your diet, like fatty fish, walnuts, and flax, chia and hemp seeds.
Consume ginger and turmeric (with black pepper): These both have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation and improve circulation. I make ginger/turmeric and black pepper ice cubes frequently and enjoy tea daily. It’s been a game changer.
My favorite Plant Medicines and Holistic Practices to Manage Raynaud’s
My three favorite plant medicines that help me with Raynaud’s are: cayenne pepper as it is a natural vasodilator, ginger and it’s anti-inflammatory and is warming and ashwagandha because it helps calm adrenal fatigue (as highlighted in the UK article above). Vasodilators are effective to open up blood vessels. I also came across some interesting research on the great effects of Prickly Ash Bark to manage Raynaud’s symptoms, given its vasodilatation effects. Taking these increase blood flow and provide a warming sensation through the body. If you are sensitive to nightshades, avoid cayenne pepper and ashwagandha.
Note: I finally set up my Amazon storefront to share the products and foods that I use to manage lupus, reduce inflammation and feel good. I do get a commission if you purchase the items. See embedded links to each of the items above. Thank you for your support.
In addition to mindful movement, I also practice hot and cold therapies to calm the parasympathetic nervous system. Some examples of these practices are alternate hot and cold showers, sauna, hot yoga, cryotherapy and grounding (placing bare feet on grass / ground while practicing deep breathing).
Disclaimer: Remember, it's essential to work with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan that suits your needs. I am not a doctor, just a lupus warrior and holistic nutritionist sharing her story. Taking pharmaceutical medications and plant medicines can cause contraindications. While these natural methods can help manage Raynaud's, medication or other treatments may also be necessary. These are not substitutes for medical advice. Do your own research.
How do you manage Raynaud’s? It definitely is a phenomenon. Let me know in the comments below and make sure to share this with a friend who could benefit from this information.