Table of Contents
Are you wondering how to improve circulation?
Cold hands and feet, tingling, or persistent fatigue are common signs of poor blood flow.
With about 40 percent of the adult U.S. population struggling with obesity and other conditions that impact heart health, circulation problems are increasingly common. The good news is that there are several known ways to improve blood circulation. But first, let’s dig into what causes poor circulation in the first place.
Causes of Poor Circulation
What causes poor circulation? While there can be many causes for poor circulation, some of the main causes of poor blood circulation include:
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) This condition, also known as peripheral vascular disease, causes the arteries to narrow and stiffen (known as atherosclerosis), which makes it harder for blood to flow to your arms and legs. It can cause tingling, numbness, nerve damage, and pain in your arms and legs. It’s important to get treatment for this condition because over time the reduced blood flow and plaque buildup in your arteries can lead to stroke.
- Blood clots: A blood clot is a good thing when it forms at the site of a wound and staunches blood flow. But if a blood clot forms inside the body, it can slow down blood flow and potentially be very dangerous. If a blood clot occurs in an arm or leg and breaks away, it can cause circulation problems and even possibly result in a stroke.
- Varicose veins: Varicose veins are veins usually in the feet or legs that have become enlarged and distorted due to loss of elasticity and inability to return blood back to the heart efficiently. They may just be a cosmetic concern for some, but for others, they may be painful. Women are more likely to develop varicose veins, especially as a result of pregnancy. Varicose veins are also more common as people age and in those who are overweight or obese. Elevating the legs and wearing compression stockings can help. Varicose veins can also lead to other complications such as skin ulcers or blood clots.
- Diabetes: In addition to problems regulating blood sugar, diabetes can also cause poor circulation. As a result, people with diabetes also have a higher risk of other cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and heart disease
- Obesity: Excess weight due to being overweight or obese puts extra pressure on the heart and blood vessels making it more difficult for blood to circulate. Obesity can also lead to other causes of poor circulation and cardiovascular diseases, including varicose veins and atherosclerosis, plus obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes.
- Raynaud’s disease: Narrowing of the small arteries in the hands and feet, and sometimes also in the ears, nose, lips, and nipples, is known as Raynaud’s disease. This causes a person’s hands and feet to feel chronically cold.
These are all common causes of abnormal blood flow, but now let’s talk about the key signs and symptoms of poor blood circulation.
Here’s what to look out for:
7 Symptoms of Poor Circulation
Poor circulation symptoms can range from vague feelings of fatigue to more extreme symptoms such as pain in the legs, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain.
- Edema: Swelling of the arms and legs due to fluid retention is caused by poor circulation in hands or poor circulation in legs. If your heart can’t pump properly, your blood may begin to back up in the veins of your legs and cause fluid buildup in surrounding tissues.
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia): If your heart is struggling to beat fast enough to pump your blood throughout your body, it may beat faster than normal or it may begin beating unevenly. This is an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, and it’s a serious symptom that should be examined by your doctor.
- Chest pain (angina): Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of poor blood flow to the heart. It may range from just mild discomfort to severe, crushing pain. Keep in mind that intense chest pain be a sign of a heart attack. On the other hand, sometimes chest pain is caused by bad indigestion. It’s very important to see your doctor if you are experiencing chest pain to find out what’s causing it.
- Pain, tingling or numbness: often noticed in the legs and feet due to poor circulation in feet or poor circulation in legs.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired can be a symptom of many different health conditions. It may also mean that you just need more rest. However, if you continue to feel tired on a regular basis, even when you’re getting enough sleep, or you find that you suddenly feel very tired for no reason, this may be a sign of a serious health problem. Poor circulation may cause ongoing fatigue. Sudden weakness or fatigue often happens before or during a heart attack in women.
- Shortness of breath: If your heart can’t pump your blood like it’s supposed to, the blood may back up into the veins that go from your heart to your lungs. This can cause shortness of breath and may be a sign of congestive heart failure.
- Coughing or wheezing due to fluid buildup in the lungs: Ongoing coughing or wheezing may be another sign of fluid buildup in your lungs. Be sure to see your doctor, especially if you begin coughing up pink or bloody mucus.
Complications of Poor Circulation
Circulation issues can lead to some serious complications if left untreated. Some of these circulation complications may include:
- Congestive heart failure (CHF): Heart failure means that the heart doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. It can be congenital, meaning a person is born with the condition, or it can be caused by many different cardiovascular conditions that affect the heart muscle, including a heart attack. Conditions, such as high blood pressure, that cause the heart to work too hard may also lead to CHF. 
