Raynaud’s Phenomenon: An Aromatic Exploration – Part I

by Micah Sweeney

Raynaud’s Syndrome is a condition where blood vessels in a person’s extremities shut down when exposed to cold. It is caused by peripheral blood vessels overreacting to colder temperatures and can result in painful and discolored extremities.

Raynaud’s syndrome was first identified by a French physician named Auguste Gabrielle Maurice Raynaud in 1862. It often has many names including Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon, Raynaud’s syndrome or simply Raynaud’s (Ross, 2019). The condition is categorized into two types, primary and secondary.

Primary Raynaud’s is, typically referred to as “Raynaud’s disease” and is distinguished from secondary Raynaud’s in that it has no known origin. Secondary Raynaud’s is also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and occurs as a comorbid state with another underlying condition. Secondary Raynaud’s can be the side effect of a drug or the result of disease or injury.

The most typical age for people to be diagnosed with “Raynaud’s phenomenon” is between the ages of 35 and 40 (Barry, 2020). Another modality of Secondary Raynaud’s can affect women, especially during breastfeeding. Nipples will severely begin to throb and mimic a fungal infection of Candida albicans, which can lead to misdiagnosis. The condition affects between 5% and 10% of Americans. Females and people living in colder climates are more often at-risk to contracting it (Medical News Today, 2017).

A 7-year study found that 2% of middle-aged women and 1.5% of middle aged men had experienced an incident of “Raynaud’s phenomenon.” It also found that 64% of those cases in both men and women remitted. The study observed that primary Raynaud’s frequently comes and goes in middle-aged adults. It also discovered that even in cases of secondary Raynaud’s it is not a highly morbid condition (Suter, Felson & Fraenkel, 2005).

Therapeutic Approaches

Conventional treatments are generally vasodilating pharmaceuticals that help to reduce vein constriction to restore blood flow. More severe cases can be treated. However, surgery is not always successful and chemical injections wear off (Medical News Today, 2017).

Other palliative, nonconventional treatments include chiropractic care, essential oils, homeopathy and acupuncture. While there is anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of each of these therapeutics in treating Raynaud’s, not much peer reviewed literature is available.

A 2015 US News and World Report article stated that “Chiropractic adjustments can reduce spinal nerve irritation and improve blood circulation, which can help signal the brain to turn off the “fight or flight” response and begin the healing process.” The reliability of the article is questionable because it did not cite its sources and was written by chiropractic doctor, which reveals potential bias (Starr, 2015).

On a final note regarding chiropractic care, if restricted blood flow to the area were caused by a misalignment of the bones then a chiropractic adjustment should correct the problem.

A condition where a misalignment of bones reduced blood would be referred to as secondary Raynaud’s because the Raynaud’s would be comorbid with the misalignment.

However, primary Raynaud’s is of unknown origin and therefore people with this condition would be less likely to consult with a chiropractor because a primary care physician would not recommend a chiropractic adjustment to treat the condition. During the course of the research the author met a chiropractor that suffered from Raynaud’s. Chiropractic care did not alleviate her symptoms.

Essential Oils for Renaud’s Syndrome

Data regarding the treatment of Raynaud’s with essential oils was discovered in a peer reviewed journal article from 2017 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Von Schoen-Angerera, Deck ersa, Henesc, Helmerta & Vagedesa demonstrated the efficacy of Rosmarinus officianalis in the treatment of Raynaud’s syndrome. “A 53-year-old woman with systemic sclerosis had topical Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil…applied to her hands over 3 days and then, separately, olive oil…” Thermographic imaging showed that her fingers warmed after the application of rosemary essential oil but not after the olive oil. Data collected correlated with the patient’s experience. The study concluded that, “Topical Rosmarinus officinalis oil had a vasodilating and warming effect in a patient with systemic sclerosis and Raynaud’s phenomenon.”

Another case study, though not peer reviewed, had similar findings. A 55-year old woman suffering from Secondary Raynaud’s had the condition comorbidly with lupus. The client reported that cold weather exacerbated her Raynaud’s symptoms so profoundly that she avoided going outside in winter. Her physician told her there is nothing to be done except to wear gloves. The woman purchased gloves intended for the arctic and yet they were still not sufficient to keep her hands from turning white and painful.

Based upon information from the 2017 study, the client was recommended a blend of essential oils consisting of a core of Rosmarinus officinalis at 10 drops, a supporting oil of Helichrysum italicum at 6 drops and a harmonizing oil of Lavandula angustifolia at 3 drops in a blend of 10% aromatic oil to 90% fractionated coconut oil.

The core of Rosmarinus officianalis was chosen based upon the above referenced case study. Helichrysum italicum was chosen as a supporting oil be
cause it was recommended in the Essential Oils Desk Reference and Lavendula angustifolia was chosen as harmonizer due to its versatility and anxiolytic properties.

The follow-up meeting was on a cold winter day and the Raynaud’s syndrome was activated. Within moments of applying the blend, the pain subsided and the color returned to her hands. “Look at this,” she exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”

Rosmarinus officinalis is a widely used herb that is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Approximately 150 chemical compounds have been identified in samples, however, the molecules 1,8-cineole, α-pinene, and camphor were reported more frequently than others (Borges, Ortiz, Pereira, Keita & Carvalho, 2017).

Toxicity assessments indicate low toxicity, though it needs to be used with caution. While it is widely used as a food additive and dietary supplement, it is contraindicated for people with epilepsy or high blood pressure or people who are pregnant (Essential Science Pub., 2002).

Its usefulness in treating acute inflammation is what makes it ideal in the treatment of Raynaud’s syndrome. The chemical compounds found in Rosmarinus officinalis are known to relax smooth muscles and ameliorate inflammation. These properties not only make it ideal for treating injuries and arthritis but also Raynaud’s. The action relaxes constricted blood vessels allowing circulation to return to the extremities.

This blog is part of a series on Raynaud’s Syndrome, the second part of this series can be read here!