The Circulatory System
The circulatory system consists of thousands of blood vessels. It functions as a transport system supplying food, oxygen, heat, and water to cells, and carrying away waste products.
Blood carrying oxygen and nutrients is pumped from the heart around the body via the arteries. Once the oxygen has been used up, the blood flows back to the lungs via the veins to pick up more oxygen.
The network of vessels supplying the extremities of the body, including the hands and feet, is known as peripheral circulation (1). To maintain health in these areas, it is important that blood can flow easily through this system.
In the winter, the body reduces circulation to the hands and feet to conserve heat, which is why they can feel cold during these months. Conversely, during exercise, the body increases circulation to get more oxygen into the muscles.
The Symptoms of Poor Circulation
Poor circulation is when the blood flow around the body isn’t working properly. There are several different symptoms of poor circulation. This includes tingling, numbness, throbbing in your limbs, pain, muscle cramps, digestive problems, fatigue, and light-headedness. The symptoms experienced depend on the individual and the cause of poor circulation.
The Causes of Poor Circulation
There are many potential causes of poor circulation. This includes peripheral heart disease, where there is a build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries, which causes them to narrow (2). It most often affects people with type 2 diabetes, who are also prone to high cholesterol and heart disease. The condition is also more likely to affect people as they get older, and if they are smokers.
Blood clots can also cause poor circulation. These can occur almost anywhere in the body but are particularly problematic for circulation if they are in the arms or legs. Blood clots can be very dangerous and can lead to strokes, so it is very important that they are treated (3).
Poor circulation can result from varicose veins (4). This is when valve failure causes veins to enlarge. Varicose veins tend to occur on the backs of the legs and are most common in women, and people who have a family history of them.
Raynaud’s disease is another potential cause of poor circulation (5). This is a condition where the blood flow to the hands and toes is restricted because of the arteries in these areas narrowing. The lips, nose, nipples, and ears can also be affected. It more commonly occurs in women, people living in colder climates, and people who are stressed.
How You Can Improve Circulation
If poor circulation is due to an underlying condition, it is important that this is treated. However, there are lifestyle and dietary changes that can also help.
For example, exercise can be useful in boosting circulation because this encourages blood flow around the body.
Similarly, managing stress levels through yoga or meditation can be beneficial. Massage can also be helpful in improving circulation, as well as being relaxing because it can boost blood flow through the lymphatic and cardiovascular systems of the body.
Related: 12 Best Teas for Stress Relief
Drinking enough water and stopping smoking are also beneficial for circulation, and many other aspects of physical health. There are also several supplements that can help to improve circulation.
ⓘ We strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements to ensure there are no contraindications and that they are right for you. This information is not intended to replace professional advice or meant to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness.
9 Supplements That Help With Circulation
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is an essential B vitamin, which like all B vitamins, helps convert the food you eat into energy. It is considered ‘essential’ because it must be taken in via food or supplementation as the body cannot produce it in large amounts (small amounts can be produced from the amino acid tryptophan).
Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it isn’t stored by the body (so must be taken in on a regular basis) and excess amounts can be easily excreted from the body via urine. It plays a central role in cell signaling, making and repairing DNA, and also acts as an antioxidant (6).
Niacin is found in foods such as certain legumes, grains, and nuts, and is often added to enriched or fortified bread and cereals.
How does niacin help circulation?
There are three main ways that niacin helps blood flow: increasing the functioning of blood vessels, reducing LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL cholesterol levels, and reducing inflammation within blood vessels (7).
Related: 9 Best Supplements for Inflammation
A recent systematic review of research found that supplementing with niacin was associated with an average increase in HDL cholesterol levels of 21.4% from baseline (8). Another study reported that daily supplementation with niacin for three months increased total HDL by 7.5% and decreased triglycerides by 15% compared with baseline values, and significantly reduced baseline levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (10).
How do I take niacin?
Niacin is found in many over-the-counter multivitamin and multimineral supplements. It can also be found in B-complex supplements and as a standalone niacin supplement. The two main forms of niacin found in dietary supplements are nicotinic acid and nicotinamide.
