Are you feeling tired all the time? Have you been struggling to conceive?
Do you have absent, or irregular periods?
You may benefit from some dietary and lifestyle changes to nourish your Qi and blood!
Nourishing blood, a Chinese medicine perspective!
Nourishing ‘Blood’ is especially important for women of reproductive age for hormonal health. In Traditional Chinese medicine, blood is considered a ‘vehicle for Qi’, meaning, it carries our vital energy throughout the body for nourishment and energy. Blood is also a ‘yin’ essence that provides nourishment and moisture to the body’s tissues, as well as circulating Qi throughout the body. From our perspective, it requires more than just taking a supplement for iron deficiency – we require optimal digestive function for absorption and assimilation of nutrients, adequate rest, stress management, and healthy blood flow to ensure we have good quality blood to be healthy and vital. Blood deficiency is a diagnostic term used in Traditional Chinese which often correlates to a western diagnosis and symptoms of iron, folate, and/or B12 deficiency. In Chinese medicine terms, we are looking not only to the amount of blood but also the quality of the blood to perform many functions within the body. It is particularly important in women who are trying to conceive as the quality of blood plays such an important role in conception and pregnancy as well as further along into the postpartum period.
Development of healthy follicles and optimal lining of the endometrium for implantation are both essential aspects for healthy conception – these are all dependent on good quality blood. Healthy blood carries nutrients and oxygen to the uterus to support optimal growth of the embryo and foetus, all the while ensuring the mother has enough energy for herself. By nurturing blood quality in this way she is supported to carry out all of these important functions of fertility, and development of her baby to ensure the best pregnancy and health potential in life.
The follicular phase (menstruation to ovulation) is also a time when blood most needs replenishing. If too much blood is lost during menstruation, or the diet lacks nourishment the blood is affected and can result in poor follicle development and egg quality, delayed ovulation and a suboptimal, or thin uterine lining, and a longer follicular phase. The key to these fertility and hormonal issues is in nourishing our bodies and blood with the principles of Chinese medicine and optimal nutrition.
We see women for a variety of issues who suffer with blood deficiency as part of their diagnosis. Blood deficiency is also a common pattern in women with a diagnosis of endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as well as those who require assistance with fertility and IVF support or ovulation induction treatments. For some of our patients we may prescribe herbal medicine to support digestive functions and nutrient absorption, alongside blood nourishing herbs and foods.
Symptoms you may experience
- Low energy
- Pregnancy fatigue
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Poor egg quality/immature eggs in IVF cycles
- Low oestrogen and progesterone
- Hair loss or brittle hair and nails
- Lack of fertile mucus at ovulation
- Amenorrhea (absent periods) or light periods
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Postpartum depletion
- Insomnia – particularly difficulty falling asleep
Many of our patients who are seeking preconception care, fertility treatments, and pregnancy support, may suffer with a combination of the above symptoms. It is so important to work on the root cause of these symptoms in the months leading up to trying to conceive to ensure healthy eggs, ovulation and implantation. A well planned preconception care program prior to conceiving results in a healthier pregnancy.
When treating women with blood deficiency, we look to four possible causes (the root cause, or underlying cause), namely:
- Heavy periods – excessive blood loss each month.
- Poor digestive function – absorption issues in the digestive tract.
- Vegetarian/vegan diet, or poor nutrition – inadequate available nutrients.
- Genetics or autoimmune factors – a predisposition to blood deficiency.
Improve digestive function
In Chinese medicine terms, the ‘Spleen and Stomach’ function together as an organ pair – the foundation of our health from a TCM perspective. They work together to break down food and fluids for absorption, providing nourishment to the body. Traditional texts advise that ‘the spleen is the root of blood’ and therefore, treating the spleen and stomach (digestion) will lead to nourishment of blood and Qi in the body.
You are what you eat, and absorb!
Chewing food well helps the production of essential digestive enzymes to break down food for better absorption of nutrients. This process of chewing also triggers the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is essential for proper breakdown of protein and other macronutrients.
Building your digestive fire with warming lightly cooked foods are favoured over cold and raw foods to keep the digestive fire working well to assist the spleen and stomach. Foods that are cold in temperature or thermal nature can impair our digestive function, especially if consumed in large amounts. The same goes for cold foods straight from the fridge such as dairy products, ice cream, and iced drinks. If digestive symptoms are an issue, acupuncture and herbal medicine may be used to help improve digestion and reduce any bloating or discomfort.
When the digestive system is working efficiently, the breakdown of food into micro nutrients ensures proper absorption. Blood nourishing foods are given to provide the body with required energy and optimal health. Optimal digestion is the foundation of your health from a Chinese medicine perspective!
Recommended foods for blood deficiency
- Dark leafy green vegetables, seaweeds
- Well prepared legumes such as adzuki, chickpeas and black beans
- Red coloured foods such as goji berries, lychees dark grapes, blackberries, raspberries, beetroot
- Blackstrap molasses
- Meat, eggs and liver
- Bone broth or stews with bone and marrow
- Chinese herbs – we may prescribe a blood nourishing formula to assist with digestion and building and/or invigorating blood
These herbs are likely to be a combination of blood tonics and digestive aids to assist the body in blood production. We may also use herbal medicine to target heavy bleeding and nourish blood. Women who struggle with Polycystic and endometriosis may also benefit from herbal medicine and acupuncture to assist in building and invigorating blood, particularly if they are struggling to conceive.
Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol
Both have a heating thermal nature which can dry and dehydrate precious tissues and fluids. Remember, for a healthy pregnancy, we want the uterine lining to be nourishing and thick for implantation and ongoing nourishment of the growing foetus. These can also inhibit the absorption of iron when consumed alongside iron rich foods.
Refined foods - sugar, white flour, and refined oils
These foods contribute to dampness and heat in the body. Damp is a Chinese medicine term for fluid accumulations that pool within the body, obstructing the free flow of Qi and blood. When combined with heat (inflammation), damp heat is formed.
Some examples of damp are: carrying excess weight, candida/thrush, overproduction of mucus, cysts, and accumulations. Damp heat can also contribute to loose stools, urinary tract infections, vaginal infections such as candida and bacterial vaginosis (BV), as well as certain digestive issues. Luckily, your acupuncturist/herbalist can assist in sorting out these issues for you.
Lack of sleep & high stress levels
Quality sleep plays such an important role for women’s health and wellbeing. Poor sleep can negatively impact a women’s cyclic hormonal fluctuations as the flow on effects of stress affect a whole range of systems within the body, particularly those that are important for fertility and hormone balance. High levels of stress can cause our bodies to produce excess stress hormones such as cortisol. When higher levels of cortisol are circulating in the body our Yin and blood reserves are depleted, causing an imbalance of hormones which can suppress natural ovulation.
Lack of sleep also impacts our ability to utilise insulin which can lead to sugar cravings and poor dietary choices. Daily stress reduction and relaxation is essential to nourish our bodies and preserve our precious yin, and blood stores. Connecting with your body through meditation, Qi gong, yoga, or walks in nature are all great ways to reduce stress. Acupuncture is also fantastic for regulating the nervous system and reducing stress.
Ballarat Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine is dedicated to assisting your health and wellbeing. If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms and feel you would like to know more about Chinese medicine and acupuncture, please reach out and have a chat with us, or book an appointment with one of our AHPRA registered acupuncturists and herbalists to optimise your health and wellbeing.