These episodes can last upwards of 15 minutes until normal blood flow resumes. Understanding why these episodes occur is still far from a definitive answer, but researchers are starting to see some connections between different systems of the body, including the gut. Scroll down to learn about some of these connections.
How many Canadians are impacted by Raynaud's Disease?
The statistics are difficult to pinpoint, but the disease is generally thought to affect 3-5% of the population,
How do the symptoms of Raynaud's Disease happen? (ALTER)
Blood vessels come in a variety of shapes and sizes throughout the body categorized as arteries, veins, or capillaries. The arteries are responsible for carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart and to the various tissues around the body.
When these oxygenated red blood cells reach their destination, they provide oxygen to the tissues and take waste products, such as carbon dioxide and metabolites from chemical reactions, away from the tissue through a network of veins where they return to the heart.
In order to move the blood through the body, these vessels undergo changes in their diameter on a near-continuous basis due to numerable factors. The body accomplishes this through a layer of smooth muscle cells that surround the vessels and respond to nerve signals from the brain. In those affected by Raynaud's, the vessels located in the hand inappropriately react to stimuli such as cold or stress, and rapidly undergo vasoconstriction causing the colour changes and numbing discussed earlier.
How are the gut and Raynaud's connected though?
Vasoconstriction can affect the vessels in the gut wall as well. When these vessels constrict, they have difficulty absorbing nutrients from the breakdown of food in the digestive tract. This has a snowball effect because you then run the risk of developing various nutrient deficiencies which come with their own unique symptoms.
An older study found a link between H. pylori, a bacteria residing in the gut and Raynaud's phenomenon. The researchers thought to themselves, what would happen to their Raynaud's symptoms if we treated the bacteria? Of the 36 individuals involved in the study, 83% found their H. pylori completely treated with 17% experiencing a complete remission in their Raynaud's symptoms and 72% reporting a reduction in the duration, discomfort, and frequency of attacks.
I don't have any other symptoms of an H. pylori infection, so how else could my Raynaud's be connected to the gut?
Raynaud's disease is typically part of the onset of a condition known as Systemic Sclerosis, a condition characterized by various vascular and immunological concerns eventually leading to a thickening of the skin and damage to small arteries.
Studies looking at the gut microbiota of patients with systemic sclerosis determined a low diversity, increased levels of Bacteroides species and a low ratio of Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes. In these patients, abnormalities in blood vessels lead to ischemia which subsequently causes some of the neurons in the gut wall to be destroyed. If there's nobody to send the signal, then the workers downstream, in this case the muscles of the gut, stop responding and become weaker. These vascular abnormalities and gut damage could be connected to Raynaud's, but the research needs to be explored further.
So, are there steps I should be taking diet wise to protect myself against attacks of my Raynaud's?
As identified, it's critical to nourish the healthy bacteria species such as Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, and Prevotella amongst others.
Yogurt can be an incredible source of these healthy species, but are also subject to the ravages of the manufacturing process and may not survive intact.
Fermented vegetables are consumed by many cultures, largely Asian, and are a phenomenal source of those healthy probiotics the body is seeking. These vegetables vary from the leafy variety such as broccoli and cabbage to the roots, including beets, radish, and turnips. The fermentation process is often conducted by the lactobacillus species as they convert sugars from the fruits and veggies into lactic acid, acetic acid, and carbon dioxide. This creates a pH in the gut that's optimal for the growth of healthy and beneficial bacteria, while making it unwelcoming for pathogenic species.
Are there any other products I can use to achieve a healthy and happy gut or alleviate my symptoms?
There are many foods that are rich sources of both pre- and pro-biotics, but it's hard to consistently guarantee the same quality or quantity of the species. Standardized food products such as Molkosan are rich in L+ lactic acid, the prebiotic we are now familiar with. For those who want a different taste from whey, Molkosan Berry is an option which has the added taste of pomegranate and aronia berries which contain polyphenols that are beneficial to the gut. Ellagitannins, a compound found in pomegranate, has also been shown to stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Other products you should look for are food sources or herbs with vasodilator properties in order to expand the blood vessels and allow blood to circulate smoothly through the hands. This may have the potential to minimize a flare up of your Raynaud's. An herb such as Gingko biloba is well-known and well-researched for its ability to dilate the blood vessels and can be found simply by picking up a product such as Gingko Extra.