Image courtesy of photovaco.com

When I first switched from a conventional “healthy diet” to a paleo diet, pretty much every aspect of my health improved dramatically.

I very rapidly saw improvements in body composition, athletic performance, energy levels, digestion and my resistance to illness.

One strange thing did happen however, in that I started to find that when it got cold, my fingers, and sometimes even my toes would get extremely cold and turn completely white.

At first I thought it might be to do with the fact that I now had lower body fat, and less insulation, or perhaps just that I was spending more time out in the cold and my body was adapting accordingly! The issue was fairly irritating, but at the time I never really looking into it too deeply, and dealt with the problem by ensuring I wrapped up warm and wore gloves.

Over the years, however, I have tinkered with my diet considerably, moving from a strict, low-carb, dairy free paleo diet, to a higher carb paleo + raw dairy diet, with plenty of fermented foods and the inclusion of some “properly prepared grains” a few days per week.

Initially, I hadn’t really noticed any real change physically from these dietary changes aside from some further improvement in my digestion (the standard Western diet had really taken its toll on my guts, with IBS being the main motivator that led me to the paleo diet in the first place).

The main reasons for changing the diet were to increase food choices – I’ve always loved dairy and starch carbs, so wanted to experiment with reintroducing them, as all the evidence seemed to point to the fact that there was no real need to exclude them.

It wasn’t until this Winter that I discovered two things –

1) Dead Finger Syndrome (or Raynaud’s as I came to find it is properly know) seems to be quite common among paleo dieters, with two of my friends suffering from it and numerous reports on the internet.

2) My Raynaud’s had completely cleared up.

This prompted me to do a little research (typical that when a condition is affecting me, I only get around to reading up on it after it has passed!), which led me to discover that Raynaud’s could have a number of dietary causes, all of which could still be encountered by someone following a strict paleo diet.

It just so happened that I had already made all of these dietary changes (+ one lifestyle change) for altogether different reasons over the previous year.

Of course this is all just N=1 experimentation, and it could be pure coincidence. Perhaps my dead finger would have just gone away anyhow, but if you are suffering from this highly irritating condition, I’d urge you to give these changes a go and would be very interested to hear the results. As I say, I’d actually made all these changes already for altogether different reasons, so even if this doesn’t bring your chilly fingers back to life, you may well find benefit elsewhere!

1) Add safe starches

It’s possible that going too low carb can be a contributing factor to cold hands/feet.

I’ve not experienced the “dead man’s finger” since I added in more sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rice and even the occasional bowl of “properly prepared porridge” and sourdough 100% rye bread.

Here are a couple of other testimonials: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=2921

2) Add iodine rich foods

A few sources link iodine deficiency causing a drop in thyroid function leading to cold hands and feet.

I’d also recently started making a concerted effort to make sure I get iodine rich foods, as this can easily be missed on a paleo diet, particularly if you’re eating a lot of raw spinach which can deplete iodine (most people on a standard processed diet get loads of iodine from iodine enriched salt). Perhaps this could have been another factor?

http://www.iodine4health.com/special/weston_price.htm

(Hence Sushi solution – Good combo of seaweed, seafood and safe starches!)

3) Gut health/Gut Brain Axis/Auto-Immunity

I’m sure that http://chriskresser.com/ Has talked about this on his podcast at some point – It seems there can be an auto-immune component to Reynaud’s, therefore restoring gut health very important.

In short, fermented vegetables and raw dairy, bone broths and avoiding wheat and excessive sugar. I’ve been on the case with the fermented foods massively over the past year in an attempt to fully heal my gut, so again, perhaps this was also a contributing factor?

4) Stop over training/reduce stress

Another possible cause is stress/over training.

I’ve been doing a much lower volume of high intensity metabolic workouts, sleeping better and longer, and generally had a lot less to worry about since the closure of gym, so perhaps this could also be another factor? http://180degreehealth.com/2011/11/cold-hands-and-feet

So all in all, I’ve made 4 major changes to my diet and lifestyle – Increased carb intake in the form of safe starches, increased iodine intake through eating more seafood and seaweed/avoiding raw spinach, added more live fermented foods to my diet, and reduced my training volume and stress levels.

Of course, it could just be complete coincidence, but I’d say they are all definitely worth a try particularly as I’d actually made all 4 changes for completely different reasons (all can have multiple benefits), and the disappearance of my randomly dead fingers was simply a happy potential by product!

Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year, with warm and toasty toes and fingers throughout!

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt

10 comments

  1. The stress hormones are the cause of this, causing the sympathetic nervous system to be overactive and the blood to rush from the extremities (tip of the nose, fingers, and toes) towards the vital organs. And it’s not just stress, lack of sleep, or overtraining that causes this. Carbohydrate restriction, fat restriction, calorie restriction – this can cause it as well.

    Interestingly, a higher production of catecholamines is precisely what causes the positive changes in mood, digestion, body composition, and energy levels that people experience when switching to a low-carb or even moderate carb “Paleo” diet. But this “catecholamine honeymoon” as I call it, is short lived before several health problems emerge – usually at the 6 month mark if not sooner. Read my post entitled Catecholamine Honeymoon.

    1. Interesting post. I’ve long been a fan of cyclical dieting, be it carb cycling, re/over feeding or IF, for a number of different reasons – Maintaining Insulin Sensitivity, managing leptin levels, and maintaining lean mass and metabolism, plus of course the psychological benefits of having less restrictive days. Your post adds yet another benefit to this list!

      What I have also found however, that each cyclical approach on its own has its limitations – I now tend to use a “cyclical cyclical” approach, using a combination of variations of all three to best effect.

  2. Hi,

    I no longer suffer with Raynaud’s since I started doing the Perfect Health Diet and taking their recommended supplements, which includes Iodine, and eating more fat, fermented foods and safe starches such as sweet potatoes and more Omega 3 fats (so my Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio is much better). Before, I’d suffer just going to the grocery store and briefly handling the cold foods when I was doing low carb and low fat.

    Thanks for your post! Merry Christmas and warm wishes of toasty toes & fingers to you too!

  3. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% sure.
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

    1. Glad to hear that you resolved your Raynauds.

      I’d extend “For women, paleo can complicate things” to “For all humans, pseudoscientific ‘diets’ can complicate things”.

      Be wary of lone diet gurus who have “the answer”. Of course keep searching, but do so with a skeptical eye. 🙂

  4. That’s funny, because since I’ve gone low-carb a year and a half ago, my Raynaud’s has completely halted! I didn’t realize it until one day when I ate 6 cookies in one sitting, and the next morning, my fingers and toes were all frozen and tingly! Does Paleo include a lot of fat? Because the key to my current diet is lots and lots of fat. That must be how the Eskimos kept all their digits!

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