Do you ever feel totally depleted? Like you are running on empty? Anxious or depressed? Not sleeping well? Blood deficiency, when looked at through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be linked to these and many other different physical and emotional symptoms.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a different perspective on Blood compared with Western Medicine. In Western Medicine, blood is looked at through what it is made up of- red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. TCM views the state of Blood in the body holistically; it looks at someone’s general vitality, their pulse, whether there are signs of paleness (face, tongue, nails), and what a women’s menstrual cycle is like. Blood nourishes our muscles, tendons, ligaments, moistens our skin and hair, and roots our Spirit. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia can sometimes be linked to Blood deficiency.
Different factors can affect the building of Blood: digestive weakness, overexercise, overwork, stress, genetics, and diet. Women are especially vulnerable to Blood deficiency due to the monthly menstrual bleed, blood loss from labour and the requirement of blood for breastfeeding. In this article, I will break down the symptoms of Blood deficiency and then offer some diet and lifestyle advice to help nourish your Blood.
In the clinic, I offer acupuncture and herbal formulas tailored specifically for each individual that are effective at helping the body to build blood. I’ve included information on a few specific herbal formulas at the end of the article.
Signs of Blood deficiency
TCM differentiates Blood deficiency into three main types:
Liver Blood deficiency:
- amenorhea or scanty menstrual bleeding
- cramping pain, tingling or numbness of the limbs, shoulder or back.
- excessive dreaming (this is when sleep is disturbed by dreaming; regular dreaming is great!)
- dry hair, brittle nails
- floaters in the eyes or blurred vision
Heart Blood deficiency:
- heart palpitations
- poor memory
- pale face
Spleen Blood deficiency:
- pale face and lips
- low appetite
- weak muscles, no strength
- loose stools
How to nourish Blood
When making some of the lifestyle and dietary adjustments needed, it may take months or longer to build blood. For women, nourishing Blood is optimally a life-long practice. You will know the state of your Blood is improving when the above symptoms decrease or cease. We all want to feel full of vitality and have a sense of peace. Incorporating the lifestyle and dietary advice below will begin the process of nourishing your life by nourishing your Blood.
Minimize or avoid due to Blood damaging nature
- Sugar– a little honey, maple syrup or unrefined cane sugar is fine. Sugar is insidious and addictive; the more we eat, the more we crave it. Read labels because sugar is added to almost EVERYTHING!
- Coffee– is warming and drying. As it is a stimulant, it takes energy from the body without giving any back.
- Overexercise– depletes our qi (vital energy) and Blood. We should not feel exhausted from workouts, nor should we have chronic tendon, ligament, or muscle injuries. This will be different for everyone; it’s important to listen to your own body.
- Overwork– also depletes our qi (vital energy) and Blood.
- Excess sweating– this could be from saunas, hot yoga, or exercise. Our sweat comes from our fluids which is required to produce Blood.
- Tobacco– is very drying and toxic and damaging to the Blood.
- Improving digestion is crucial to making Blood. If there are any digestive issues these need to be resolved.
- Avoid overeating or eating too many heavy foods. Eat until about 70% full.
- Eat enough– Your body needs nutrients and food to make Blood. If you are not hungry in the mornings, this is a sign of digestive weakness. If you drink coffee or tea with meals you are reducing iron absorbtion by around 50- 60 %.
- Proper amounts of iron, folic acid and B12 are essential in the diet.
- To absorb iron, adequate vitamin C (found in bell peppers, tomatoes, kale, strawberries, oranges, kiwi, lemon juice, lime juice, thyme, and parsley) is necessary.
- Cooking in a cast-iron pan transfers iron into your food.
- Avoid packaged foods- they lack vitamins, minerals and enzymes and often have chemicals, dyes, and food preservatives that our bodies don’t require.
- Fermented foods- such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, unsweetened yogurt, and true sourdough bread help with iron absorption.
- Vegetarian diets are more prone to lead to Blood deficiency.
Foods that nourish Blood
This list is not exhaustive; it is a guideline. Many more foods nourish Blood than what is listed below.
- Grapes (choose organic), apples, cherries, dates, raisins, apricots (fresh and dried), raspberries, figs, black currants, pomegranates, goji berries, plums, and avocado (in small amounts).
- Beets, dark leafy greens (Swiss chard, kale, collard green, etc.), leeks, chives, spinach, carrots, seaweed, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, artichokes, dandelion leaf, and watercress.
- Squash such as pumpkins, butternut, kabocha, spaghetti and acorn.
- Small portions of meat nourish the Blood, especially red meats, bone marrow and liver (choose organic).
- Bone broths are very nourishing to the Blood.
- Oyster, mussel, clams, sardine, tuna, salmon, trout.
- Quinoa, spelt, millet, barley, wheat (ancient), corn, rice, and sweet rice.
- Lentils, soybeans (tofu), black bean, chickpea, aduki bean, kidney bean, fava bean, peas.
Nuts and Seeds:
- Black and white sesame seeds, almonds, chia, pumpkin.
- Shiitake, reishi, cremini, oyster
- Dissolve 1 Tbsp in hot water and drink daily
- Nettle, raspberry leaf, dang gui, dandelion root, and goji berry.
Examples of herbal formulas used in TCM for nourishing Blood
Si Wu Tang (Four substance formula)
This formula is made up of Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang), White Peony Root (Bai Shao), Tang Kuei Root (Dang Gui), and Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuang Xiong). It is helpful for fatigue, dry skin, irregular or painful menses, palpitations, premenstrual syndrome, and more.
Dang Gui Shao Yao Tang (Tang Keui Shao Yao formula)
This formula is made up of Tang Kuei Root (Dang Gui), White Peony Root (Bai Shao), Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai Zhu), Poria (Fu Ling), Alisma Rhizome (Ze Xie), and Lovage Root (Chuang Xiong). This formula is helpful for weakness during pregnancy or postpartum, postpartum depression, fatigue, eczema, cold extremities, and more.