- Heart attack: If the arteries that bring blood to the heart become narrow due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol, then the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart is reduced. This lack of oxygen to the heart muscle can result in a heart attack. 
- Thrombosis and embolism: Thrombosis and embolism are similar but different conditions. Thrombosis refers to a thrombus, or blood clot, that has formed in a blood vessel and is reducing blood flow. Embolism means a part of a blood clot or other bodily material, or even a foreign object, has gotten stuck in a blood vessel and is blocking the flow of blood. Blood clots are not uncommon, but they can be very dangerous if they block the flow of blood in a blood vessel deep inside the body or in the lungs (such as a pulmonary embolism). 
- Aneurysm: An aneurysm is a weak spot in a blood vessel inside the brain that begins to bulge as blood pools up. Aneurysms aren’t uncommon. They form as blood vessels wear out. But, they can be dangerous if they rupture and may result in a stroke. Poor blood circulation due to narrowed blood vessels or high blood pressure can result in an aneurysm. 
- Stroke: A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked or reduced. Causes may include a blocked artery, due to thrombosis or embolism, (an ischemic stroke) or a burst blood vessel due to an aneurysm (known as hemorrhagic stroke). 
4 Natural Steps to Improve Circulation
So, now that you know the causes and symptoms, you’re probably wondering how to improve blood circulation. If you see your conventional doctor for poor circulation, he or she will most likely give you a prescription for one or more medications depending on your diagnosis. These may include blood thinners or statins to help the blood flow more easily or insulin if you are diagnosed with diabetes.
There are also many natural options for improving circulation. These include taking vitamins and supplements for heart health; eating a healthier diet; and exercising and making other healthy lifestyle changes to boost your cardiovascular health. Read more below to learn how to improve blood circulation naturally.
Natural ways to improve poor blood circulation include:
Step 1: Improve Circulation with Vitamins
- Vitamin D: A key vitamin to help improve circulation and maintain healthy blood vessels is vitamin D.  The best way to get vitamin D in your diet is to spend a few minutes each day outside in the sunshine. Aim to spend about 15 to 20 minutes in the morning outside without sunscreen (if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time, especially in intense sunshine, be sure to wear sunscreen).
- Many of us find it difficult to get enough vitamin D by going outside due to our hectic schedules and work lives that take place indoors for so many of us. If that’s the case for you, be sure to include a quality vitamin D supplement in your diet.
- Vitamin E: An animal-based study has shown that vitamin E supplementation during early phases of type 1 diabetes may be helpful in protecting against certain cardiovascular diseases. 
- B vitamins: A chemical called homocysteine is known to play a role in atherosclerosis. B vitamins can help lower levels of homocysteine, so a lot of research has been done to see if B vitamins can help cardiovascular health. So far the findings have been inconsistent.  No matter what, B vitamins are known to be important to many areas of health, so it’s still important to include them in your diet.
- Vitamin K: Getting enough vitamin K has been shown to be important in helping to prevent hardening of the arteries. It also helps with proper blood clotting and preventing uncontrolled bleeding.
- Many dark, green leafy vegetables and certain meats and meat products are great sources of vitamin K. If you’re having trouble getting it in your diet, make sure you’re supplementing with vitamin K. [15, 16]
- Iron: Iron has been shown to be important in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with type 2 diabetes.  On the flip side, another study showed that higher levels of iron in the body may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The study looked at 432 men who had a coronary angiogram and were then split into two groups: 212 who had coronary artery disease (CAD) and 220 who did not have CAD. The researchers found that those with CAD showed a high iron store (serum ferritin) in their blood samples. The study concluded that a high iron store can be a risk factor for CAD. 
- So, the takeaway from these two studies is that in some cases a person’s iron levels may be too low, but in others, their levels may be high. It’s important to have your blood work evaluated by your doctor before taking iron supplements.
- Magnesium: Studies have found that magnesium helps to lower blood pressure and risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. 
Step 2: Use Supplements to Support Healthy Circulation
- Butcher’s broom: Butcher’s broom has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for centuries. It has been clinically proven to help treat chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition that makes it hard for blood to flow back from the legs to the heart . 
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has been found to help lower blood pressure. It may help to treat other cardiovascular conditions, but at this point, more research is still needed to confirm this. 
- Fiber: If you have trouble getting enough fiber in your diet from fruits and vegetables, supplementing with a healthy natural fiber such as psyllium husks can be a great way to be sure you’re getting the heart-healthy fiber your body needs. Fiber has been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and help to prevent cardiovascular disease. [21, 22]
- Fish oil: Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that have been found to have many health benefits. A recent large clinical trial concluded that a prescription medication that contained a large amount of fish oil helped to prevent heart attacks and strokes in patients with type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease. Eating “oily” fish on a regular basis is another way to consume this heart-healthy ingredient. 
