It's estimated poor circulation affects 1 in 10 people, with women, those who are overweight and diabetics more likely to be affected. Good blood circulation is important for daily health and wellbeing, and poor blood flow can present symptoms in our hands, feet, skin colour, nails, immune health, and much more.
Our nutritionists explain symptoms of poor blood circulation, who is most affected, and good foods and vitamins to promote healthy blood circulation.
Your blood vessels
It's important to understand the blood vessels in your body - arteries, veins and capillaries. The arteries are the widest and when broken can cause serious, if not fatal bleeding. Veins are smaller than arteries and provide blood to the extremities.
Capillaries are the smallest and narrowest and provide every cell in your body with blood. When individuals have poor blood flow, it is normally the capillaries that are the problem. Since they are small, they are more likely to become clogged up, preventing blood flow to individual cells.
10 Symptoms of poor blood circulation
1. Cold hands and feet
Proper blood flow is required to maintain temperature control in the body, especially in the extremities like your hands and feet. Poor blood flow makes it difficult for enough blood to get to the hands and feet, keeping them at a lower temperature than the rest of the body. Chronic cold hands and feet is also a symptom of Raynaud’s disease which affects your blood circulation.
2. Swollen veins
Swollen veins, varicose veins or spider veins are an indication that blood flow is being restricted or disrupted between the extremities and the heart. There are valves in your blood vessels which counteract gravity, and sometimes with poor blood flow these valves can lose function.
3. Heavy legs and feet
The decrease in blood flow makes it harder for your body to deliver oxygen to the extremities, including your legs and feet. This decrease in oxygen negatively impacts the muscles leading to feeling of aching and heaviness.
4. Discoloured skin
Poor blood flow to the capillaries in the skin can cause them to burst, releasing iron filled blood. Iron can stain the skin leading to discolouration. Read our blog 'Best foods and vitamins for glowing skin'.
5. Swollen legs and feet
Blood that is unable to circulate properly in the feet and legs builds up pressure in these areas and forces fluid from the surrounding tissues to build up. Restless legs can also be a symptom of poor blood circulation. Learn more in article 'Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes and how to manage it.'
6. Foot ulcers
Poor blood flow prevents nutrients and oxygen from getting to the feet and legs. The deprived tissues may die or become damaged which can result in ulcers.
7. Pelvic pain
Among women, sometimes the vein suppling blood to the ovaries does not close properly, leading to a reflux and pooling of blood in the pelvis. This can lead to the feeling of heaviness and pain in the pelvic area.
8. Numbness and tingling
Poor blood flow causes a fluctuation in temperature to the extremities and gives the sensation of numbness. The tingling sensation arises from the blood trying to return to the extremities of your body.
Read our blog: 5 nutrition tips for growing strong nails
9. Poor hair and nail growth
Poor blood flow the to scalp reduces the level of nutrients provided to the hair follicles and their size and rate of growth. Likewise, reduced blood flow to the nails causes a reduction in nutrients supplied to the nail bed, reducing the rate of growth and the health of the nails.
10. Poor memory and concentration
Poor circulation will affect the amount of blood flow to your brain, which can lead to memory loss and difficulty concentrating. Dehydration can also impact memory and concentration - just 2% dehydration affects our brain's performance.
Who is affected by poor blood circulation?
Poor blood circulation can affect all of us, however women are more likely to be affected than men and some groups are more at risk than others.
The elderly: Poor blood circulation is often a problem in the elderly due to a decreased level of physical activity. It is not limited to the elderly however and can occur at any age.
Diabetics: Diabetics are at increased risk of having poor blood flow. This is because chronically poor blood sugar control decreases the function of the inside of the blood vessels, which prevents them from dilation properly.
The obese: Those with obesity may also have a higher risk of developing poor blood flow. The higher level of blood fats seen in those with obesity can build up on the blood vessel walls and reduce the diameter, restricting blood flow.
The inactive: Those who are inactive may also have poor blood flow as regular exercise is required to keep blood flow healthy.
Smokers: Smoking increases the rate of oxidative stress in the body which damages the lining of the blood vessels, decreasing their function.
5 Best foods for blood circulation
A healthy, varied and balanced diet is always the best place to start for all our health goals! However there are some foods that are particularly good for helping improve blood circulation.
1. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help to protect the inside lining of the blood vessels and help them dilate. Dark chocolate is also one of 5 foods to improve your mood.
Studies show cinnamon may help to reduce blood sugar spikes and cholesterol levels, allowing for better blood flow.
3. Dark berries
Berries such as blackberries, black currents and blueberries contain antioxidants and flavonoids which protect the lining of the blood vessels from damage and helps to preserve their function. Berries are also a great food for glowing skin.
Try our Simple Berry Fitness Bar recipe
Beetroot and dark leafy green vegetables contain a high level of nitrates which stimulate the dilation of blood vessels which allows more blood to flow through. Try our delicious Beetroot Hummus recipe.
5. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fats from walnuts, chia seeds and algae help to keep the blood at a healthy viscosity, allowing it to flow into tiny capacities and supply nutrients and oxygen to the cells.
Best supplements for circulation
Vitamin C is needed for the health of the inside lining of the blood vessels. It is this lining that helps to control dilation, allowing more blood to pass. Vitamin C helps to protect against free radical damage and contributes towards the collagen production in blood vessels, helping to keep them flexible.
Vitamin B3 supports blood flow in a number of ways, including helping to promote normal blood fat and cholesterol levels which helps to preserve the width of the vessels, allowing proper blood flow.
Iron is necessary for the production of haemoglobin - the part of the blood which carries the oxygen. Iron is also necessary for a protein called myoglobin – a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. Learn more about our Gentle Iron & Vitamin C.
Vitamin B6, B12 and Folate
Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folate are needed for the normal functioning of blood cells to carry oxygen and nutrients to the cells. They are also needed to lower high homocysteine. High homocysteine is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including poor blood vessels and a build-up of plaque which reduces blood flow. Learn more in our blog '5 signs you might be low in Vitamin B12'.
Tips to improve blood circulation
Exercise stimulates blood flow to all parts of the body. Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, allowing it to pump blood more effectively and also strengthening the blood vessels.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight puts strain on the heart and blood vessels. Loosing weight in a steady and safe manner reduces strain in the heart and also the risk of other factors that can contribute towards reduced blood flow, such as diabetes. Eliminating unhealthy foods such as excess sugars and trans fats helps to clear the vessels which allows better blood flow. You may enjoy our article 'Nutritionist advice for healthy weight loss'.
Smoking causes damage to the lining of the blood vessels, reducing their function. Quitting may be difficult but necessary. After a while, your blood vessel health and blood flow will start to improve.
View our range of vegan probiotics, vitamins and supplements.
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