In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the blood is the basis of a woman’s constitution, “女子以血为本”. All important body processes that women go through in life – menstruation, pregnancy, birth and lactation – involve blood. For women to stay healthy and strong, our blood needs to be sufficient to support the life processes that we go through. Consequently, many women’s illnesses are a result of disturbances in the blood. Common disturbances include blood stasis (血瘀), blood heat (血热) and blood deficiency (血虚). Some of these disturbances may not necessarily lead to diseases, but they may cause certain symptoms that can accumulate in the long run, leading to serious health concerns.
What is blood stasis?
In TCM terms, blood stasis or blood stagnation is the slowing or pooling of blood due to the disruption of Qi. In western medicine it is referred to as blood haemorrhage or thrombosis. It is one of the major factors for chronic health diseases and a secondary cause for subfertility. Blood stasis usually results from ageing factors – as the body ages, the firmness of flesh and Qi (energy) deteriorates. Blood stasis often occurs around body cavities such as the chest, abdomen, head and joints. These are areas where blood vessels can get clogged-up and the flow of blood slows down leading to blood stasis.
What are the symptoms of blood stasis and how to treat them?
Symptoms associated with blood stasis include aches and pains in the body (especially around joints), dark complexion, rough and scaly skin, and dark-coloured lips and tongue, cold hands and feet, waning energy and increased tiredness, anxiety and insomnia. If you fall under this category, consume a brown sugar drink, rose flower tea or a little red wine a day to boost blood circulation. More regular exercise will also increase overall energy levels and improve blood flow.
What is blood heat?
In TCM terms, blood relies on the regulations of internal organs for efficient distribution throughout the body. The blood regulates heat via perspiration through the skin. When there is excessive heat in the body, and the blood is unable to regulate the heat properly. The excessive heat ends up damaging blood vessels and causes the overheated blood to flow “recklessly” throughout the body, unregulated. Women with short menstrual cycles, raised levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and poor response to IVF treatments usually suffer from blood heat.
What are the symptoms of blood heat and how to treat them?
Women with blood heat tend to feel warm and develop a sore throat easily. They also tend to be temperamental, develop acne and have a bright red tongue, have thicker, more yellowish urine and constipation. They also tend to have heavier menstrual bleeding and shorter menstrual cycle with dark or bright red menstrual blood along with more painful menstrual cramps. To counter blood heat, you can eat more bitter gourd, red beans and water chestnuts, as well as drink chrysanthemum tea and barley water. Drinking water more frequently helps too as it helps cool the body and thin the fluids.
What is Blood deficiency?
From a TCM perspective, blood ensures that our entire body is nourished and lubricated. It keeps our movements flexible by lubricating the joints and our body healthy with sufficient moisture, and ensures that our mind is kept active while allowing us to rest properly so that we can stay mentally and physically active longer. Blood deficiency means there is lack of Qi and iron in blood, usually caused by Spleen Qi deficiency. This affects both the heart and liver. Women who have blood deficiency tend to have irregular and scanty periods.
What are the symptoms of blood deficiency and how to treat them?
Heart palpitations, giddiness, insomnia, pallor and a light-coloured tongue are signs that can be associated with blood deficiency conditions. Other symptoms include thinness or anorexia, blurred vision, poor memory and a choppy pulse along with trembling of arms and underdeveloped muscles. Chronic conditions include dry tongue, skin and hair. If you tend to have these issues, try incorporating some Chinese herbs in your diet, such as e jiao (阿胶), wolfberry (枸杞子), red dates (红枣) and longan (龙眼). You can also eat more black beans, spinach, black fungus and lotus root, which are good for replenishing blood.
It is advisable to visit a TCM physician to get proper advice or treatment, if necessary, to balance the blood disturbances in your body before they lead to other more serious problems. No matter which stage of life you are at now, it is never too late to start nourishing your blood and caring for your body.