Under my byline

Touch of ice

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 16 December 2007

Going blueCold hands and feet are a pain

Shaking hands with someone in winter is a revelatory exercise. People with warm hands are wonderful; people to whose hands you lose your hoarded warmth are unspeakable. And there are some whose handshake remains cold even in high summer.

The fault does lie within them, but it is likelier to be in physiology than character. The main culprit in cold hands and feet, winter or summer, is poor circulation. This could be a symptom of coronary heart disease or diabetes. Some medications such as beta-blockers for high blood pressure, migraine pills, cold remedies and chemotherapy also affect blood flow. Other causes include drug interactions, working with vibrating equipment (such as jackhammers), or simply emotional stress, which causes muscles to tense, constricting the small blood capillaries.

Cold fingers and toes are also caused by Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that mostly affects women between 15 and 40 in which the extremities become hypersensitive to cold.

Women are in fact most vulnerable. Their core body temperature is a degree or two below that of men, and hormonal imbalance, especially between progesterone and oestrogen, is a particular risk factor. Women also lose iron in menstruation, and iron deficiency (anaemia) affects thyroid hormone metabolism, which is responsible for regulating heat generation in the body.

The easiest solutions are the simplest. Don’t smoke, because it’s bad for circulation. Avoid caffeine, because that has a constricting effect on blood vessels. Wear roomy shoes and wiggle your toes often. Keep your hands and feet dry, using powder if necessary. Try swinging your arms in large circles from the shoulder with your fingers outstretched (unless you have a back problem).

And pick up relaxation techniques, especially those involving deep breathing — they relax even the autonomous nervous system, which your conscious mind has little control over.

Change your diet to include cold-water fish like salmon and anchovies that contain omega-3 fatty acids — good for circulation and physiological stress. Gingko biloba extract and ginger both have a warming effect.

An odd solution comes hotly recommended: cayenne pepper. Sprinkle a little into each shoe or glove. Its water-soluble chemicals enter the skin quickly, dilating surface capillaries. Oil-soluble compounds penetrate deep tissues more slowly, generating warmth over hours.

Find something that works, because icy digits are not just uncomfortable — they can stop an amorous clinch cold, and that’s no comfort in chill weather.

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