Boost Energy, Benefit Hair & Skin
by Andrew Wells, LAc.
In Oriental Medicine, the concept of blood is somewhat different than is understood in Western Medicine, as it includes the concept of the inherent energy within the blood. Qi has been described as the vital energy of the body. The blood is the moistening and nourishing root of the Qi, also called the ‘mother of Qi.’ It is created in part from nutrients extracted via digestion through the action of the spleen-pancreas combined with the kidney essence known as Jing. In fact, much of the body’s Jing is stored within the bone marrow, which aligns with the Western understanding that blood is largely created in the marrow.
When blood is deficient, symptoms may include lack of energy, paleness of the lips, nail beds, tongue and complexion. The field of vision may be blurred or there may be spots. There can be unusual hair loss or dry hair (the blood is termed the ‘radiance of the hair’) along with dry skin and numbness of the extremities. This may or may not be accompanied by clinical indications of anemia. For obvious reasons, women tend more towards blood deficiency which is usually seen in the nature of the menses being painful or lacking with fatigue following. It can also come about in the course of unusual bleeding, chronic disease or following childbirth or surgery.
Often, inadequate nutritional intake is the problem, either because of diet, or else the body’s inability to absorb nutrients. The nutrients most often required to build blood are iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. To absorb iron, adequate copper, Vitamins B and C are vital. Adequate protein is also important to maintain healthy blood. Good sources of iron are vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. One of the richest sources is micro-algae (spirulina) and seaweeds, which are also rich in vitamin B12. Another way to obtain high levels is to use bacteria-derived tablets of B12.
A simple food I like to suggest to my patients as a blood tonic is a tablespoon of Blackstrap Molasses which also provides a good amount of potassium as well as helping to move the stools by virtue of its moistening ability. In addition, any chlorophyll-rich foods will improve the blood’s quality owing to its molecular similarity to hemoglobin. Available at health food stores is ‘Mugwort mochi’ made from sweet rice with the herb Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris or Ai Ye). It should be noted that most blood deficiencies will respond well to even moderate amounts of blood-building foods.
When blood deficiency is very severe, animal products may be required, such as bee pollen or royal jelly, gelatin, mussels, oysters, carp or liver. In Oriental Medicine, gelatin is regarded as a blood tonic (called E Jiao) and employed in herbal formulas. Another, better known Chinese herb back in the vegetable kingdom is Tang Kwei (Angelica sinensis) which both builds and moves blood and is used in many women’s formulas owing to its estrogen content. Here in the West, we have the much-overlooked Alfalfa, which apart from nourishing the blood and strengthening the blood vessels, also provides a plethora of minerals while detoxifying the liver. So too, we have Nettle herb, a blood nutritive that restores the adrenals and thyroid, detoxifies the liver, is helpful for allergic reactions and benefits the hair.