Blood Flow Basics

Good Health Lifestyles Features

Ways to improve circulation naturally!

Unless you have numbness in your fingers or toes—or wounds that seem to take forever to heal —you probably don’t give your circulatory system a lot of thought. Yet the blood that flows through the highways and byways of your circulatory system provides the billions of cells throughout your body with the oxygen and the nutrients they need to function. Poor circulation can rob your muscles and organs of these critical nutrients. Of more concern, poor circulation can be a precursor to a heart attack, stroke, or even amputation.

How do you know if you’ve got sluggish circulation? Some of the obvious signs include pain and swelling in the hips or legs, tiredness, numbness, cold hands and feet, or cramping or tingling in the fingers and toes. The cause can be something as simple as your lifestyle choices or the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated. But, while there are some risk factors like age that you can’t control, there are a number of things you can do to get your blood flowing again!

Be Artery Smart

If you’ve got a clogged pipe in your kitchen or bathroom, any plumber will tell you that it can eventually affect every room in the house. The same is true for your circulatory system—that complex network of arteries, veins, and capillaries that transport oxygen-rich blood throughout your entire body. Anything that impedes the free flow of blood can eventually impact other bodily systems.

Certain medical conditions can damage your arteries and reduce blood flow. Oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol can contribute to the buildup of arterial plaque. High blood pressure can injure the lining of your arteries, technically known as the endothelium. This too can leave you vulnerable for the accumulation of plaque that can slow the flow of blood. Another factor that can injure the endothelium is diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar not only encourages inflammation, it increases triglycerides and decreases “good” HDL cholesterol—all factors that can impact circulation.

Your habits and lifestyle choices matter. Cigarette smoking contributes to poor circulation by constricting blood vessels. Over time, this injures the smooth endothelial lining and can lead to reduced blood flow. A sedentary lifestyle promotes sluggish blood flow. If you spend your days sitting behind a desk or in a car, it’s important to move your body periodically and adopt a regular exercise routine.

What you eat is also key. A diet filled with unhealthy fats and refined foods can lead to impaired circulation. Even one unhealthy meal can slow the flow of blood through your arteries, say Canadian researchers at the University of Calgary. Their research, which was presented at the 2012 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, proved that just one high-fat, fast food meal can reduce blood flow by as much as 20 percent—a reduction that can take up to 24 hours to normalize. Instead, focus on whole foods, including fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil or nuts and seeds, and lean protein.

Circulatory Supplements

While adopting a healthy diet and exercise program can foster better circulation, adding the following nutrients to your daily regimen can help protect your circulatory system even as you age. This is especially important if you’re already at an increased risk of heart disease. 

French Grape Seed Extract. The secret to grape seed’s blood flow benefits comes from oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs), powerful antioxidants that also boast anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that the OPCs in French grape seed extract are better free radical fighters than a combination of either vitamin C and vitamin E or beta-carotene. In an eight-week study of healthy postmenopausal women, grape seed extract effectively enhanced blood flow. Another study found that the OPCs in grape seed extract reduced leg swelling and edema (both signs of poor circulation) by an impressive 40 percent among young women after six hours of sitting. Yet, most grape seed extracts have a high molecular weight and contain tannins that can interfere with absorption. To ensure your body can absorb and use the OPCs in grape seed extract, look for a tannin-free supplement with a low molecular weight.

Mesoglycan. This compound is naturally found in the lining of blood vessels. When taken in supplemental form, it provides glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)—vital and necessary components of the endothelial cells that line healthy blood vessels and keep them flexible. As a result, blood vessels are stronger, which helps maintain healthy blood flow. In an Italian clinical study of patients with heart disease, mesoglycan showed healthy anti-clotting activity after just one dose. A similar clinical trial of patients with atherosclerosis published in the journal Current Therapeutic Research showed improved blood flow in just 30 days. In another Italian placebo-controlled study of 64 diabetic patients with peripheral artery disease, those taking mesoglycan experienced an improvement in pain-free walking and improved endothelial function, suggesting significantly better blood flow to the legs.

Omega-3s. Found in cold-water, fatty fish like salmon, omega-3s are especially beneficial for healthy circulation. The key omega-3 fatty acids in fish—DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)—improve blood lipid profiles, reduce inflammatory markers, and help build strong, flexible arteries and blood vessels, all factors that improve circulation. One Dutch study found that omega-3s enhance circulation in the brain while also providing other brain-boosting benefits. An earlier study conducted at the University of California, Davis, reported that supplementing with omega-3s significantly enhanced brachial artery dilation and blood flow compared to a placebo. Fortunately, you don’t need to take massive doses or oil-filled capsules to reap these circulatory benefits. For a more convenient choice, look for an omega-3 supplement created from salmon that is bound to phospholipids so you only need to take one tablet or capsule daily.