Natural Ways to Improve Circulation

You don't have to pop a pill to improve circulation and overall cardiovascular health. Follow our advice to naturally increase blood flow.

| November/December 2013

  • Vitamin-rich foods promote good circulation.
    Photo By iStock
  • Healthy circulation is critical to keeping our organs working properly and toxins flushed out of our bodies.
    Photo By iStock

How often do you think about your circulation? Unless you’re suffering from cold hands or feet, probably not very often. Even then you may pull on a pair of warm socks or gloves, chalk it up to poor circulation, and think nothing more of it. But there’s more to circulation than keeping our extremities toasty—good circulation is critical to good health.

Why Circulation Matters

“Blood supply allows organs to function properly,” says Carly Stewart, M.D. “If an organ like your heart, kidneys or brain does not get enough blood, some of the cells die and function is impaired.” Heart attacks and strokes are vivid examples of what can happen when organs don’t get enough blood, but lack of blood supply can less dramatically affect our organs over time. For example, poor circulation to the brain can lead to feelings of dizziness, headaches and even loss of cognitive function, and venous insufficiency, a condition in which the leg veins struggle to send enough blood back to the heart, can lead to edema (swelling). High blood pressure can also lead to varicose veins and a decreased sex drive.

Such circulation problems can quickly become a downward spiral, says Christopher Hanifin, chair of the physician assistant program at Seton Hall University who has a background in cardiac surgery and preventive medicine. Hanifin points to the interplay between the heart and kidneys as an example. “If the heart does not pump well, the kidneys are not supplied with enough blood,” he says. “Sensing this, the kidneys release chemicals to raise blood pressure and retain fluid. Doing so puts more stress on the heart.”

Good circulation is also critical in healing damaged tissues and helping fight infection. We need good circulation to bring in fresh nutrients and oxygen to tissues, and to help eliminate toxins from the body, says Christina Major, a naturopathic doctor with Crystal Holistic Health Consulting in Trevorton, Pennsylvania. The circulatory system maintains fluid balance in the body—it helps lymphatic fluids move immune-fighting cells to areas of the body suffering from infection. This is one reason why diabetics often have problems with their feet, Hanifin says—poor circulation prevents blood and nutrients from reaching the tissues efficiently.

Think about circulation like a pond, says Michael Finkelstein, M.D., author of 77 Questions for Skillful Living. “When there is no outflow of water, the pond becomes stagnant. Circulation is the same. It cleans out the garbage. Without it, our bodies would fill with gunk.”

So how can you promote and maintain healthy circulation? Don’t assume you’ll need anticoagulants and blood thinners—which can lead to side effects such as internal bleeding, aggravated ulcers and exacerbated kidney problems. Follow our expert advice to keep your blood pumping naturally.

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