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Cold Hands & Feet

I can't warm up my hands and feet?

Question

Every year I dread the onset of winter because I suffer from cold hands and feet outdoors I wear warm clothes and fur-lined boots; indoors I have to wear slippers lined with goose down to keep my feet warm. I am 58, exercise regularly and have a healthy diet, but this problem means that winters are misery for me. Do you have any advice?

Answer

Millions of people suffer in the same way, some all year round. Feeling cold in your feet and hands and, indeed, any part of the body - is mainly due to poor blood supply. Blood flow raises the temperature of those parts to almost the same as the main body temperature. When there is decreased blood flow, there is no warmth, so the nerve receptors of the hands and feet whose function is to sense cold send messages to the brain. The result is that you have the sensations you describe.

The main reason why blood supply is reduced is because the smaller blood vessels in the hands and feet go into spasm and contract. This is a reaction to the cold.

lf you hold an ice cube in your hand, the skin will turn pale because the blood supply is being cut off. When you remove the ice, the colour and temperature will return to normal within a few minutes as the small blood vessels return to their usual size. This is an ordinary protective phenomenon that is part of the body's mechanism for stabilizing body temperature and preventing the blood from freezing. The opposite happens too: on a hot day you may notice your face go red and puffy as the blood vessels dilate, allowing the heat to escape and the skin to cool down.

If your feet are cold, you usually feel cold all over. Warm socks and gloves trap the heat and create an environment in which the body feels there is no risk of a freeze. So the blood vessels dilate and you feel warm.

In cases such as yours, the body is overreacting to the cold. Your small blood vessels are reacting even though the temperature is not low enough to freeze the blood or cause hypothermia. This may be due to your genetic make-up: some people inherit this tendency to cold hands and feet. Alternatively, there is something wrong with the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the contraction and dilation of blood vessels.

It's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, so I suggest a general treatment:

    Diet

  • You should avoid alcohol and very spicy foods (these cause dilation of blood vessels and may involuntarily affect the sympathetic nervous system), coffee and excess salt (these constrict blood vessels), citrus fruits (these impair circulation), ) yeast produces (these brew alcohol in the gut), sugar and sweets (these help the yeast-induced alcohol to grow).
  • Sleep

  • Make sure you sleep well to calm your nervous system; at bedtime listen to a relaxation tape such as Dr Ali's.
  • Retention Breathing

  • To begin with - whether you feel cold or not - inhale to a count of three, hold the breath for three, then exhale slowly to a count of six. Practice this for five minutes at a time, three times daily. Once you have mastered this initial stage, whenever your hands and feet go very cold and you almost shiver, practise the following breathing technique: inhale to three, hold for six, exhale for six and pause for three before inhaling again. This way you will be breathing three to four times a minute instead of the usual l6 times. This means that carbon dioxide will be retained in your blood. The body perceives the reduced ratio of oxygen in the blood and dilates the smaller blood vessels to compensate. The result is that your hands and feet warm up.
  • Yoga

  • The cobra, turtle, swing semi-bridge and head roll postures are-particularly useful.
  • Massage

  • Vigorously rub and stroke your arms from the elbows down to the wrists and fingers, and the legs from knees to toes. Squeeze the calves with your hands. You can use Dr Ali's Back Massage Oil for this.
  • I also recommend the following:

  • Take one tablet of ginkgo biloba daily for two months.
  • Take one capsule of Ashwagandha ( Indian ginseng), daily for three months.
  • Drink two cups of ginger tea daily: either buy teabags or grate peeled root ginger coarsely and top with boiling water.
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