The arteries, veins, and capillaries that make up your vascular system are not just lifeless pipes. Plus, blood isn’t simply a fluid that flows through them. All of these are all living, dynamic tissues that require your care and attention.
It goes without saying that the foundation of healthy blood vessels and robust circulation is a good diet with an emphasis on foods that improve blood flow, regular exercise, weight maintenance, and a healthy lifestyle. A basic supplement program, including a daily multivitamin plus coenzyme Q10, magnesium, and L-carnitine is also recommended.
Yet, if you are concerned about circulatory problems—which increase the risk of not only heart disease and stroke but also vascular dementia, erectile dysfunction, and more—you need to go a step further and consider supplements that specifically address the underlying causes of poor blood flow.
The top causes of poor blood flow include:
- Endothelial damage: The vascular endothelium is a thin layer of cells that line the inner surfaces of the blood vessels. Endothelial cells produce nitric oxide (NO), a vasodilator that triggers dilation and widening of the arteries for better blood flow and lower blood pressure. Damage to the endothelium is the first step on the road to atherosclerosis, which narrows and stiffens the blood vessels and reduces blood flow.
- “Sticky” blood: Good circulation depends on thin, fluid blood that moves briskly through your vessels. Thicker, more sluggish blood is prone to forming clots that slow and potentially block circulation.
- Inflammation: Inflammation is a double whammy when it comes to circulation. A major cause of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis, it also promotes platelet activation and blood clot formation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Essential
One of the best supplements for circulation is omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats—which few Americans get enough of in their diet—address several key aspects of blood flow.
Omega-3s have been shown to:
- Counter inflammation, which protects the endothelium and keeps the blood vessels healthy.
- Discourage platelets from sticking together and forming clots, so they help to keep your blood thin, fluid, and free flowing.
- Play a role in dilation and expansion of the arteries for better blood flow and lower blood pressure.
- Help to stabilize arterial plaque.
Researchers from the University of New Mexico performed a meta-analysis of studies on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in patients with cardiovascular risk factors. They found that in 16 of the 17 clinical trials that involved individuals who were overweight, smoked, and/or had high blood lipids or metabolic syndrome, omega-3s improved flow-mediated dilation (FMD), a test that assesses artery dilation and endothelial function.
Suggested daily dose: 1–3 g.
Antioxidants Reduce Oxidative Stress & Inflammation
Oxidative stress and inflammation go hand in hand. When the production of free radicals outpaces the body’s ability to neutralize them with antioxidants, you have oxidative stress, which is highly damaging to cells and tissues. The immune system responds by initiating an inflammatory response that can result in chronic inflammation.
That’s why antioxidants such as polyphenol-rich plant extracts and vitamin C are good for circulation. By curbing oxidative stress in the endothelium, they also help to reduce inflammation.
The best antioxidants for circulatory health include:
- Turmeric/curcumin is widely recognized as one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories. It also reduces platelet aggregation and promotes NO release, making it great for blood flow. Absorption of turmeric is notoriously poor, so make sure you get a product with enhanced bioavailability. Suggested daily dose: 125 mg of an extract standardized for curcuminoids, the active ingredient.
- Resveratrol is one of the best-studied phytonutrients. In addition to countering oxidative stress and inflammation in the blood vessels, it also improves blood flow and reduces excessive clotting. Suggested daily dose: 30–100 mg.
- Vitamin C is a superstar. It strengthens the arteries by boosting the production of collagen, a structural component of the blood vessel walls. It also inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is involved in plaque formation. Plus, it protects the endothelium. Suggested daily dose:1,000–3,000 mg, taken in divided doses.
- Grape seed extract and Pycnogenol are rich sources of procyanidins, which are known for their exceptional health benefits. Both Pycnogenol and grape seed extract help to enhance blood vessel health and improve circulation. Suggested daily dose: 100 mg of either grape seed extract or Pycnogenol.
Supplements containing garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, and concentrated tomato, melon, and beet juice extracts also help to enhance circulation via their positive effects on the blood vessels and blood fluidity.
Vitamin K2 for Circulation
You may know vitamin K as the “clotting vitamin.” But there is one form of this fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin K2, that has exceptional benefits for circulation. It addresses arterial calcification, which is the buildup of calcium deposits in the arteries. This is important because calcium deposits make the arteries thicker and stiffer, impeding blood flow.
Vitamin K2 activates proteins that bind to calcium and move it into the bones and out of the soft tissues, including the arteries. This helps to keep your blood vessels flexible and open for better circulation. Studies have shown that a hearty intake of vitamin K2 is linked not only with reductions in arterial calcification but also a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. In addition, vitamin K2 has demonstrated benefits for brain health and blood sugar metabolism.
Suggested daily dose: 180–360 mcg of the menaquinone-7 (MK7) form of vitamin K2. If you are on Coumadin (warfarin) or another blood thinner, talk to your doctor before taking this vitamin.
B-Vitamins Protect Against High Homocysteine
Homocysteine is a byproduct of protein metabolism that is rapidly converted into other amino acids—as long as you have adequate supplies of folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. If you are deficient in these B-complex vitamins, homocysteine can build up to toxic levels. Elevated homocysteine damages the endothelium and is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, blood clots, coronary heart disease, and other cardiovascular problems. It is also a risk factor for stroke and dementia.
There is a fairly common genetic variant (MTHFR) that reduces folate metabolism in the body, so it’s a good idea to have your homocysteine level tested. If it is high, extra folate, B6, and B12 may be indicated. An ideal homocysteine level is 7–10 umol/L.
Suggested daily doses: vitamin B12 200–500 mcg, vitamin B6 30–40 mg, folate 667–1,334 DFE (folic acid 400–800 mcg).
Nattokinase Helps to Prevent Excessive Clotting
Nattokinase is an enzyme derived from natto, a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. This enzyme has a proven ability to improve blood flow characteristics.
Nattokinase helps to break down fibrin, a natural clotting agent that can cause abnormal thickening of the blood. It also discourages platelet aggregation and the formation of blood clots. The result is thinner blood, fewer blood clots, and better circulation. Studies suggest that nattokinase is also a helpful supplement for reducing blood pressure.
Suggested daily dose: 50 mg. This may be increased to 100 mg after a week. Do not take nattokinase if you are on Coumadin (warfarin) or a similar blood thinner, and don’t exceed 3 g of omega-3 per day, as it has similar blood-thinning effects.