Food Therapy For Blood Deficiency
What does healthy blood do?
The concept of ‘blood’ in Chinese medicine encompasses a little bit more than our physiologic understanding of blood in the Western scientific world. It also applies to the the denser, more fluid aspect of our bodies, as well as the vigor or vitality of our actual blood. In ideal health, our blood circulates smoothly throughout all of our blood vessels and adequately perfuses and nourishes all of our tissue structures. It is the comforting, warm bath that nurtures our skin, our hair, our nails, our connective tissue, our muscles, and our bones. For our consciousness, it acts as the luxuriously soft, high thread count sheets we long to curl up in to go to sleep at night. Its dense, sumptuous nature anchors our energy and emotions. This allows us to feel both grounded and safe during times of duress. It plays a major role in female health during the menstruating years, pregnancy, post-partum, breastfeeding, and menopausal years….well, really all our female years.
Blood deficiency signs
- dry skin, hair, nails
- pale nail beds
- pale- sallow complexion
- pale lips
- easy bruising
- heavy feeling limbs
- muscles themselves feel thick, lethargic
- trembling, numbness and tingling in extremities
- restless legs
- difficulty falling asleep at night
- tight muscles
- poor memory
- possible palpitations
- poor or slow wound healing
- easily or often injure tendons and ligaments
- For women: menstruation can be extra heavy (menorrhagia), tend towards long periods, it seems counterintuitive, but the blood deficiency can cause ‘chaotic’ bleeding, meaning longer periods. Eventually, if the blood deficiency worsens and drags out for a year or more, you will start to have pale menstrual blood, short periods, spotting, or even no periods (amenorrhea).
How does blood deficiency occur?
Blood deficiency can occur for a multitude of reasons, most often involving some overwork to the pancreas-spleen and stomach meridians. The spleen-pancreas and stomach are in charge of getting the most nutrient content out of our food, and transforming it into blood. Physical and emotional overwork will disturb the spleen-pancreas and stomach’s ability to properly digest our food. The emotion of worry will also negatively impact the spleen-pancreas and stomach– especially if it continues for long periods of time. A high stress environment that induces worry and anxiety will also contribute to poor nutrient absorption. Physical issues such as parasites, gut bacterial dysbiosis, inflammation in the intestines, and hypochlorhydria (aka- too little stomach acid) should also be ruled out.
The most tell tale sign of blood deficiency is difficulty falling asleep. Our blood acts like a set of soft, luxurious sheets for our consciousness to curl up and rest in for the night. If our blood is deficient or even ‘dry,’ then it is like trying to curl up in a pile of scratchy burlap sacks to sleep. It just doesn’t’ work very well, unless you are already too tired to care. The other more clear symptoms are pale complexion with dry skin, hair, and/or nails, and tight, sore, heavy muscles. The rest of the symptoms overlap with other patterns, but if you have a handful of the above symptoms, chances are you have a deficeny that you need to build back up.
Blood deficiency responds well to mineral and vitamin rich foods. Soup stocks made from vegetables and/or animal bones are a key component. My favorite recipes for animal stocks come from Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition And The Diet Dictocrats. When animal and vegetable stocks are made properly, the minerals from both bone and vegetable are drawn into the broth. These nutrients are easily digestible and assimilated into our bodies in broth form–making it ideal to treat nutrient deficiencies. For a great recipe, check out this link: http://thenourishingcook.com/beef-stock-anyone/
If using animal stocks, the cartilage and marrow from the broths will gelatinize in the broth. The clear gelatin actually acts as an aid to digestion, and according to the Sally Fallon, the author of Nourishing Traditions, “..it acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are taken in.(pg116).
Besides stocks, to successfully build blood via diet, you will want to focus on foods rich in iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, and other minerals. These ideal foods include: dark, green leafy vegetables, sprouts, seaweeds, and grains- if you can eat grains without issue.
Foods that mimic the dark, red, liquid nature of blood are also considered important in correcting deficiency. These foods are: red beets, dark grapes, blackberries, huckleberries, raspberries, and blackstrap molasses.One of the ideal blood building meals from Eastern European descent is borscht made with beets, cabbage, and beef stock. For my borscht recipe, click here: https://stickoutyourtongue.org/2014/04/04/borscht-to-the-rescue-curing-irritability/
But you could easily create your own, delicious blood building recipe using beef stock to cook a serving of rice tossed with hijiki seaweed, thinly sliced kale and carrots, and garnished with fresh bean sprouts. The possibilities for soups made with dark green leafy vegetables and stocks become endless.