12 Dec Building Blood – Managing Blood Deficiency in Chinese Medicine
12 Dec 2023
Blood deficiency in CM (Chinese medicine) is a very common diagnosis that can result in many signs and symptoms. While most people equate Blood deficiency with anaemia, in CM there is a much broader meaning and function associated with this diagnosis. Although most people that are Blood deficient have some type of anaemic condition, this CM diagnosis refers to the state of the body’s overall blood and bodily fluids.
The Blood has many functions which include moistening the tissues, nourishing the cells and organs, warming the body, circulating vital substances (e.g. oxygen, nutrients, hormones), and anchoring the spirit or ‘Shen’. If the Blood is not functioning properly, or there is not enough of it to fulfil these functions effectively, many symptoms may arise as a result.
Symptoms of Blood deficiency include:
- Muscular aches and tension
- Irregular menstruation or amenorrhea
- Poor concentration and memory
- Dizziness and fainting
- Blurry vision or floaters
- Anxiety and depression
- Dry hair, skin and nails
- Pale lips and skin
- Insufficient lactation
Blood deficiency may arise due to lack of manufacture, which is affected by factors such as inadequate intake of food or essential nutrients, poor nutrient absorption, or low oxygen intake. Additionally, Blood deficiency may also be caused by
excessive depletion of Blood. Excessive depletion may be due to overwork, high physical exertion, emotional stress, or severe blood loss.
An important consideration in Blood deficiency is assessing iron and ferritin levels. We know that iron is a vital mineral that helps to maintain healthy blood. A blood test featuring iron studies will give a great indication of iron, ferritin, transferrin, and transferrin saturation levels. Optimal levels of ferritin (iron storage), transferrin (iron transporter) and transferrin saturation (efficiency) are required for proper storage and circulation of iron around the body, which is important for the health of the blood and many of the body’s tissues and structures. Those with low levels in their iron studies will exhibit similar symptoms to Blood deficiency in Chinese medicine. Iron levels are extremely important in fertility. Low iron impacts egg quality, uterine lining, hormonal regulation and more. If you are trying to conceive, it is suggested that amongst other investigations, you should have iron studies conducted in your blood tests to determine if you need to increase your iron levels.
One of the best ways to correct Blood deficiency is through the diet. In CM theory the Blood is formed by the air we breathe and the foods we eat. Thus, a nourishing and nutrient rich diet can do wonders for the state of the Blood. Not all Blood building foods are iron rich, but it is important to have iron rich foods to build your Blood.
Blood nourishing foods:
Grains – barley, oats, rice, corn
Vegetables – beetroot, turnip, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, cabbage, seaweeds and microalgae (chlorella, spirulina), celery, watercress, chlorophyll rich foods
Fruit – Apple, apricot, cherry, goji berry, dates, fig, longan, avocado, blackberry, mulberry
Beans – adzuki, black soy, kidney
Nuts and seeds – Almonds, black sesame
Meat – all red meat (beef, lamb, pork, rabbit), bone marrow, liver and other organ meats, bone broth
Fish – tuna, sardine, mussel, octopus, oyster
Dairy / eggs – Egg (chicken, quail)
Herbs / spices – Nettle, parsley
Condiments – molasses, collagen / protein powders
Beverages – soy milk
It is important to note that the amount of food we eat is also significant when trying to build Blood. We advise against skipping meals or severely restricting calories if you are Blood deficient. Animal products and protein rich foods are extremely effective at nourishing the Blood. If you have a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to stay on top of your eating habits as you may be more prone to Blood deficiency.
How can acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine help?
Blood is mainly derived by the Food-Qi produced by the Spleen. The Spleen sends Food-Qi upward, where it is combined with the air that is inhaled by the Lungs. It is then sent to the Heart where it receives its red colour and becomes Blood. The Kidneys provide the Original Qi or Essence that produces the bone marrow, which also plays an important role in Blood formation. The Liver may also be implicated in Blood related conditions as it is responsible for storing and detoxifying the Blood while we sleep. Two important digestive organs that are involved in Blood health are the stomach and Small Intestine, which are vital to absorb and extract nutrients from food. If one of these organs / channel systems are weak or not functioning effectively, the body’s ability to create Blood will be hindered. Your acupuncturist will diagnose the organ or channel that requires attention and treat accordingly.
Chinese herbal medicine can be a powerful way to nourish Blood deficiency. The herbal formula that is prescribed will be based on your Chinese medicine diagnosis and will include Blood nourishing herbs. Some common Blood nourishing herbs include Dang Gui (Chinese Angelica Root), Shu Di Huang (Rhemannia Root), Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum Striatum), and Bai Shao Yao (White Peony Root). The prescription length will depend on the severity of the Blood deficiency and rate of response of each person. Building Blood will take some time, so you may need to stay on your formula for at least 3-6 months to see significant results.
Blood nourishing lifestyle tips –
Prioritise sleep and rest
Our body uses up a lot of Qi and Blood when we are awake and active. Rest and proper sleep are crucial for Blood health. Without rest, our Blood cells cannot regenerate or be detoxed effectively.
Not too much, not too little. If we are extremely active, we will burn through a lot of our energy stores and deplete our Blood. While it is important to move to keep the Blood circulating optimally, it is also important to overexert our body to the point where it becomes depleted. The optimal amount of movement will vary from person to person and rely on several factors. As a rule of thumb, 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week is ideal. If you take part in high intensity exercise, make sure you vary your work outs to include a few days of moderate or low intensity movement. We also advise avoiding high intensity exercise during menstruation.
Hydration is extremely important for the process of building Blood. This can be done by drinking water, herbal teas, eating fruits and vegetables, and incorporating more soups and broths into your diet. We recommend drinking room temperature or warm water as cold water can be very harsh on the digestive system.
Emotional stress can be very taxing on the body’s Qi and Blood. The body will need to regulate the physiological effects of stress, which in turn will leave less energy for other bodily functions (i.e. Blood manufacture). Some of our favourite ways to manage stress include meditation, spending time in nature, movement, journaling, spending time with loved ones, and of course, having an acupuncture treatment.
Stimulate the acupuncture channels with self-massage
There are many points in the body that help with supporting those with Blood deficiency. We have 2 previous blog posts that explain powerful self-massage methods that assist two of the major digestive organs that help the body ingest and absorb nutrients from food, supplements, and herbal medicine. The first is the Stomach. This helps to optimise the function of the digestive system. An efficient Stomach helps with the proper break down of foods to be further processed by the Small Intestine. The Stomach also produces IF (intrinsic factor), which plays a crucial role in the transportation and absorption of the vital micronutrient vitamin B12, which is essential for healthy red Blood cell formation and many other important functions in the body. The second is the Small Intestine which is crucial in nutrient absorption and the transportation of nutritive substances, such as iron (and many more) into the Blood stream, therefore also vitally influencing the health of the Blood.
Blood nourishing for beauty –
The principles of CM for beauty focuses on nourishing the Blood with Blood nourishing foods and medicinals and using various methods to enhance Blood circulation to the hair, skin and nails. The state of the hair, skin and nails are an indicator of the health of the Blood. Therefore, if you are wishing to have a beneficial effect on your hair, skin and nails, and your general beauty, we recommend on focusing on nourishing the Blood. If this is one of your focuses, book in for an acupuncture appointment with Veronika or Peter so we can determine if Blood tonification herbal strategies are suitable to accompany your current treatment program.
If you think you may have Blood deficiency, we suggest booking in an appointment with one of our acupuncturists today. They will provide a full health assessment after which they will advise the best way to support your health.
Article co-authored by our acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners: