Or so the saying goes. There are many people, particularly women, who experience almost chronically cold hands and feet and not just in winter but all year long. It’s annoying for the person feeling the chill, as well as for their partners and friends to whom they will often turn for warmth!
There are a number of factors that can contribute to this uncomfortable experience. The fun in practicing naturopathic medicine is working with the patient, playing detective to determine the root cause behind any symptom or condition.
Cold external temperatures trigger the body to reduce blood flow to the periphery in order to conserve inner warmth leading to the cold fingers and toes of winter. Year round, a lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyles can also lead to diminished blood flow and may cause or exacerbate the problem. In more extreme cases there could be restriction of blood flow through the arteries from atherosclerosis, diabetes, or smoking.
Just as a fire needs oxygen to burn, our cells need oxygen as well. A lack of oxygen reaching the cells due to any type of anemia will result in cold extremities.
Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism and circulation. Hypothyroidism, either overt or subclinical, leads to a general decrease in temperature ranging from cold hand and feet to an overall sensation of chilliness.
Estrogen also affects the body’s reaction to cold temperatures and will slow down circulation to the periphery in order to maintain a good core temperature. It is believed to be a safety mechanism to ensure that a fetus is kept warm despite a cold external environment, and is likely why more women experience cold extremities than men.
Fingers and toes that change colour to blue, white, or red, in the presence of even mildly cold temperatures may be doing so as a result of a spasm in the blood vessels, which in turn cuts off circulation. Raynaud’s may be a standalone complaint, or may be the result of an underlying condition such as an autoimmune disorder.
Treatments for cold hands and feet vary depending on the underlying cause, but all situations are treatable. Stay warm this winter!