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Raynaud’s Disease

Raynaud’s disease is a condition caused by constriction and spasms of small arteries, primarily in the hands after exposure to cold. Frequently, white or bluish discoloration of the hands (and sometimes toes, cheeks, nose, or ears) will occur after exposure to cold or emotional stress.

The cause of Raynaud’s disease is unknown. A condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon causes similar symptoms, but it is the result of connective tissue disease or exposure to certain chemicals. The same natural remedies are used to treat both disorders.


Rating Nutritional Supplements Herbs

Fish oil
Inositol hexaniacinate (vitamin B3)



Evening primrose oil

Ginkgo biloba

Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

What are the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease?

Fingers (generally not the thumb) or other affected parts of the body may feel numb or cold during an episode, and later, after warming, may become bright red with a throbbing painful sensation.

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful for raynaud’s disease

Dressing warmly and wearing gloves or mittens often help prevent attacks of Raynaud’s disease. Individuals with Raynaud’s disease should not smoke, because nicotine decreases blood flow to the extremities. Women with Raynaud’s disease should not use birth control pills, as this method of contraception can adversely affect circulation.

Nutritional supplements that may be helpful for raynaud’s disease

In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 12 large capsules of fish oil per day (providing 4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] per day) for 6 or 12 weeks reduced the severity of blood-vessel spasm in 5 of 11 people with Raynaud’s phenomenon.1 Fish oil was effective in people with primary Raynaud’s disease, but not in those whose symptoms were secondary to another disorder.

Inositol hexaniacinate—a variation on the B vitamin niacin—has been used with some success for relieving symptoms of Raynaud’s disease.2 In one study, 30 people with Raynaud’s disease taking 4 grams of inositol hexaniacinate each day for three months showed less spasm of their arteries.3 Another study, involving six people taking 3 grams per day of inositol hexaniacinate, again showed that this supplement improved peripheral circulation.4 People taking this supplement in these amounts should be under the care of a doctor.

Fatty acids in evening primrose oil (EPO) inhibit the formation of biochemical messengers (prostaglandins) that promote blood vessel constriction. A double-blind trial of 21 people with Raynaud’s disease found that, compared with placebo, supplementation with EPO reduced the number and severity of attacks despite the fact that blood flow did not appear to increase.5 Researchers have used 3,000–6,000 mg of EPO per day.

In one study, 12 people with Raynaud’s disease were given L-carnitine (1 gram three times a day) for 20 days.6 After receiving L-carnitine, these people showed less blood-vessel spasm in their fingers in response to cold exposure.

Abnormalities of magnesium metabolism have been reported in people with Raynaud’s disease.7 Symptoms similar to those seen with Raynaud’s disease occur in people with magnesium deficiency,8 probably because a deficiency of this mineral results in spasm of blood vessels.9 Some doctors recommend that people with Raynaud’s disease supplement with 200–600 mg of magnesium per day, although no clinical trials support this treatment.

Are there any side effects or interactions with raynaud’s disease?

Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.

Herbs that may be helpful for raynaud’s disease

Ginkgo biloba has been reported to improve the circulation in small blood vessels.10 For that reason, some doctors recommend ginkgo for people with Raynaud’s disease. One preliminary trial found that 160 mg of standardized ginkgo extract per day reduced pain in people with Raynaud’s disease.11 Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm ginkgo’s effectiveness for this condition. Ginkgo is often used as a standardized extract (containing 24% ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones). Doctors who recommend use of ginkgo often suggest that people take 120–160 mg per day.

Are there any side effects or interactions with raynaud’s disease?

Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.