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This article was written by Dr. Jonathan Goodman, an experienced naturopathic physician who seeks to promote health through education, inspiration, humor, cutting-edge science and ancient medical wisdom. Check out his website here or follow him on Facebook 

We need our blood to circulate throughout our body to have good health.  If we have any impairment in circulation, our bodies will suffer.  Cold hands and feet, lightheadedness, damage to nails and hair, can all be signs of poor circulation.   Blood carries oxygen to all the tissues in our body.  Any shortfall in oxygen delivery can lead to tissue damage, so we need to preserve circulation and be alert for early signs of damage. 

This article will discuss how to know your circulation is impaired and what to do to fix it.

Circulation 101: The Basics

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Circulation starts (and ends) with the heart.  The heart pumps blood which is carried throughout our body in the arteries and smaller vessels, known as capillaries.  This blood is filled with oxygen which the lungs deliver to the heart.  Once this oxygenated blood is used by cells, the “leftover” blood carries waste to the lymph and the rest of the blood is returned through the veins back to the heart to be replenished with oxygen.  Along the way, the kidneys, liver and spleen are involved in filtering the blood.

All of this exquisitely complicated activity goes on without our conscious control, regulated by pressure sensors in the brain, neck and other vessels. As pressure falls too low, the heart will pump faster and the arteries constrict to preserve blood supply. As pressure goes higher, arteries relax and the heart may pump slower. You can thank your autonomic nervous system for doing a great job keeping things in balance.

What Can Go Wrong?

Circulation is maintained very effectively as long as we give our bodies the nutrients  it needs, avoid serious injury, and are gifted with overall good health.

Here are some conditions that can impair circulation:

Diabetes:  diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease primarily because it contributes to hardened arteries, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack.  Diabetes also damages the kidneys, retina, and nerves.  Symptoms of diabetes’ damage to the circulation include cold hands and feet and nerve pain.

How to know if you have it:  get tested for Fasting Blood Sugar and/or Hemoglobin A1c

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Heart Disease:  congestive heart failure, in which the heart does not pump blood effectively, leads to weakness, dizziness, and can cause edema, or swelling,  in the legs. 

How to know if you have it:  Get an electrocardiogram test, an echocardiogram, or a stress test. 

Raynauds:  a condition in which blood doesn’t circulate effectively to the fingers and toes.  People with Raynauds often get discolored (purplish) skin, numbness and extreme cold in their hands and feet in cold weather.

How to know you have it:  symptoms are the best guide. Raynauds may indicate you have an underlying autoimmune condition, such as Lupus, so blood tests should be done.

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Arteritis: when arteries are inflamed the condition is called arteritis.  Arteries in the head, aorta and elsewhere can become chronically inflamed, limiting circulation and potentially leading to serious consequences.

How to know you have it: blood tests can show inflammation, and an artery biopsy will confirm the diagnosis.

Anemia:  anemia is a deficiency in red, white or both types of cells.   Iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia.  With this condition, our cells don’t carry enough oxygen to our tissues, leading to fatigue, memory deficits, depression, dizziness, and weakness.

How to know you have it:  Complete Blood Count, Iron Studies, Ferritin, Vitamin B12, Folic acid.

How to Fix It

Each condition has its own treatment.  Diabetes can be reversed through diet and exercise.  Anemia is usually treated with iron supplementation.  In any case, be aware of these signs of poor circulation:  more importantly, eat well and exercise regularly to achieve optimum health!

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