- Garlic: Studies have shown that garlic can help improve blood flow. Try taking a garlic supplement if you don’t enjoy cooking with it or find that you don’t get much of it in your diet. 
- Ginger: Both animal-based and human studies have shown that ginger can help lower LDL cholesterol. 
- Gotu kola: Studies have shown that gotu kola can help improve circulation in the legs and reduce swelling in people with chronic venous insufficiency. It may also help stabilize atherosclerosis and help prevent blood clots from breaking off into the bloodstream and causing stroke. 
- Green tea: Green tea is known to help improve blood flow and lower cholesterol. Enjoy a cup of hot green tea (use water that is 160–170 F rather than boiling water) with some lemon because vitamin C helps the body to absorb catechins, the active compound found in green tea. 
- Hawthorn: The hawthorn plant and hawthorn berries have been used in herbal medicine for centuries as a remedy to help improve cardiovascular health. 
- Turmeric:Turmeric and its active compound, curcumin, has gained lots of deserved attention for its ability to help lower inflammation in the body. 
Step 3: Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
Not surprisingly, eating a better diet can do wonders to improve your circulation and cardiovascular health. Cutting out fatty foods and processed foods can be a great place to start.
Also cutting back on sugar or sugary snacks and drinks can help you start getting your diet in better shape, and, ultimately, getting your body in better shape. Try these recommendations for foods to improve your circulation: 
- Leafy green vegetables: Adding in a salad each day of leafy green vegetables can be one way to start getting more greens in your diet. Eating more green vegetables helps to ensure that you get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs. 
- Buy organic produce when you can or if you’re watching your budget, try to only buy non-organic produce on the “Clean 15” list. These vegetables have been determined to contain the least amount of harmful levels of pesticides among produce that is non-organic.
- Beets: Studies have shown that drinking or two cups of beet juice per day can help lower blood pressure.
- Cayenne: Who knew a pepper could have so many health benefits? Cayenne has anti-inflammatory and stimulating properties that increase blood flow, helps prevent plaque formation in blood vessels, and strengthens the heart. It also aids digestion and helps treat arthritis. Be sure to buy organic cayenne to get the most impact. 
- Garlic: As mentioned before, garlic is great for heart health. Add it to your favorite vegetable and meat dishes for a healthy and flavorful boost.
- Fish: Eating about two servings per week of fish packed with omega-3s, such as wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel, can be a great way to help improve your blood circulation.
- Nuts: While research is not clear on whether or not nuts possess circulation-boosting properties, they do contain many compounds that are known to help heart health. As long as you don’t have a nut allergy, they can be a great source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and other health benefits. 
Step 4: Embrace Heart-Healthy Habits
Get more exercise
Just getting a little bit of exercise each day can go a long way to improving your circulation.  Start by simply taking a short walk each day or find ways to build exercise into your day. For example, try parking a little farther away from the store entrance when you go shopping. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a quick 10-minute walk each day on your lunch break. 
These are just a few suggestions to begin building exercise into your life. You can also start jogging or bicycling, lift weights, go swimming, or many other activities to get your body moving and your blood flowing. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Stop smoking — and don’t start!
Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps you can take to improving not only your cardiovascular health but also your overall well-being.
Wear compression socks
Compression socks help improve circulation by squeezing your legs and pushing the blood back up toward your heart, which helps prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet.
Manage your stress
Finding ways to relax, get plenty of rest, and manage your stress level can work wonders to lower your blood pressure and boost your heart health. 
- Explore hobbies that interest you. Try journaling about your day.
- Spend time with friends and loved ones.
- Contemplative practices like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and prayer are also great ways to calm the mind and relax the body. Spending time in nature can be another way to lower your stress level.
- Get a massage. A massage can be a great way not only to relax but also to help improve circulation. 
Make sure you drink plenty of fluids to help your heart pump your blood efficiently and to help make sure your sodium levels are optimal. 
Using natural remedies like vitamins and supplements can be a great way to help improve your health. However, keep in mind that even herbs, vitamins, and minerals may interact with cardiovascular medications and other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Be sure to speak with you doctor or pharmacist before taking any new vitamins or supplements. 
- Poor circulation symptoms can range from vague feelings of fatigue to more extreme symptoms such as pain in the legs, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain.
- Circulation issues can lead to some serious complications if left untreated.
- There are also many natural options for improving circulation, including: taking vitamins and supplements for heart health; eating a healthier diet; and exercising and making other healthy lifestyle changes to boost your cardiovascular health.