Women are up to nine times more likely to suffer from cold hands and feet than men, I read last week. We feel changes in temperature and the seasonal chill more. Did this surprise me? Not a bit.
I am always moaning about how bitter the weather is; how if my feet and hands are cold, then I just can’t get warm anywhere else. In fact, my extremities are so often freezing that I spend my life buying woollen bed socks and pairs of gloves that I inevitably lose.
I try so many different ways to get warm. I bury my hands deep in pockets. I buy extra-thick gloves, or lined ones, or ones that promise to ‘banish cold hands for ever’. But there I still am – cold fingers, cold toes and miserable.
My lack of warmth drives my husband mad. ‘Do you have to have the heating on so high?’ he’ll say when he comes in of an evening to find me warming my feet and hands on the radiator.
In bed, things get even worse. I am for ever wanting to use him as a human hot-water bottle. As I try to tuck my feet into the warmth of his legs or back or whatever bit of his warm flesh that is nearest, he shudders and moves away. ‘Get them off me!’ he says.
I totally understand his hatred of my cold feet. Really, it is a curse. Even I hate them. All that palaver with thick tights and extra socks. I have taken to wearing tights under trousers but even that hasn’t been enough with the recent snow. But it gets much worse than fashion dilemmas.
When my feet get cold, my toes cramp and I writhe around in pain. This has happened to me ever since I was a little girl and the only way I know for me to combat it is to wrench my toes slightly out and then hopefully they will eventually go back into their sockets. This involves me taking off my shoes and socks and tugging away, which is not possible on a packed train – which, nine times out of ten, is when it happens.
So if my feet get cold and my toes become disjointed, I have to sit there with a painful grimace on my face, incapable of doing anything about it. But at least I now know I am not alone.
I had thought the reason my husband didn’t feel the cold was because he’s a Northerner and I’m a Southerner. However, it turns out it is much more to do with our physiognomy than where we originate from.
A new survey has found that women are nine times more likely to develop cold in their extremities than men. We are also more likely to suffer from Raynaud’s disease – a recognised condition where not enough blood gets to the fingers and toes, causing extreme pain.
There are many theories as to why women suffer from this problem. Women have more evenly distributed fat layers, providing internal insulation. But while the result is that our blood supply favours protecting our core organs and trunk over our extremities, it means less blood flows to the hands and feet.
Men on the other hand have more heat-generating muscle mass, better supplied by blood vessels, increasing blood flow and, therefore, warmth.
Foot expert Margaret Dabbs says another reason why women’s feet in particular get colder than men’s is because our skin is thinner.
‘The skin on our feet is thinner and has less subcutaneous fat than men’s, so it is very hard for us to keep warm. You can see how women’s faces get thinner as they get older, well, so does the skin on their feet and this is why the blood finds it hard to get to them and warm them up.
‘People often come to my clinic complaining of extremely cold feet, but I find it usually only seriously affects women in the 40-plus age group as our skin gets thinner as we age.’
Dr Neetu Nirdosh, a doctor who specialises in anti-ageing, agrees. He says: ‘It can certainly be to do with ageing as, once we get older, our once buoyant blood supply becomes limp. Blood no longer flows through our skin with a full dynamic force, and the consequence of this is distal hypothermia – cold extremities.
‘The hands and feet are first to suffer as they contain a diffuse micro network of tiny capillaries which easily become damaged or blocked, and women feel this impact on a greater scale than men.
‘Also, women can suffer from iron deficiency – anaemia – as they hold less iron in the body than men. Since iron is needed to transport oxygen around the blood, a lack will hamper blood flow.’
Apparently, the fact that some of us women seem to suffer from permanently cold feet can also be attributed to our hormones. Health advisor Nicola Stewart explains: ‘Our circulation is linked to our hormonal system, and when we get a lack of iron in the thyroid we get cold as it is this that regulates our body temperature.’
She suggests a diet rich in pumpkin seeds, nuts, fish and watermelon to overcome the problem. So would a different diet help me? And is there anything else we women with cold hands and feet can actually do about it, bar eat sushi and seeds before we go to bed? Dr Nirdosh says there is.
‘Lifestyle factors also massively accelerate age damage and weaken blood supply to the extremities,’ he explains. ‘With age, nutrients are not so well processed by the body.
‘The combination of a poor diet which lacks vital vitamins and minerals such as B12 and folate, plus sleep deprivation, loss of muscle tissue due to inappropriate exercise and smoking all damage the blood supply.
‘Extreme emotional instability and extreme cold conditions can obviously also cause cold extremities. But these are all things we can do something about.
Mood can influence our temperature – people who are lonely or socially excluded feel the cold more
To take action against age-related body breakdown, you need to implement a proper nutritional plan high in dark green and dark red vegetables such as spinach and beetroot, complete protein sources like eggs and chicken, as well as daily supplementation with targeted vitamins and minerals, such as a complete vitamin B complex.
‘Furthermore, to boost hormone activity and enhance muscle tissue, it’s essential to exercise, and ensure you get six to eight hours sleep per night as this is when the body repairs itself.’
So, the answer is to eat iron-rich food, sleep more, exercise more and try to curtail those hormones. One blindingly obvious way to combat cold feet, I find, is to go to bed with a hot-water bottle. Men, though, tend to hate women having them. For a start, it makes the bed too hot for them.
There is also something slightly old lady-ish about going to bed with a fleece-covered water bottle. But, as I explain to my husband, it must be better for me to be sleeping peacefully than constantly shoving my cold feet into his back.