The recommended daily amount of niacin is 16 mg for men and 14 mg for women for general health. However, to obtain benefits of niacin for circulation, it is recommended to begin supplementation at 1g per day. It can be taken at any time of the day, and with or without food.
Check it out: Top 10 Niacin Supplements
L-arginine is a semi-essential (or conditionally essential) amino acid. It is considered ‘semi-essential’ because the body can make it but not in large amounts.
L-arginine helps to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, a compound that causes the smooth muscles lining blood vessel walls to relax. This is why it is a particularly popular supplement for athletes.
L-arginine is particularly important for people with chronic conditions or those experiencing illness, because these states tend to increase the enzyme that degrades L-arginine, resulting in a deficiency. It is found in foods such as certain meats and nuts.
How does L-arginine help circulation?
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that supplementation of 8 g of L-arginine twice a day for six weeks promoted blood flow and the formation of nitric oxide (11). Participants were also able to walk further without pain as a result of supplementing with L-arginine.
It has also been demonstrated to be beneficial in managing the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease, which is characterized by altered nitric oxide metabolism. A review study concluded that L-arginine should be used in the management of Raynaud’s disease, particularly given its high level of safety and tolerability (12).
How do I take L-arginine?
To obtain the benefits of L-arginine for circulation, it is recommended to begin supplementing at 1-2 g per day, which can be increased to up to 10 g per day, depending on the results obtained. It is not recommended to take more than 10 g of L-arginine as this can result in gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea. L-arginine can be taken at any time of the day and in one dose or split into multiple doses.
Check it out: Top 10 L-Arginine Supplements
Cocoa extract refers to the bioactive compounds found in cocoa products. These compounds include flavanols, procyanidins, and (-)-epicatechin.
Although these molecules are not unique to cocoa, the cocoa extract contains a particularly high level of (-)-epicatechin, in comparison to other plant-based products. Taking in (-)-epicatechin increases the production of nitric oxide, which widens blood vessels and improves blood flow.
Although the benefits of the cocoa extract can be obtained through eating dark chocolate, you would need to eat 26-40 g of dark chocolate made from 75% cocoa, which some people don’t enjoy because of the bitter taste.
How does cocoa extract help circulation?
A randomized controlled trial found that eating 100 g of chocolate per day for 15 days (equivalent to 87 mg flavanols) significantly increased blood flow and decreased blood pressure, as well as improving insulin sensitivity, relative to the consumption of 90 g white chocolate (13). LDL cholesterol levels were also improved in those consuming dark chocolate, suggesting overall benefits to cardiovascular health.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that ingesting cocoa powder in addition to a drink (placebo, 2 5, 13, or 26 g of additional cocoa) was able to improve blood flow over a 24-hour period, without affecting heart rate (14). Effects were dose-dependent, with greater benefits to blood flow being seen at higher dosages.
Check it out: Top 10 Cacao Nibs Products
Pycnogenol is a patented formulation of pine bark extract, which is standardized to 65-75% procyanidin compounds by weight. Procyanidin compounds are chain-like structures consisting of catechins, similar to those found in green tea.
Pycnogenol appears to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to being beneficial for improving blood flow (via increasing nitric oxide levels), pycnogenol can also help with blood glucose control.
How does pycnogenol help circulation?
A double-blind, randomized, placebo and active drug study found that taking 180 mg of pycnogenol daily for two weeks significantly increased the acetylcholine-induced relaxation response in blood vessels, in addition to increasing nitric oxide levels relative to placebo, which both provide benefits for blood flow, compared with placebo (15).
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study found that 200 mg pycnogenol taken daily for eight weeks significantly improved blood flow compared with placebo, independent of changes to blood pressure (16). A double-blind placebo-controlled study also found that 100 mg of pycnogenol taken daily for 12 weeks improved blood flow and increased levels of nitric oxide relative to placebo (17).
How do I take pycnogenol?
