From Mittens to Elderberries: Kill the Chill

The wintertime is all about base building.

It was unreasonably cold for March in New Jersey. Because it had been unseasonably warm the week before, I had mistakenly declared it to be spring and lined up for the Seaside Heights 5k in shorts and a singlet.

The course was an out-and-back one along the board. On the line, my hands felt funny, and by the first mile, my fingers were in a lot of pain.

At the turnaround, the pain became horrible, and at mile two, I thought I would be the first runner ever to drop out of a race not because my legs or lungs were fatigued, but because my hands were in such pain.

I crossed the line; and fortunately, my teammate, Tom Metz, knew what to do.

Tom is one of those friends who handles athlete-in-distress situations like a pro. He rushed me to the ladies room, went in with me, and submerged my hands in running water. I screamed as my numb fingers began to thaw. As much as I wanted to pull my hands back, he kept them under the water. Finally, the feeling came back.

Many athletes suffer from this chilling experience. Its called Raynauds Phenomenon, and it occurs when you're in a race or out on a long training ride without someone like Tom around, it can be very serious. Fortunately, there are precautionary measures you can take. The first is to wear mittens or gloves. Mittens are better, because your fingers can warm each other, while gloves separate them.

According to massage therapist, Mark Najera, whose patients include pro and amateur triathletes, tennis players and runners, the best way to ease the pain is with warm water. This, coupled with massaging the area, brings back feeling an circulation in a matter of minutes. Najera also recommends using hand warmers when possible.

One of the main reasons athletes suffer from Raynauds Phenomenon is our lack of body fat. Essential fatty acids good fats that most athletes lack can help dramatically. Make sure you choose a supplement that contains both GLA (gamma-linoleic acid) and EPA, fish oil. They should be in a ratio of 1:4 (GLA:EPA) and can be taken up to three times a day.

Bioflavinoids have also been found to improve the blood flow through the small blood vessels by reducing the viscosity of red blood cells. You can find bioflavinoids in many vitamin C formulas, but for best results, take a bioflavinoid complex of 1,000 mg once or twice a day for a month.

A number of medical studies have shown that niacin, one of the B vitamins, may give relief. Just be aware that taking niacin can result in a niacin flush, a warm feeling in the face, neck and sometimes the entire body (Its harmless, but some people find it uncomfortable.)

The herb called butchers broom has been shown to easy symptoms as well. It has been used for circulation problems for over 1,000 years and is most effective when taken with vitamin C.

Other helpful herbs include ginko biloba and cayenne pepper. Useful vitamins include vitamin E, which will help improve circulation, and Coenzyme Q-10, which improves tissue oxygenation.

Two technological wonders on the market that can help are battery-operated warming socks and hand-held hot packs. These are available at most camping supply stores as well as some specialty triathlon and running stores and through mail order.

As the mercury heads down, try to bundle up as much as possible before you feel the cold and give some of these remedies a go.

Now from the world of the obscure. The following remedies have been found to help:

  • Horseradish Liniment: Mix 2 tablespoons of freshly grated horseradish with 1 cup of oil. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and store in bottles. Massage into affected areas as needed.
  • A Cup of Tea: Ginger tea has a warming effect on the body and elderberry tea is also warming as it stimulates secretion of the sweat gland. This one also helps boost the immune system.
  • Rosie Poultice: Mix 1 cup of rosemary in 2 cups of brandy. Let it sit for a week. Strain and use as a liquid poultice on affected areas.
  • Put some spice in your life: Sprinkle cayenne pepper in your mittens and socks. Sounds funny, but it really works to warm the fingers and toes. Need more heat? Consuming spicy food on a regular basis can help, too.

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