The Role of Blood in Holistic Health: An East Asian Medicine Perspective

By Dr. Anna Gold

In Chinese medicine, there is this saying: “Women are made of Blood and men are made of Qi.” This adage refers to female and male energies encapsulated in the yin / yang paradigm. Blood is Yin and Qi is Yang. This pair of opposites is said to be the energetic foundation driving the mechanics behind how the universe works. As microcosms of the universe, we also contain and mirror those same principles.

East Asian medicine teaches that Qi is Life Force. It is the energy that pervades throughout all things. It drives activity and connects all systems. Blood is a condensed form of Qi. Its density nourishes and moistens tissues, and transports nutrients to all cells.

In biomedicine, Blood is the fluid which circulates in the heart, veins, arteries and capillaries. It is composed of plasma, platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells. It brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells while carrying away metabolic waste. In addition to transporting nutrients to the brain, muscles, and organs, blood also messages hormonal  signals, regulates the body temperature and supports immune function.

In Chinese medicine, Blood refers to more than the red liquid flowing through our veins, like in biomedicine. Its concept of Blood is a combination of the physiological vital substance and its functional relationship with the reproductive, endocrine, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, digestive, and central nervous system.

Blood may originate in the Heart and bone marrow but its quality comes from the food that we eat. The micronutrients in Blood and the efficacy of its circulation, depend on the quality and variety of food that our bodies take in. Equally important is the body's ability to absorb available nutrition. Optimizing digestion is essential in converting food into Qi and Blood.

How Blood Supports Our Health

Healthy abundant Blood nourishes the integumentary system. You can see evidence of well nourished Blood in the dewy glow of one's skin, the suppleness of hair and strong, pliable nails.

Healthy Blood nourishes muscles and connective tissue. If you feel abnormally achy or stiff after physical activity, it may be due to the lack of nourishment in the connective tissues from Blood deficiency. 

According to Chinese medicine, Blood is stored in the Liver. The Liver is the organ that supplies blood to the uterus. When Liver Blood is deficient, irregular or light menstrual periods result.  Liver also regulates the nervous system via the flow of Liver Qi. Thus, when Blood is deficient, it can lead to stagnation, causing premenstrual syndrome, irritability and clotting during menstruation.  

Because of its close ties to the Heart, insufficiency of Blood can also lead to psycho-emotional issues. Blood anchors the Spirit. When it is adequate, one feels joyful, the emotion associated with the Heart. When Blood is depleted, one may feel depressed, forgetful, emotionally drained or insomniac.

Not only is it important to focus on the quality of Blood but quantity is also vital. The TCM concept of Blood deficiency may include anemia, but is much more comprehensive. 

Ways to Nourish Blood

In order to prevent Blood deficiency, here are some diet and lifestyle changes you can make:

  • Eat and drink iron rich foods such as bone broth, dark leafy greens, beets, and molasses.
  • Cook with iron skillets
  • Improve your digestion. Since a healthy digestion is the foundation of food absorption, it is imperative that you build a good microbiome and repair any inflammation or leakage in the gut. 
  • Protect your leisure time and rest when you are tired.
  • Moderately exercise.
  • Prioritize sleep.
  • After experiencing events that deplete Blood (post surgery, post menstruation, postpartum or trauma) make sure you supplement with iron boosting foods and herbs such as paté, Dang Gui, Rehmannia, or nettles.