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“Getting cold feet” is not just a figure of speech, but an actual symptom of poor blood circulation in the lower extremities.
The heart pumps out fresh blood that carries oxygen and nutrients all over the body. But a lesser known function of blood is to maintain a healthy body temperature, which is 98.6℉ (37℃). To that end, the hypothalamus in the brain regulates blood flow to the skin to conserve or shed body heat.
Hot weather, exercising, eating something spicy, and other factors tend to generate extra heat inside the body, making its core temperature rise above normal. In such cases, the brain signals the blood vessels to dilate or expand and carry more warm blood to the skin.
The excess heat is transferred to the skin tissue via blood perfusion and is released in the form of sweat. This exchange of heat makes your body warm and sweaty on the surface but lowers its core temperature back to normal.
Conversely, cold weather can make your body’s core temperature fall below normal. In such a case, the brain signals the blood vessels to constrict so that less blood flows to the skin to prevent undue heat loss.
Since the skin doesn’t receive enough warmth due to the limited blood supply, it becomes colder than usual and your toes may even turn slightly pale or blue.
Home Remedies to Cure Cold Feet
Here are some easy ways to improve blood circulation in the feet:
1. Hot and cold hydrotherapy
Hot and cold hydrotherapy involves dipping your feet first in cold water and then in hot water.
The topical cold constricts the underlying blood vessels to cut blood supply to the area and thus inhibits swelling. Plus, exposure to cold temperature numbs the area to make you feel less irritation or pain.
The warm water then releases gentle heat into the skin, dilating the underlying blood vessels and thus increasing blood flow in the area, thereby relieving cold feet. (1)
How to use:
- Fill one tub or bucket with cold water and one with warm water.
- Sit comfortably and immerse your feet in the cold water for about 2 minutes.
- Then put your feet in the warm water for about a minute.
- Alternate between the two for 15–20 minutes.
- Once done, pat your feet dry either with your hands or a clean towel.
- Wear heat-conserving socks made of insulated fabric to keep your feet warm.
- You can do this procedure multiple times a day to get relief.
2. Get a foot massage
The topical stimulation provided by a massage can help loosen up the underlying blood vessels and muscles to facilitate proper blood circulation in the feet.
How to use:
Gently rub some oil all over your feet. (2)
3. Increase your iron intake
If your cold feet are the result of iron-deficiency anemia, you need to consume more of this nutrient to restore proper blood flow in your body. Eat iron-rich foods such as leafy greens, red meat, legumes, quinoa, and shellfish as part of a well-balanced diet.
However, dietary intake alone may not be enough to overcome the deficiency in some cases. So, talk to your doctor about starting iron supplements, and stick to the recommended dosage to avoid undue side effects. (3)
4. Use Epsom salt
Epsom salt is credited with strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help bring down the swelling in the blood vessels and thereby improve blood circulation. Moreover, this salt is made up of magnesium and sulfate, which are absorbed into the body via the skin and reduce blood coagulation.
Epsom salt is also known to make your arteries more elastic so that they can expand properly to allow proper blood flow.
How to use:
- Mix some warm water with Epsom salt to make a thick paste, and apply it to your feet.
- You can also dissolve ½ cup of Epsom salt in a tub of warm water, and soak your feet in it. (4)
5. Consume green tea
Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, which are organic compounds that exhibit potent antioxidant effects. (5) These antioxidants help bring down the inflammation in your blood vessels to restore proper blood flow.
Causes of Cold Feet
The thermoregulatory mechanism affects the blood vessels throughout the body, making it turn warm or cold from head to toe.
But certain conditions can hamper blood flow in specific areas of the body, especially to the feet, which are farthest from the heart, and can make them turn cold.
Cold feet are commonly associated with the following:
1. Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)
This blood circulation disorder is characterized by the gradual buildup of fat and calcium deposits on the inner walls of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which restricts blood flow.
2. Raynaud’s phenomenon
This condition is characterized by extra-sensitive blood vessels in the peripheral areas of the body, most notably in the fingers and toes. These blood vessels tend to spasm and shrink excessively due to a cold environment, stress, or anxiety but only for a short period.
The temporary spasms restrict blood flow to the extremities, leading to cold feet. (6)
3. Iron-deficiency anemia
Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. (7)(8) Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, and a lack of this nutrient can lead to anemia, which is characterized by inadequate blood supply throughout the body. (9)
Frequent spikes in blood sugar due to poorly controlled diabetes mellitus (DM) can cause your blood to thicken and your arteries to shrink. (10) This reduces blood flow to certain parts of the body including the feet, thus making them cold.
The lack of blood supply may desensitize and even damage the nerves in this peripheral area over time, which is referred to as diabetic peripheral neuropathy. In such a case, the cold feet tend to have numbness, pins and needle sensation, and muscle weakness.
Plus, since the tissue doesn’t receive enough blood, it is unable to heal properly, which can result in long-lasting injuries, infections, and even necrosis.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that are crucial for a variety of life-sustaining physiological functions, such as facilitating healthy metabolism.
Hypothyroidism is characterized by an underactive thyroid gland that fails to secrete enough thyroid hormones to maintain a normal metabolism rate. When your metabolism rate falls, it inadvertently lowers your heart rate and core temperature, thus making your feet turn cold. (11)
6. Blood clot
A blood clot in the legs can block proper blood flow to the feet and cause cold feet. (12)
7. Excess body weight
People who are overweight or obese often suffer from poor circulation, especially after staying in the same position for a long time. (12) Sitting, standing, or lying down for long periods can diminish blood flow to the lower half of the body and cause cold feet in these people.
Symptoms of Cold Feet
Cold feet caused by poor blood circulation may be accompanied by:
- Tingling or pricking sensation
- Change in color of the skin and toenails to pale white or blue (13)
Additional Tips for Cold Feet
If you are prone to getting cold feet, adopting these simple measures can help prevent this problem:
- Wear well-insulated (woolen) socks or slippers to reduce heat loss from the skin and thereby keep your feet warm.
- Engage in some form of exercise regularly to improve blood circulation inside the body, which will inadvertently help direct more blood to your feet. (11)
- Quit smoking as it releases harmful toxins inside the body that constrict and damage your blood vessels and hamper blood flow. (7)
Can a Deficiency of Vitamin B12 Cause Cold Hands and Feet?
Yes, not getting enough vitamin B12 can lead to reduced blood flow inside the body, ultimately resulting in cold hands and feet. This is because the body needs this vital nutrient to produce red blood cells, and its deficiency can pave the way for anemia.
The normal body temperature can vary slightly from person to person but generally falls within 97°F (36.1°C) and 99°F (37.2°C). Thus, some people naturally have colder bodies than others.
However, if only your feet turn cold, it might be a sign of poor blood circulation. (14) Fortunately, plenty of home interventions and self-care measures can help improve blood flow to the feet and help warm them back up.
If your cold feet become persistent and are accompanied by other symptoms, you might want to see a doctor about it.