We were contacted by Katie Hoare, a writer at Nutritionist Resource, a web site dedicated to connecting people with nutrition professionals across the UK. They recently published an article titled “Is There a Raynaud’s Treatment Diet?” As we’re often asked about nutrition and Raynaud’s, we were glad to find this information being published to benefit the Raynaud’s community.
The article starts by showing a clear understanding of Raynaud’s, which isn’t always the norm. They recognize that the disorder is common (not rare), can affect more than just fingers and toes, and is an often misunderstood condition. When’s the last time you saw that comment about Raynaud’s published! They quote Olianna Gourli, a naturopath, nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner commenting that there isn’t a formal test to diagnose Raynaud’s, “…it is rather a disease of exclusion.” Bravo!
While Ms. Hoare mentions several common lifestyle and dietary recommendations for Raynaud’s sufferers (exercise to boost circulation, avoid caffeine, etc.), the focus of this article is on 7 foods to help alleviate painful Raynaud’s attacks. There’s also a careful caveat that if these suggestions result in changes or additions of new food groups to your diet, please consult with a nutrition professional (well, it’s their business to connect people with nutritionists, remember?).
Here’s the list of their suggestions for nutrition and Raynaud’s:
- Omega 3 – We’ve heard before that omega-3 helps promote blood flow. Like the prescription drugs clinically proven to help alleviate Raynaud’s symptoms, it releases nitric oxide which works as a vasodilator, relaxing the blood vessels so that the blood flows more freely. So it makes sense that foods increasing nitric oxide into the system can potentially help improve circulation. Oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, along with certain nuts and seeds are good sources of omega 3. While there are limitations on interpreting past research on supplements like omega 3 applied to Raynaud’s, we published an article titled “Nutrition’s Effect on Raynaud’s Disease” several years back that references a study showing promise for how fish oil supplements may improve tolerance to cold exposure and delay the onset of vasospasm for primary Raynaud’s sufferers.
- Dark Chocolate – We were happy to see this food category included, not just because we LOVE dark chocolate, but because we’ve been studying how cocoa flavanols can provide circulatory benefits (“Can Cocoa Flavanols Help Frosties?”) and formed a partnership with FlavaNaturals as one of our Corporate Sponsors. The article in Nutritionist Resource recommends small portions (2 or 3 squares) of dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content. We’ve been advised to look for brands with measured cocoa flavanol levels of 500mg or more per portion. The average dark chocolate bar contains only 100mg of cocoa flavanols, meaning you would need to eat 5 or more daily. Not a hardship, but tough on the waistline, so check out FlavaNaturals.
- Walnuts – Walnuts are an alternative source for adding omega 3 to your diet. Ms. Hoare also references that walnuts contain ginkgo as a vasodilator and circulation booster. While historical results for the treatment of Raynaud’s with ginkgo biloba show some promise in patients with Raynaud’s phenomenon, to date the improvements have not been found significant in clinical trials (“Natural Remedies for Raynaud’s Lack Scientific Support”). Talk to your health care provider before taking ginkgo, as it can interact with certain herbs and medications and can increase your risk of bleeding.
- Ginger – Warming foods like ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and tumeric have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to support improved blood flow. They also induce chemical reactions in the body to create a warming sensation. You can read more detail about this effect in our article “Raynaud’s and Warming Foods”. Nutritionist Resource also suggests adding coconut oil to your diet as it is said to improve artery inflammation. Not sure why they include it in the category of warming foods, but they do all have a potential vasodilating effect for boosting circulation.
- Blueberries – It appears blueberries are super foods that are good for us for many reasons. For people with Raynaud’s, they contain both Vitamin C and Vitamin A, antioxidants that keep the blood vessels healthy and open for improved circulation. We’d also include oranges in this group. In addition to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties found in oranges, they contain natural plant compounds called polyphenols comprised of various bioflavonoids, including one called hesperidin that acts as a vasodilator with the ability to stimulate blood vessel expansion. The highest concentration of these beneficial bioflavonoids are found in the peel of the orange (which is edible!). More info on the potential Raynaud’s benefits of oranges is in our blog post “An Orange a Day Keeps the Cold Away?”
- Unpeeled Apples – Rutin is a plant pigment that has powerful antioxidant properties (see a common theme here?). It helps your body use Vitamin C and strengthens and increases flexibility in the blood vessels. Rutin is also found in buckwheat, figs, and both black and green tea, but we’ve read where “apples are full of rutin,” so add them first to your shopping list!
- Evening Primrose Oil – Nutritionist Resource admits this oil is technically not a food product, but wanted to include it in their suggestions. They reference research results stating the fatty acid gamma-linolenic found in evening primrose oil (EPO) helped to dilate blood vessels and improved the symptoms experienced by Raynaud’s patients participating in the study. Like most research we’ve found involving natural strategies, results were not totally conclusive, as no changes were seen in hand temperatures and cold challenge measurements: “In conclusion patients receiving EPO benefited symptomatically. This was not matched however by any change in objective assessment of blood flow.” So frustrating, but good that these studies continue. For more on the subject here’s our article “Using Essential Oils for Raynaud’s.”
One final tip from nutritional expert Olianna Gourli: “Dehydration can reduce the amount of blood moving through the blood vessels, exacerbating Raynaud’s symptoms.”
So stay hydrated, drink lots of herbal and ginger teas with cinnamon or drink dark cocoa rich in flavanols. Grab an apple and add blueberries and walnuts to your yogurt, shakes and salads and enjoy the warmth! Here’s the full article on nutrition and Raynaud’s: “Is There a Raynaud’s Treatment Diet?”.