Lower doses of between 40 and 60 mg have been shown to be effective for improving blood flow over an extended period of time, but optimal results are obtained in the range of 100 to 200 mg per day.
Studies have used twice-daily dosing (dividing the total into two doses taken with breakfast and dinner) and as once-daily dosing with breakfast. Both dosing strategies seem to be effective although they haven’t yet been directly compared. Pycnogenol can be taken with or without food.
Check it out: Top 10 Pine Bark Extract Supplements
Centella asiatica (Gotu kola)
Centella asiatica (Gotu Kola) is a traditional medicine that is mostly used within Ayurveda, but also in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition to being beneficial for cardiovascular health, it is also helpful for skin regeneration and wound healing, and there is some tentative evidence for its effectiveness in managing anxiety and rheumatism.
How does centella asiatica help circulation?
A prospective placebo-controlled randomized trial found that taking 60 mg total saponins from centella asiatica twice per day for six months was able to improve microcirculation relative to both control and placebo control groups (18).
Another single-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study found that supplementation of 60 mg of 60mg saponins from centella asiatica twice daily for eight weeks significantly increased blood flow relative to placebo (19). Benefits were also found from centella asiatica supplementation for blood pressure.
How do I take centella asiatica?
To obtain the benefits of centella asiatica for circulation, it is recommended to take a supplement two to three times per day containing between 30 mg and 60 mg total sapin (asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside, and madecassoside) to provide a total daily range of between 60 mg and 180 mg total saponins. It can be taken at any time of the day and with or without food.
Check it out: Top 10 Gotu Kola Supplements
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule produced by the body and found in the mitochondria. It plays a key role in energy production and forms part of the endogenous antioxidant system.
It is considered to be a pseudovitamin compound because it is essential for survival but does not necessarily have to be taken as a supplement. However, deficiency can occur, particularly in older people, and those who have experienced heart attacks, are taking statins or have certain health conditions.
How does coenzyme Q10 help circulation?
Studies suggest that coenzyme Q10 works by improving the functioning of blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow. It is thought that this is a result of coenzyme Q10’s ability to preserve nitric oxide.
A placebo-controlled randomized trial found that 200 mg of coenzyme Q10 taken daily for 12 weeks was able to significantly improve blood flow and endothelial function compared with placebo (20). Researchers suggested this was due to increased endothelial release and/or activity of nitric oxide due to the improvement in vascular oxidative stress.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 300 mg of coenzyme Q10 taken daily for eight weeks significantly increased blood flow due to improved endothelial functioning relative to placebo (21). There was also a reduction observed in lipid peroxidation, which researchers suggest may also have contributed to the improvement in blood flow.
How do I take Coenzyme Q10?
The standard dose for coenzyme Q10 is generally 90mg for a low dose and 200mg for the higher dose. It is typically taken once per day alongside food, which helps absorption.
CoQ10 supplements can be purchased in either the oxidized form (ubiquinone) or reduced form (ubiquinol).
Both seem to be equivalent in terms of the benefits they provide and the body can easily swap between the forms so it is possible to switch between these two types of supplements.
Check it out: Top 10 CoQ10 Supplements
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract is an industrial derivative of grape seeds. It is a mixture of tannins and procyanidins (chains of catechins).
It has a wide range of health benefits due to its high antioxidant content, which works to protect cells from free-radical damage.
Grapes have a long history of use to manage health conditions, although grape seed extract has only recently begun to be used as a supplement in the US.
How does grape seed extract help circulation?
A randomized, crossover trial found that 2 g of grapeseed extract taken daily for four weeks was able to significantly improve blood flow (22). Grape seed extract was added to food in the study. Another randomized controlled trial found that 400 mg of grape seed extract taken daily for eight weeks was able to significantly improve platelet functioning, which is important for maintaining healthy blood flow (23).
How do I take grape seed extract?
