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Nourishing the blood with TCM and whole foods

01/11/2012

Blood deficiency (xue xu) is a diagnostic term we use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for someone who is showing signs and symptoms of inadequate nourishment of the blood to the body. It is not uncommon for the women I see for pre-conception care, fertility treatment and pregnancy support to have an element of blood deficiency as part of their diagnosis.  Although, blood deficiency is not limited to women in their reproductive years and can also be present in men.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • lightheaded
  • poor memory
  • mild anxiety
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • pale (face, lips, tongue, nails, eyelids)
  • weak nails
  • hair loss or premature greying
  • low energy
  • blurred vision or floaters in the vision
  • dry eyes, skin and hair
  • tics, tremors and numbness
  • women: light or absent periods (maybe after a history of heavy periods)

A lot of these symptoms are consistent with those of iron deficiency anaemia.  TCM blood deficiency is more than iron deficiency however.  It does describe a condition involving a lack of protein building blocks, vitamin B12, folic acid and other nutrients, but more so, blood deficiency, in its TCM sense, is to do with the whole substance that is blood – that is, there is not enough good quality blood in its entirety to nourish the body.

To correct a blood deficiency, we look for possible causes of the blood deficiency.  The three most common are:

  • excessive bleeding (often menstrual, but not limited to this)
  • poor digestive function (not absorbing nutrients)
  • poor diet which is lacking in nutrition (nothing worth absorbing)

Acupuncture alone cannot nourish the blood but it can improve digestive function to enhance absorption.  Blood is a substance and we need good foods ingested so that we have the building blocks to be absorbed by the body to manufacture it well.  The two best ways to build and nourish blood are:

  • Diet: Plant sources include dark green (purple/red) leafy vegetables, seaweeds, spirulina, sprouts, legumes and whole grains. Richly coloured foods (often red) are valued for building the blood including goji berries (Chinese wolf berries), dried apricots, dark grapes, blackberries, raspberries and black strap molasses.  Additionally, animal sources include organic meat, eggs and liver (although it is not healthy to exceed 300g/week in the long-term) and soups based on meat bone broth. Support your digestive system with lightly cooked and warm foods and add some spices to aid digestion such as ginger, cumin, fennel and cardamom.
  • Herbs & supplements:  To nourish the blood more efficiently an herbal formula may be developed for your individual situation.  This may include herbs such as dong quai (dang gui), rehmannia, withania and nettle leaf.  Supplements may include iron, vitamin B12, folic acid and to enhance iron absorption vitamin C may be also taken.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

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