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Food And Herbs That Keep Blood Moving, Prevent Circulatory Problems.

Blood just doesn't circulate through the body as easily when we get older.

Yet problems posed by poor circulation get little respect; coronary arteries get all the attention. This month, EN broadens the focus to how to protect all the blood vessels in the body.

Anything that threatens the body's intricate network of arteries and veins can not only cause a heart attack or stroke, but can also contribute to such circulatory disorders as intermittent claudication, peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and varicose veins, conditions that can be painful, affect quality of life and have serious consequences.

EN takes a look at common circula tory problems and what you can do to keep the blood flowing. The good news is that much of what you do to protect your heart benefits all your blood vessels, not just coronary arteries.

Beyond the dynamic duo of not smoking and exercising regularly, nutrition also plays a role.


If you've ever felt leg pain when you walked that stopped when you rested, you may be experiencing a condition called intermittent claudication.

Because it's often mistaken as a normal consequence of aging, many people don't even mention it to their doctors.

But claudication is serious; it means not enough blood is flowing to leg muscles.

Risk factors for claudication include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and age (over 50).

Moreover, claudication can be a symptom of a broader disease called peripheral vascular disease (PVD), in which the arteries that carry blood to the legs (or sometimes arms) become narrowed.

This condition affects one of every 20 people over the age of 50. The usual culprit is atherosclerosis, the formation of fatty plaques in arteries, which is also the trigger for many heart attacks and strokes. PVD symptoms may also include numbness, continuous pain, sores that won't heal and changes in skin color of legs or feet. PVD increases the risk for heart disease, stroke or gangrene.

Amino Acids: Both Enemy and Ally.

Limiting dietary intake of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol are the mainstays for controlling atherosclerosis, but there are also newer tactics.

Certain B vitamins have gained attention because researchers believe folic acid, B6 and B12 help lower high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is linked to clogged arteries.

"There is substantial evidence that homocysteine is a potent independent risk factor for PVD," says Kilmer McCully, M.D., a pioneer in homocysteine research from Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rhode Island.

The amino acid L-arginine plays a proactive role. It boosts production of nitric oxide, which dilates arteries so blood flows more freely and may prevent plaque in vessels. Studies show that increased nitric oxide reduces the symptoms of intermittent claudication in people with PVD, says Amir Lerman, M.D., of Minnesota's Mayo Clinic.

L-arginine is found only in small amounts in foods (see chart); larger doses are available in capsules and in HeartBar. (See EN, September 1999.)

Because of some uncertainty over the safety of large doses of L- arginine, supplements are not widely recommended.

Choose fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, as C is thought to increase the availability of nitric oxide.

Alcohol as Aid to Arteries. As it does with heart disease, alcohol lowers the risk of PVD, according to a large study from Harvard. Daily drinkers were found to have 26% less risk than those who drank less than one drink a week.

Researchers believe alcohol improves peripheral blood flow. For those who drink, experts urge moderation.


Circulatory conditions that involve veins range from varicose veins, which are unsightly and painful, to chronic venous insufficiency, which makes legs feel tired or heavy, to phlebitis, which causes painful inflammation and increases the risk of fatal blood clots.

Varicose veins afflict nearly 50% of middle-aged adults, four times as many women as men. The risk increases with age and obesity. While diet cannot rid you of existing varicose veins, it may relieve some of the discomfort and help prevent new ones from forming.

Avoid Constipation, Weight Gain.

Simple constipation contributes to varicose veins and poor circulation in general by increasing pressure on the abdomen, which impedes blood flow up the legs. Eating high-fiber foods plus getting plenty of fluids and regular exercise can prevent constipation. Some high-fiber foods also provide flavonoids, which might aid circulation and strengthen vessel walls.

Cutting back on salt helps decrease swelling of veins. Last, watching your weight eases the pressure on veins.

EN's Advice. To keep your veins and arteries strong and your circulatory system running smoothly, check out "EN's Tips for Improving Blood Flow."
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Author:Antinoro, Linda
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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