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Blood Deficiency

Blood deficiency is a very common complaint presented in my clinic. It is associated with the Western diagnosis of anemia however this is not necessary to confirm a Blood Deficiency diagnosis and nor is it the only Western diagnosis where we see the condition. It usually affects women more that men but both are susceptible to this condition. It is important to spot the early signs or prevent this condition where possible because it can sometimes be difficult to treat effectively for long-term wellbeing. It’s not always as easy as taking a an iron tonic, as we have learned that a person who suffers Blood Deficiency is at an increased risk of reoccurrence.  Knowledge is the method of prevention as well as diagnosis.

Concept of Blood

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the concept of blood is closely related to that of Western medicine except that it goes further to include functions such as tissue nourishment. Blood is also involved in mental processes, such as the dizziness experienced by suffers of anemia.

The TCM diagnosis of “blood deficiency” can often relate to iron deficiency anemia in Western medicine, however it’s important to say here that the concept and language of TCM is different where a patient can still be diagnosed with “blood deficiency” by Chinese medical standards even though testing may reveal normal blood iron level.

In the female menstrual cycle, blood plays an important part in nourishing the endometrium (uterine lining) and preparing it for embryo implantation. Hormonal fluctuations affects endometrial tissue as it approaches ovulation, estrogen production increases which in turn causes the lining of the uterus to proliferate and produce more blood vessels. This produces a rich uterine lining which 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 especially if they have a history of a heavy menstrual flow.  It is important to replenish this excessive blood loss by eating blood nourishing according to TCM nutritional therapy and iron rich foods.  Insufficient nutritional protein intake is a very common contributing factor towards blood deficiency as well.  Active women, who experience heavy periods are advised to address their nutritional intake otherwise menstruation may stop causing amenorrhea. Vegans and vegetarians also run this risk.  According to TCM theory, over exercising 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 you experience digestive concerns it is important to tackle them before taking any blood tonic herbals which can be difficult to digest.  Worry, pensiveness, anxiety 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 gastrointestinal disorders are closely linked to the amount of stress that we experience. Communication between the brain and digestion can be called that “Gut feeling” we all experience!

Other causes of Blood Deficiency include inherited tendencies (genetic issues), where mother or father were not in peak condition at conception and throughout the pregnancy.  Poor childhood diet or poor diet as an adult. Excessive blood loss while birthing a child, or due to an accident. Abnormal gut flora and parasites (flukes, pinworms, roundworms are most common).

Signs and Symptoms of Blood Deficiency

Typical signs and symptoms of blood deficiency include: A person may suffer one or more of these but not necessarily all of them.

  • History of irregular periods or heavy periods
  • Scanty, light and short menstrual bleeding
  • Amenorrhea (complete cessation of periods)
  • Fatigue especially during and after periods
  • Muscle cramps,
  • Dry eyes which may have floaters, blurred vision,
  • 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 lips,
  • Easily startles, sense of not grounded,
  • Mental fatigue, Anxiety, Dizziness,
  • Tongue: Pale. Dry, Thin
  • Pulse: Weak, choppy, thready, fine, thin

Blood Deficiency Treatment

It may (will) be essential to change nutritional habits in order to treat Blood deficiency with taking blood building herbal tonics. To supplement blood with nutrition there are two general approaches:

  • Improving digestive function and absorption of nutrients
  • Add 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), sugary, energy drinks

It is especially important 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.

To boost the amount of iron in your diet, try these foods:

    • Liver
  • Red meat
  • Blackstrap Molasses
  • Egg yolks
  • Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards)
  • Dried fruit (prunes, raisins)
  • Iron-enriched cereals and grains (check the labels)
  • Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops)
  • Turkey or chicken giblets
  • Beans, lentils, chick peas and soybeans
  • Artichokes

If you eat iron-rich foods along with foods that provide plenty of vitamin C, your body can better absorb the iron.

Chinese Nutritional Therapy

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees nutritional healing foods differently than Western nutritionists. For example an apple in Western nutrition contains 13 minerals, 14 vitamins and 386 phyto-nutrients where as in TCM an apple is cooling, sweet apples nourish the digestive process and sour apples sooth stress in the body. Both systems have gained their knowledge and understanding from extensive testing and empirical observation. There is no reason why we should not look at both excellent systems.

Traditional Chinese Medicine categorizes foods according to various

Foods that are specifically used to build blood include:

Animal protein:  chicken/beef liver, lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, gelatin, mussels, oysters, sardines, eggs
Grains: rice, oats, wheat, bran flakes, millet
Legumes: lentils, beans (black, kidney, navy, pinto), garbanzo beans, mung beans,
Vegetables: green leafy veggies (swiss chard, spinach, kale), beets, seaweed, sprouts, artichokes, mushrooms, cabbage, celery, watercress
Fruits: cherries, all berries (blackberry, raspberry…), grapes, dried apricots, dried figs, prunes
Nuts and seeds: almond, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, cashew
Herbs/other: nettles, white peony root, angelica root, rhemannia root, royal jelly, mugwort, wheat grass, blackstrap molasses, spirulina,

General suggestions

  • Chew your food properly
  • Sit down when you eat and avoid watching TV, reading, talking on the phone while eating
  • Try to rest as much as possible during your period and keep you body well dressed and warm
  • Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion
  • Use meditation or any other mind calming exercises that help you relax


James O’Sullivan - that's me, a people friendly practitioner and lecturer of Integrated Medicine, serving my patients, my students and the public with the positive benefits of both Conventional Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's a wonderful life
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or assess. The information provided is not to be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care practitioner.
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