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Eating for Blood Deficiency

Acupuncture and herbs are wonderful for treating many conditions, but there's a lot you can do to help yourself through diet and lifestyle choices. Chinese medicine has a sophisticated understanding of the energetics of food, and understanding this can help you take better care of yourself. These articles are intended to give some 'quick and dirty' tips and recipes for an assortment of CM diagnoses. To learn more in depth, we recommend Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford. A short guide to Chinese food energetics is Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett.

- by Gryphon Corpus

What is Blood Deficiency?

The Chinese Medicine (CM) understanding of what Blood is isn't quite the same as the Western medical understanding. It's a larger concept than just the cells with hemoglobin that carry oxygen around to all your organs. People often think Blood Deficiency must mean anemia, but it doesn't necessarily, though anemia always implies Blood Deficiency. You can think of it more broadly as being undernourished.

Some symptoms you might experience with Blood Deficiency are:

pale or dull complexion

getting dizzy when you stand (a headrush)

floaters in the eyes

heart palpitations


disturbed sleep


dry skin

poor memory

propensity to be startled easily

muscle tightness and spasms without apparent cause


dry or brittle nails

dry hair or hair loss

light periods or amenorrhea (absence of a period)

weakness and fatigue

being easily upset or offended

feeling like it's hard to 'take up your space' in the world

What causes Blood Deficieny?

Blood Deficiency is more common in women than in men, though anyone can develop it. It can be the result of a single instance of large blood loss, ongoing blood loss such as through heavy menstruation, diet lacking in blood-building foods, long-term anxiety, or from a failure to produce sufficient blood due to Spleen Qi Deficiency. This latter is an especially common cause of Blood Deficiency and needs to be addressed concurrently with building blood. In CM, the Spleen is considered to be the organ/function which transforms food into nourishment for our bodies, thereby playing a role in the creation of blood. If that process isn't working properly, you won't have enough blood. 

How to build blood

In addition to diet and taking good care of your Spleen, rest and sleep are important to improving the blood. Afternoon naps and going to bed early are very helpful, as is cultivating stillness through meditation. And of course getting a formula from your herbalist is one of the quickest ways to build blood.

While our culture touts a plant-based diet as a route to great health, it is often the case that vegetarians and vegans become Blood Deficient. This is because meat, especially beef and bone broth, are among our best sources of blood nourishment. If you feel strongly about keeping meat out of your diet, you need to be especially careful to make sure you include blood building foods. Here's a list of some of the best ones:

Aduki beans





Black soybeans

Bone marrow (bone broth, especially homemade)


Chicken eggs


Dandelion (you can get dandelion root as a tea, or just graze in the yard!)



Grapes (dark)



Kidney beans


Leafy greens (especially the dark ones: spinach, kale, chard, tatsoi, watercress - that iceberg  lettuce isn't going to do anything for you)

Liver (beef)

Microalgae (such as spirulina)


Nettle leaf (also available as a tea, or for the more adventurous, harvest and eat the leaves from the garden)







Seaweed (use caution if you have signs of weak digestion, such as loose stools or chronic fatigue)


Sweet rice


Whole grains


Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, by Giovanni Maciocia

Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett

Recipe from Lonny Jarrett, class lecture notes

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