The Concept of Blood According to Chinese Medicine

Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc

Most people have a general idea of what blood is and why it’s a vital substance in our bodies. But Chinese medicine has a slightly different take on it that you’re sure to find interesting.

This is especially true in the case of menstruation, conception and pregnancy!

Chinese Medical perspective versus Western Medical perspective
If you compare the Chinese medical view of blood to the western medical view of blood, you’ll see that it’s less fine-grained as far as what blood is made up of but more vast in terms of its overall function in our bodies.

In western medicine, we know that blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, proteins, water, electrolytes, nutrients and platelets. It’s purpose is to carry oxygen and carbon dioxide, move energy and glucose, distribute hormones, filter waste from the body and support the immune system response.

Thousands of Years:
​Chinese medicine has understood and had theories on the function of blood for thousands of years…well before western medicine knew much about it at all. Interestingly, modern science IS in agreement with these ancient Chinese medical theories on blood.

Functions of Blood in Chinese Medicine
As western medicine sees things at the cellular level, Chinese medicine views it from a holistic perspective. This means that it regards the functions of the blood to aid and nourish the WHOLE BODY. Let me explain.

Blood nourishes the entire body including organs, muscles, skin and tissues, tendons, and brain.

Blood moistens the tissues and ensures that the tissues such as the eyes, tendons, skin and hair don’t dry out.

Blood doesn’t just nourish the physical body but also the emotional, mental and spiritual well being! Blood’s moistening and nourishing function includes the SHEN (the mind or emotional spirit).

A great Chinese medical physician back in the Ming Dynasty said (and I’m paraphrasing) “with proper nourishment from the blood, our skin, nails and hair will be radiant; our bones and tendons will be supple; our senses will be keen; our muscles will be strong; our spirit will be calm.”

Blood warms us from the inside. If you are deficient in blood, you’ll likely experience cold hands and feet, a cold body and a myriad of other symptoms.

What Healthy Blood Looks Like

A healthy blood supply looks like this:

Rosy healthy facial complexion, strong muscles, healthy skin and hair, healthy hormonal cycles, good spirit (shen), good memory, sharp mind and good quality of sleep.

Good quality Blood circulating throughout our bodies helps give us vitality, focus and rosy cheeks.

When Blood is abundant we feel alive, nourished and well connected in mind and spirit.

However, when Blood is deficient, we feel weak, tired, have a pale complexion, become anemic, and we may feel anxious or easily startled.

How is Blood Made?
Blood is made in two ways in Chinese medicine.

One way is from the food we eat so needless to say that our digestion is SO important in order to make a proper amount of blood. The food that we eat is put into our stomachs which is often referred to as the “COOKING POT”. The cooking pot needs heat in order to break down the food to be digested. The SPLEEN organ provides the fire under the pot. This food is then made into a mush in our stomachs and the spleen then “upbears” (or transfers upwards) the pure nutrients up towards the lungs and heart and “downbears” the wastes to the intestines.

The heart is key to transforming these nutrients into blood and that blood is then circulated throughout the body. It’s the heart organ that turns the blood red.

Another way we make blood is from the KIDNEYS. The kidneys provide Jing. Jing is the deep foundational energy reserve that we have. Jing is responsible to make healthy bone & bone marrow. Bone marrow supplies the blood.

In order to nourish blood, we must look to the spleen and kidneys.

Another organ that relates to the blood is the LIVER. The liver stores the blood. It’s responsible to move the Qi (or energy) throughout the body and is closely related to the spleen.

We’ll get more into the liver when we talk about menstruation 🙂

Let’s talk about Women’s Health & Blood
Now that we know a bit more about what Chinese medicine thinks about blood, let’s talk more about women specifically.

For women, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding can only proceed smoothly when the blood nourishes and flows appropriately.

Blood flows throughout the body sending nutrients to every cell and supplying the menstrual cycle.

