England's triumphant World Cup campaign, though glorious, brought back a few painful memories of my own endeavours on the rugby pitch. Playing out on the wing, I was generally spared any bone-crushing and blood-spilling injuries, but I do recall spending many a winter's afternoon perishing with cold while waiting for play to come my way.
My hands would often turn numb with the icy chill, which did not make for the most expert of ball-handling. In truth, it pains me to think of the scoring opportunities that may have gone astray as a result of my frozen digits. My personal experience of rugby taught me that there was nothing to be gained by playing it cool.
While frozen fingers may have meant a few spilled passes for me, for others they can be a perennial problem. One group of people whose winters can be blighted by the effects of poor circulation
are those suffering from Raynaud's (pronounced ray-nodes) disease. Here, constriction in the vessels which supply blood to the fingers and/or toes can cause them to turn white, and then blue, when the temperature drops. Such individuals feel chilled to the bone in the cold, but also experience discomfort when their extremities warm up again. Conventional treatment is based on drugs that dilate the blood vessels (vasodilators) and the surgical cutting of nerves responsible for blood-vessel constriction in the hands. However, these medical measures are not considered appropriate for most sufferers, many of whom may simply be advised to invest in a decent pair of gloves and some thermal socks.
Thankfully, several natural remedies help boost the circulation and provide considerable cold comfort in the winter. Ginger is renowned as a circulatory stimulant, and is believed to have a 'warming' effect within the body. Ginger tea (made by steeping finely chopped or grated root ginger in hot water) makes an ideal drink for those looking to turn up the heat in the extremities. Another natural agent that may help to combat the symptoms of Raynaud's disease is magnesium. This mineral reduces a tendency to spasm in the blood vessels, and taken at a dose of 300-500mg each day helps to prevent freezing of fingers and toes.
In addition, those who find their blood runs cold may benefit from taking ginkgo biloba, a herb which is believed to help dilate blood vessels and deliver blood to the periphery. In natural medicine it is recommended for a range of circulation-related ills, including cold hands and chilblains. One study found that treatment with this herb reduced the frequency of Raynaud's attacks by more than half. Try 120-240mg of standardised extract per day, though it may take two or three months before real benefits are felt. Those who suffer from a sluggish circulation may be glad to know that natural remedies can be surprisingly effective weapons in the cold war.