The concept of blood (xue) in traditional Chinese medicine is closely related to the concept of blood in Western medicine except that it goes further to include functions such as tissue nourishment. The diagnosis of “blood deficiency” in Chinese medicine often corresponds to iron deficiency anemia in Western medicine but a patient can still have “blood deficiency” by Chinese medical standards even though testing may reveal normal blood iron level.
During female monthly cycle, blood plays a major roll in nourishing the endometrium (uterine lining) and preparing it for embryo implantation. Endometrial tissue is very sensitive to hormonal fluctuations and as it gets closer to the ovulation, estrogen production increases which in turn provokes endometrial lining to proliferate and produce more blood vessels. Nice and rich uterine lining creates a fertile ground for the new life to develop. If uterine lining is too thin the process of conception becomes more difficult. Uterine lining can be seen and measured via ultrasound and the thickness between 8 and 13 millimeters in the second part of the cycle (after ovulation) is generally considered normal.
What Causes Blood Deficiency?
Women are especially prone to blood deficiency if they have a history of heavy periods. It is important to replenish the blood that has been lost during the period by eating blood nourishing and iron rich foods. Inadequate protein intake is a very common contributing factor as well. If a woman is consuming vegan or vegetarian diet she has to be especially careful to include enough protein with every meal, supplement vitamin B12 as well as include cereal grasses like wheat grass and micro algae such as spirulina and chlorella . According to Chinese medical theory, overexercising tends to consume the blood which is why most professional athletes tend to stop menstruating.
Inability to absorb nutrients and gastrointestinal bleeding are important contributors to blood deficiency. If a person experiences digestive issues it is important to address them first before prescribing blood tonic herbs which can be difficult to digest. Anxiety, worry and over thinking can interact with the digestive process since the way we process our emotions is directly linked to the way we process our nutrients. That is why our gut has been referred to as our “second brain” and functional GI disorders are closely linked to the amount of stress that we experience.
Signs and Symptoms of Blood Deficiency
Typical signs and symptoms of blood deficiency include:
-history of irregular periods
-light and short menstrual bleeding
-amenorrhea (complete cessation of periods)
-fatigue especially during and after periods
-dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss
-thin body constitution
-tingling and numbness in extremities, muscle tension
-tendency toward constipation and dry stools
-pale complexion, pale tongue, thin and weak pulse
How is Blood Deficiency Treated?
Blood deficiency responds well to dietary changes and usage of blood building herbal tonics. To enrich blood with nutrition there are two general approaches: improving digestive function and absorption of nutrients and adding blood building foods. General guidelines for improving overall digestive function include:
-remove processed and denatured foods from your diet
-reduce or completely avoid sugar
-include fresh vegetables on daily basis
-eat fruit when in season
-consume only best quality organic meats
-regularly consume fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso,
-drink only room temperature water and herbal tea, avoid fruit juices, coffee (especially decaf), sodas, energy drinks
Foods that are specifically used to build blood include:
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the vegetables and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Before the end of cooking time add salt and pepper to taste. You can add yogurt just before serving.
Beetroot is nutritious and energizing, rich in potassium, silica, iron, amino acids and vitamins A, V and C. It is ideal blood tonic in anemia and is traditionally used in debilitating diseases and convalescence. Beef stock provides vital amino acids and nutrients for strengthening muscles and bones.