Raynaud's phenomenon is a little understood condition in which the fingers and toes show an exaggerated sensitivity to cold. Classic cases show a characteristic white, blue, and red color sequence as the digits lose blood supply and then rewarm. Some people develop only one or two of these signs.
The cause of Raynaud's phenomenon is unknown. It can occur by itself, as primary Raynaud’s (also called Raynaud’s disease), or as a consequence of other illnesses, such as scleroderma . In the latter case, it is called secondary Raynaud’s.
Conventional treatment consists mainly of reassurance and the recommendation to avoid exposure to cold and the use of tobacco (which can worsen Raynaud's). In severe cases, a variety of drugs can be tried.
Preliminary evidence supports the use of several natural supplements in the treatment of Raynaud’s phenomenon. Most of the positive evidence regards primary Raynaud’s.
In a 17-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 35 people with Raynaud’s, fish oil (taken at a dose that provided a total of 3.96 g of EPA and 2.64 g of DHA daily) reduced reaction to cold among those with primary Raynaud’s disease, but did not seem to help those with Raynaud’s caused by other illnesses. 2
The herb Ginkgo biloba has been found to increase circulation in the fingertips 6 and thus has been proposed as a treatment for Raynaud’s. A 10-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 22 people with primary Raynaud’s found that use of ginkgo at the very high dose of 120 mg 3 times daily reduced the number of Raynaud’s attacks. 8
Asian or Korean ginseng (panax ginseng) is a taproot that grows in Northern China, Korea, and Russia. In a randomized trial of 80 females, panax ginseng was found to increase skin temperature and reduce the severity of cold sensitivity compared to placebo. Skin temperature was shown to increase in the arm, palm, and foot.13
9. Mavrikakis ME, Lekakis JP, Papamichael CM, et al. Ascorbic acid does not improve endothelium-dependent flow-mediated dilatation of the brachial artery in patients with Raynaud's phenomenon secondary to systemic sclerosis. Int J Vitam Nutr Res . 2003;73:3-7.
10. Raynaud's Treatment Study Investigators. Comparison of sustained-release nifedipine and temperature biofeedback for treatment of primary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Results from a randomized clinical trial with 1-year follow-up. Arch Intern Med . 2000;160:1101-1108.
13. Park KS, Park KI, Kim JW, et al. Efficacy and safety of Korean red ginseng for cold hypersensitivity in the hands and feet: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;158 Pt A:25-32.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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