When it comes to preserving our health with age, most people focus on a few notorious trouble spots – the waistline, heart and joints all come to mind as areas that require additional maintenance with the passage of time. There is nothing wrong with devoting much time and effort to keeping these parts of the body in good standing, especially considering the prevalence of heart disease, obesity and arthritis. It warrants mentioning, however, that other serious obstacles can cripple our health if not properly addressed. One such issue is poor circulation of blood through the body’s extremities, which can lead to the development of a number of seemingly unrelated heath problems.
The initial signs of poor blood circulation include pain in one or both legs, which will usually rear its ugly head while the patient is walking or engaging in other physical activities. The patient’s legs and/or arms may start to feel numb, especially when the patient sits or lies down. In cases where a particularly insufficient amount of blood reaches the head, the patient’s facial muscles may begin to sag and become noticeably slackened. In addition to worrisome pain and numbness, a lack of blood can cause coldness and swelling in both the hands and feet. These distressing symptoms are often accompanied by a diminished pulse and a discolored and pale skin tone.
The most troubling aspect of poor blood circulation is that it often signals the impending arrival of much more serious health problems. A lack of blood to the head, which can effectively paralyze some of the face’s muscles, is often a telltale warning sign that a stroke is about to strike. When combined with chest pains, these same symptoms can also forebode a heart attack. On a less serious (yet still disconcerting) note, sub-par blood circulation is one of the major factors behind erectile dysfunction.
The Causes of Arterial Roadblocks
When the body struggles with supplying its organs and extremities with fresh blood cells, blame can often be attributed to one of four medical conditions – arteriosclerosis, varicose veins, thrombophlebitis and niacin deficiency. As its intimidating name would indicate, arteriosclerosis poses a clear risk to health of the body. This condition appears when the walls of the arteries, the vessels tasked with transporting blood from the heart to the rest of the body, begin to harden and grow thicker. Not surprisingly, these narrowed arteries make it much more challenging for blood to reach its intended destination. Arteriosclerosis is usually a self-inflicted problem, developing after excessive amounts of “bad” cholesterol accumulate within the bloodstream, usually as a result of shortsighted dietary habits.
Varicose veins, in stark contrast, tend to be a luck-of-the-draw sort of ailment, as a patient’s genetic profile largely determines if he or she will develop this condition. In addition to causing physically distressing symptoms, varicose veins are also a notorious eye sore, since the affected veins become abnormally large and visible on the skin. The reason for this unsightly transformation is an unnatural buildup of blood within the veins, which in turn prevents fresher blood from accessing the body’s lower extremities. Varicose veins almost always form in the legs, though in rare occasions they can also appear in the arms.
You probably have never heard of thrombophlebitis before, and would probably struggle mightily to pronounce it accurately. Despite its relative obscurity and tongue-twisting name, thrombophlebitis is actually fairly common circulatory problem, striking suddenly and causing a warm and tingling sensation in the legs. The term thrombophlebitis simply refers to vein inflammation caused by blood clots (clots simply refer to blood that morphs into a solid substance). These blockages lead to prolonged bouts of pain, which only abate when the patient’s legs are elevated.
Finally, there is niacin deficiency. Niacin doesn’t get nearly as much press as other nutrients, but it nonetheless plays a major role in your body’s upkeep, working to lower bad cholesterol levels and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. The role of niacin doesn’t end there, however; this nutrient is crucial to the production of new DNA, and is also used to properly manage fats and insulin within the body.
The only real character flaw of niacin is that it dissolves in water, meaning that it hitches a one-way ticket out of the body when you urinate. Consequentially, the body’s supply of niacin must be constantly replenished by consuming certain foods and beverages. When its reserves of niacin dip too low, the body may become unable to transport sufficient blood to its legs, arms and head.
What You Can Do
While poor blood circulation presents a significant challenge to your health, the good news is that this problem can reversed by changes in diet and lifestyle. Arteriosclerosis, for instance, can be largely reversed by avoiding trans fats, saturated fats and foods high in cholesterol. These unhealthy ingredients should be replaced by foods that are high in healthy fats and soluble fiber (fiber that dissolves in water). At the grocery store, healthy fats can be purchased in the form of various fish and nuts. When it comes to soluble fiber, your best bets are oatmeal, apples, lentils, oranges, strawberries and beans. A niacin deficiency can be cured without much effort; foods with this nutrient include wheat bran, chicken, beef, turkey, fish, peanuts and certain breakfast cereals.
Varicose veins are commonly treated with compressions stockings, which squeeze the legs and allow blood to push through formerly blocked blood vessels. For thrombophlebitis, patients are often prescribed a combination of blood-thinning and clot-dissolving medicines. Support stockings may also be used.
If you needed another reason to get more exercise, here it is: blood circulation can also be improved by increased levels of physical activity. If your sedentary lifestyle is adversely affecting your body’s blood circulation, the following exercises might help get your blood flowing.
- Walk on a regular basis; 30 minutes a day should suffice
- Lifting weights
- Slow-speed jumping jacks
- Arm circle movements
- Touching your toes with your hands