Good blood flow delivers oxygen and vital nutrients to cells, tissues, and organs throughout the body.
Poor blood flow can give rise to many symptoms, including:
numb, tingling, or cold hands and feet
swollen abdomen, legs, ankles, or feet
muscle cramping or joint pain
paler or blueish skin
slow healing time
confusion or lightheadedness
Taking medications that improve blood flow may help manage conditions that cause poor circulation. However, some vitamins and supplements might also help increase circulation or contribute to healthy blood flow.
Learn about them, and what the research says, in this article.
Vitamins and supplements for blood flow
Although there is no solid scientific evidence to support their use, many preliminary studies and research articles suggest that certain vitamins and supplements may improve blood flow.
Vitamin B-3 may help increase blood vessel function and reduce blood levels of 'bad' cholesterol.
Vitamin B-3, or niacin, can help improve blood flow in several ways. For example, it can:
Inflammation in the blood vessels can lead to the development of conditions such as atherosclerosis, which can damage them or cause them to narrow.
As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) point out, vitamin B-3 may help lower cholesterol levels and triglycerides. However, it does not directly reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
It is essential not to take too much vitamin B-3, as it can cause adverse effects. The upper limit for adults is 35 milligrams (mg) per day.
Vitamin B-3 is available in capsules and as a powder in drugstores and online.
The body needs iron to make hemoglobin, the protein within blood that carries oxygen. The body also needs iron to make myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to muscles.
The body also uses iron to make connective tissues, including those within blood vessels that allow them to control blood pressure.
Adults should never consume more than 45 mg of iron per day. Taking too much iron can cause serious side effects, such as vomiting and fainting. Taking a very high dose can lead to a coma and even be life threatening.
People can buy iron supplements at a pharmacy or online.
L-arginine is a semi-essential amino acid present in some meats and nuts. It helps stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a compound that causes the smooth muscles lining blood vessel walls to relax.
The author of a 2016 review found some evidence for the use of L-arginine supplements to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but he cautioned that the study was limited and the evidence was weak.
To get blood flow benefits, it may be important to consume L-arginine alongside B vitamins. Some research suggests that L-arginine cannot promote the release of nitric oxide without sufficient levels of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12.
The same study looked at 80 adults, ages 40–65, with mild to moderately high blood pressure. The participants took 2.4 grams (g) of l-arginine, 3 mg of vitamin B-6, 0.4 mg of folic acid, and 2 micrograms of vitamin B-12.
After 3 months, those taking the supplements experienced significant improvements in blood vessel health and a reduction in blood pressure compared with those who took a placebo.
L-arginine is available for purchase online.
Omega-3 fatty acids
A person can buy omega-3 fatty acids in most local pharmacies and online.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids that encourage the release of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
In a 2014 study, healthy men who consumed 2.2 g of EPA and 1.4 g of DHA in a fish oil supplement once daily for 4 weeks experienced increased blood flow to their legs after exercise.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that people take no more than 3 g per day of EPA and DHA combined, from both dietary sources and supplements.
Look for omega-3 fatty acids in drugstores and online.
Compounds called capsaicinoids, which are present in some hot peppers, may improve blood flow because they:
reduce free radical damage and inflammation
increase vascular health
lower blood pressure
reduce cholesterol levels
reduce inflammatory chemicals within blood vessels
Many people take capsaicin as a supplement, but it is also present in many peppers, especially chilli peppers and cayenne peppers.
People should be aware that capsaicin can cause bothersome side effects, even in small doses. These include:
Capsaicin is available to purchase in some drugstores and online.
Antioxidants called flavonoids may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.
In some in vitro studies, a particularly strong flavonoid called quercetin — which is present in onions — had the ability to improve blood vessel wall dysfunction linked to atherosclerosis, one of the leading causes of heart attack.
In a small 2013 study, 23 healthy men who consumed 4.3 g of onion extract (51 mg of quercetin) once daily for 30 days showed improved blood vessel widening after meals.
People can look for quercetin capsules online or at a pharmacy.
Red beetroot powder contains nitrates, which are compounds that the body converts into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax blood vessels, increasing how much blood they can carry.
In a small 2017 study of seven women and five men ages 57–71, those who drank 140 millilitres of nitrate-rich beetroot juice had significantly reduced blood pressure and blood vessel inflammation 3 hours later, compared with those who drank a placebo.
People can buy beetroot powder supplements online.
Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, two compounds that might relax blood vessels by producing nitric oxide and reducing inflammation.
Preliminary research has suggested that cinnamon consumption could help reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
However, the NIH state that studies have not proven that cinnamon can help treat any health condition.
Cinnamon supplements are available in many grocery stores and online.
Learn more about the health benefits of cinnamon here.
Garlic contains powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, such as allicin, which may help relax and widen blood vessels.
In a 2017 randomized, placebo-controlled trial, adults with coronary artery disease consumed either garlic powder or a placebo twice daily for 3 months.
The garlic powder improved blood flow in the upper arm compared with a placebo. However, the researchers did not find the evidence to be statistically significant. More research is necessary to determine if garlic is beneficial to blood flow.
Learn about the other possible benefits of garlic in this article.
People can often find garlic at their local grocery store. Those who do not like the taste can try supplements, such as these available for purchase online.
Curcumin is a naturally occurring phenol, a type of antioxidant, present in the spice turmeric.
In a 2017 study, 39 healthy, middle-aged and older adults consumed either 2,000 mg per day of curcumin or a placebo for 12 weeks.
Those who had curcumin experienced an improvement in elements of blood vessel functioning.
Curcumin is available for purchase in some drugstores, health food stores, and online.
Do they work?
Eating a vitamin-rich diet is essential to blood vessel and cardiovascular health. That means getting the daily recommend amount of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients contributes to good blood flow.
In most cases, however, there is not enough research to know precisely how specific vitamins and supplements impact blood flow.
Also, everyone responds to nutrients differently, especially based on factors such as underlying health conditions, age, and lifestyle habits.
It is crucial to note that the FDA do not regulate supplements, so people should only purchase reputable brands.
Other treatments for blood flow
A person may improve blood flow through lifestyle adjustments, such as exercising more.
Plenty of lifestyle adjustments may help improve blood flow, including:
eating a healthful, balanced diet
reducing or managing stress
getting a gentle massage
Many vitamins, minerals, and other supplements have the potential to help increase blood flow.
However, not a lot of research suggests that any specific vitamin or supplement can directly improve blood flow. That said, consuming a healthful array of nutrients is vital for overall health.
For people with circulation issues, vitamins may not be an appropriate treatment option. These individuals should speak to a doctor about medical options.
Some supplements can interact with other medications or make certain conditions worse. Always talk with a doctor before trying supplements or vitamins for blood flow problems.
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