Human studies have used a wide range of dosages of grape seed extract. If taking for general health purposes, it is recommended to start in the range of 150 to 300 mg per day. If taking to improve blood flow specifically, it is recommended to start with a dosage of 400 to 600 mg per day. It can be taken at any time of the day, as a standalone supplement or added to food.
Check it out: Top 10 Grape Seed Extract Supplements
Hesperidin is a bioflavonoid glycoside commonly found in citrus fruits, such as oranges. It provides the body with the flavonoid hesperitin, which helps to boost circulation, as well as supporting brain health. These benefits are thought to be due to the high antioxidant content of hesperidin.
Related: 5 Supplements that Support the Brain
How does hesperidin help circulation?
A study found that a single dose of 150 mg of hesperidin was able to improve blood flow, as assessed by temperature changes in the body with external cold water tests (24). Researchers suggested that this occurred due to the rapid accumulation with higher plasma concentration enabling hesperetin to exert a potential vasodilatation effect by the endothelial action of its plasma metabolites.
A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial found that 500 mg of hesperidin taken daily for three weeks was able to significantly improve blood flow, as assessed by flow-mediated vasodilation and by inflammatory biomarkers such as C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A, and E-selectin compared with placebo (25). Slightly improvements were also seen with regard to insulin sensitivity.
How do I take hesperidin?
Most hesperidin studies tend to use 500mg of supplemental hesperidin, and use the standard form of if taken for general health benefits. If it is being used for short-term improvements in blood flow, such as before a workout, then the G-Hesperidin form may be preferable, because it is absorbed more quickly and reaches higher levels in the blood. G-Hesperidin is not significantly better overall in terms of absorption, but it is faster at peaking in the blood.
Although hesperidin can be obtained through consuming orange peel, you would need to consume 5-10 g of peel to obtain 500 mg of hesperidin, making it relatively inefficient in comparison with supplements.
Check it out: Top 10 Hesperidin Supplements
Taurine is an organic acid that contains sulfur. It is found in certain foods, such as meat, and acts as a lipid/membrane stabilizer in the body and can aid various anti-oxidant defense systems.
Taurine exerts most of its effects via influencing other compounds in the body but also influences the body on a cellular level, which provides a range of health benefits, including circulation.
How does taurine help circulation?
A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over study found that 1,500mg taurine taken daily for two weeks was able to normalize abnormalities in the inner lining of blood vessels (endothelium) compared to a control group, as measured by both the augmentation index and flow-mediated vasodilation (26). Researchers suggest that taurine supplementation may have long-term benefits in terms of preventing atherosclerotic disease.
How do I take taurine?
Dosages between 500 mg and 2000 mg have been shown to be beneficial for improving blood flow, with high doses generally being well-tolerated. It is recommended to start with 500 mg and increase as needed. The upper limit where benefits are obtained but there are no side effects is thought to be around 3 g per day. Taurine can be taken at any time of the day and with or without food.
Check it out: Top 10 Taurine Supplements
The Bottom Line
Poor circulation is relatively common but the effects can be quite severe, with symptoms such as tingling, throbbing, pain, cramps, and light-headedness. It is important to identify if there is an underlying medical condition causing poor circulation, as this will require dedicated treatment. ‘
However, if poor circulation is a more general issue, there are a number of lifestyle and dietary changes that can boost blood flow, as well as several evidence-based supplements that you can take. These dietary and lifestyle changes include exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, managing stress, and stopping smoking.
Such behaviors will be beneficial not only in terms of circulation, but will also help to maintain good physical health overall.
Keep Reading: 9 Best Supplements for Stress
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Emma.
Stock Photos from YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Olga Bolbot / Shutterstock
Contents of this Article
- The Circulatory System
- The Symptoms of Poor Circulation
- The Causes of Poor Circulation
- How You Can Improve Circulation
- 9 Supplements That Help With Circulation
- The Bottom Line
About the Author
Emma Green has a PhD, MSc and BSc in Psychology and is a certified personal trainer. She currently works as a freelance writer, producing on content on science, health and fitness for a number of online platforms. She also coaches clients online on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. Contact Emma.