Poor circulation can be uncomfortable, causing cold hands and feet, dizzy spells, and other unwelcome symptoms.
In severe cases, poor circulation can even lead to gangrene.(1)
Several health and lifestyle factors can contribute to poor circulation, but there are vitamins and supplements you can take to help improve circulation, as well as lifestyle changes you can make to promote good circulation and overall health.
Symptoms Of Poor Circulation
Symptoms of poor circulation include numbness and tingling in the extremities, frequent fainting or dizzy spells, muscle cramps, otherwise unexplained tiredness or lethargy, water retention, cold fingers and toes, and poor ability to concentrate.(2,3)
When poor circulation is caused by a health problem, other condition-specific symptoms may appear.
If your symptoms are severe, occur for long periods of time, or interfere with any aspect of your life, you should see your doctor to rule out any serious health conditions.
Causes Of Poor Circulation
Poor blood circulation can be caused by a variety of medical conditions ranging from mild to quite serious.
We know that being overweight or obese can cause a multitude of health problems due to the added stress on the body.
According to Dr. Frank Veith obesity contributes to poor circulation, as the muscles in the legs and calves become fatigued from the burden of extra weight, and therefore are not able to do their part in pumping blood back toward the heart and lungs.(4)
Obesity can also be a contributor to vein and heart disease, which in turn negatively impacts blood circulation.
One of the effects of long-term diabetes is decreased circulation due to the stiffening of veins and arteries due to the increased formation of advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs.(5)
In extreme cases, this lack of circulation can lead to infection and even gangrene, resulting in amputation.(1)
Proper blood circulation starts with a healthy heart, so it stands to reason that heart disease will cause a decrease in circulation.(6)
When the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, circulation to the extremities is decreased in favor of circulation to the main organs.
According to the Raynaud’s Association approximately 5% of Americans have Raynaud’s Disease, in which the arteries which supply blood to the skin constrict in response to cold temperatures or other stressors.(7)
Women are more likely to have Raynaud’s Disease than men.
Arterial and vascular issues
In addition to Raynaud’s Disease, there are a variety of other conditions that affect artery and vein health, such as peripheral vein disease, peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis, and Buerger’s Disease.
All of these conditions can contribute to poor circulation. In addition to medical issues, certain unhealthy lifestyle choices can negatively impact circulation.
Smoking can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, decreasing circulation.(8)
Skipping a workout here and there isn’t going to cause poor circulation, but a long-term sedentary lifestyle greatly reduces circulation and increases the risk of health problems.(9)
Eating unhealthy food
Junk food can cause a variety of health problems, including heart and arterial disease that can contribute to poor circulation.(10)
Sitting for long periods
Even people who exercise regularly can find themselves with poor circulation if they spend a lot of time sitting for long stretches without taking regular breaks to stand, move, and stretch their bodies.
What Are the Best Vitamins for Circulation?
Several vitamins and nutritional supplements can promote circulation.
It is currently unclear exactly how or why these supplements improve circulation, but Livestrong outlines several studies which have proven the connection.(11)
While overdose of these vitamins is rare, serious symptoms can develop if an overdose should occur.(12)
Please talk to your doctor before taking these supplements to be sure that they are safe for you and will not interact negatively with other medication you may be taking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin B-6 can decrease your risk of heart disease and clotting disorders when taken in conjunction with other nutrients.(13)
The National Institutes of Health notes that B-12 may also be useful in lowering the risk of heart disease.(14)
Vitamin D is vital to absorption of other nutrients, so it is key to overall health.(15)
Most people, especially those living in northern locales, are unable to get sufficient vitamin D from the sun, and it is not available naturally in food.
Not only does vitamin E help improve circulation, but it is also an important nutrient for skin health.(16)
Newborns often receive vitamin K injections at birth to prevent clotting.(17)
While this nutrient can improve circulation, you should check with your doctor before taking it to make sure that you don’t have any health problems that could be exacerbated by excess vitamin K, as it can increase clotting.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center niacin helps to improve circulation and suppress inflammation. There is significant evidence indicating that niacin can help improve cholesterol levels.(18)
WebMD points out that high doses are necessary to achieve these results, and these doses can cause gastrointestinal issues. Niacin should only be taken under the advice and care of a doctor.(19)
Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, is crucial to artery and vein health.(20)
Those who eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may not need to supplement with vitamin C, and too-high doses can be problematic for people with kidney disease and certain genetic disorders.
Some things to remember when shopping for supplements
Supplements in liquid form tend to be more readily absorbed by the body, but sometimes have a shorter shelf life than capsules or tablets.
Sublingual tablets, or tablets that dissolve under the tongue, can be a nice compromise as they have a longer shelf life than liquids but are more easily absorbed.
There is little regulation when it comes to nutritional supplements, so it’s important to know your brand. Look for companies that have a positive reputation.
Be sure to seek reviews other than those posted on the company’s own website or Amazon, as these can often be “plants” written by company representatives or by people receiving compensation for a positive review.
Pay careful attention to the dosage amounts. More is not always better.
Some supplements such as vitamin D carry a risk of accidental overdose, while others such as vitamin B-12 will simply be expelled by the body if you consume too much.
Discuss optimal dosage amounts with your doctor. A blood test can help determine how much of each supplement you need to take.
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Lifestyle Changes to Promote Circulation
Regular exercise that increases the heart rate can greatly improve circulation.(21)
It is important not to overdo it when trying to change a sedentary lifestyle.
Ease into exercise by taking a brisk walk every day and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. A doctor’s advice is crucial when beginning a new exercise regimen to avoid injury.
As numerous studies and personal anecdotes can attest, it can be extremely difficult to quit smoking. However, it is crucial to ensure overall health and to increase circulation.
If you have difficulty quitting on your own, your doctor can prescribe medication to help deal with cravings.
Take standing breaks
If your work requires long periods of sitting, such as a desk or driving job, take regular breaks to get up and walk around.
Stanford suggests spending no more than 30 minutes at a time working at a computer and taking “microbreaks” of around one minute to rest your eyes and stretch your limbs every 10 minutes or so.(22)
Drink your water
Staying well-hydrated is one of the simplest things you can do to promote overall good health, and when it comes to circulation, hydration is absolutely crucial.
Dehydration can cause the blood to thicken and overall blood volume to decrease, inhibiting circulation.(23)
Eat a heart-healthy diet
A diet which is low in cholesterol and fat and high in fiber can help to promote heart and blood vessel health, which in turn will aid in circulation.
Wear compression socks
Compression socks aid in circulation by helping the calf muscles pump blood back upward toward the heart.
The gentle compression helps to counteract the force of gravity to keep blood from settling in the feet and legs.
Compression socks may be especially important for anyone who spends long hours on their feet or who has a tendency to retain water in their legs and ankles.
Poor circulation causes unpleasant symptoms and can eventually lead to some very serious health problems if left untreated.
Ask your doctor if vitamin supplementation can help you, and take positive steps toward a healthy lifestyle to promote circulation and overall good health.