Once pregnancy has occurred, the blood nourishes the embryo.

After birth, blood turns into mothers’ breast milk and supplies the infant with nourishment.

Blood is the key to regulating our menstrual cycle.

Because the liver stores the blood, it’s often referred to as the “woman’s organ”.

The blood nourishes the uterine lining. Shortly before ovulation, peaks of estrogen released by the developing egg prime the lining of the uterus. This means that the uterine lining will actually grow in thickness producing more blood vessels & tissue. Without adequate blood this process may not go as smoothly or even maybe incomplete. Chinese medicine states that this is due to blood deficiency.

The blood being stored by the liver means that some of the blood has to be passed on to the uterus in order to get your menstrual period. So if blood of the liver is inadequate then the blood to the uterus will be inadequate. As a result you may experience light periods, delayed periods or even missed periods.

The body has to always keep producing blood and this is especially the case after the menstrual period is over. In order to build the blood, we need the spleen and kidney organ systems to be working well as these are the organs that produce blood.

Our ability to conceive depends on our blood.

There are several key elements that need to be in place when it comes to our fertility. These include good egg quality, a regular menstrual period, a plump uterine lining and proper hormonal balance to name a few. All of these elements need blood in order to function properly.

If a woman has blood deficiency, there won’t be enough blood to flow to the reproductive organs. This happens because blood deficiency leads to blood stagnation.

Inadequate blood to the ovaries and uterus means inadequate nutrients, hormones and oxygen. This can’t be good for our fertility!

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding & Postpartum
When pregnant, the baby depends on the mother’s blood for proper nourishment and growth.

Blood transforms into breast milk for the newborn baby. Inadequate mother’s blood can mean insufficient breast milk.

Blood is also needed for postpartum recovery and also postpartum emotional well being. Blood deficiency is a common reason for postpartum depression.

So needless to say that blood is important in pregnancy!

Signs of Blood Deficiency
There are a few pathologies of the blood. These include blood deficiency, heat in the blood and blood cold. The most common of these is blood deficiency.

Some signs that you may be deficient in blood are delayed or no menstrual periods, light periods, difficulty getting pregnant and insufficient lactation.

Other more general signs of blood deficiency are depression & low spirits, anxiety, fatigue, brittle nails & hair, dry skin, restless legs, numbness, dizziness, blurred vision, pale facial complexion, feeling cold in the extremities, weakness in the muscles.

You may or may not have anemia. You don’t necessarily have to have anemia to be considered blood deficient in Chinese medicine because the blood is so much more than what lab results will tell you.

Ways to Build Your Blood

  • A healthy nutritious diet
  • Drink plenty of warm/hot water throughout the day
  • Get a lot of rest & adequate sleep. Try to go to bed no later than 10pm.
  • Improve your digestion
  • Don’t overexert yourself & don’t over-exercise
  • Have a diet of mainly cooked warming foods. Soups & stews are great. Avoid raw cold foods such as frozen fruit, smoothies, salads, sushi and ice cream as much as possible. Have your fruit at room temperature. Lightly cook all of your veggies. Follow any cold raw foods with a hot cup of water (with ginger is even better)!
  • Bone broth…bone broth…bone broth!! I can’t stress this enough. Bone broth is a powerful blood nourisher. This includes beef and chicken bones.
  • Include animal protein in your diet – red meat, lamb, chicken, liver, eggs, fish
  • Floradix is a liquid iron supplement that is very helpful for the blood. You can find this at most health food stores. This is fine to take even if you’re not anemic.
  • Be mindful to eat more blood nourishing foods during & after your menstrual period, during breastfeeding and postpartum as these are times of more blood loss.
  • Other blood nourishing foods to have in your diet are dates, prunes, plums, apricots, grapes, berries, almonds, cashews, figs, lentils & other legumes, black beans, black sesame seeds, cooked dark green leafy veggies and whole grains.

With Love & Support,

Dr. Maryam

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