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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


Introduction to the disharmony


Major symptoms:

  • paleness - pale face, pale lips, pale nails, pale tongue
  • dry skin
  • dry hair, thin hair
  • premature graying of the hair
  • muscle weakness, muscle cramps, muscle spasms
  • numbness in the limbs
  • dizziness


  • Liver blood deficiency symptoms - scanty menstruation, painful menstruation, blurred vision, floaters in the eyes, dry or cracked nails
  • Heart blood deficiency symptoms - heart palpitations, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, poor memory


There are different causes that lead to blood deficiency. One major cause is weak Spleen.

Note: In traditional Chinese medicine the concept of the Spleen differs from the understanding of the spleen in Western medicine. In TCM main function of the Spleen is the transformation of food into "food essence". The symptoms of an imbalanced Spleen point to imbalance in the digestion. So in order to avoid confusion whenever we refer to the Spleen we will consider the collective work of some organs and systems that participate in the transformation and the transportation of nutrients and fluids, rather than solely focusing on the organ spleen as defined in Western science. 


When the Spleen is weak it cannot sufficiently perform its transformative function - transforming food into food essence, Qi and blood. Thus not enough blood is being produced. If this is the case blood deficiency symptoms such as paleness, dry skin and dizziness, are accompanied with some digestive issues like poor appetite and/or poor digestion.

 A diet, which lacks insufficient nourishment, is another cause for the blood to become deficient. A third cause for blood deficiency is severe haemorrhage (bleeding).




A major symptom of blood deficiency is paleness. If there is pale face, pale lips, pale nails than the person is most likely blood deficient. Even having pale tongue without other paleness means that the blood is deficient.


Dizziness is another general blood deficiency sign (there is not enough blood to nourish the brain) as well as premature graying of the hair and/or thin, dry hair (not enough blood to nourish the hair)


Since there is not enough blood to nourish the muscles, tendons, and joints, some of the symptoms of blood deficiency are muscle weakness, muscle cramps, muscle spasms and/or numbness in the limbs.


There are two organs that get particularly affected by blood deficiency – the Liver and the Heart. The Liver stores and regulates the blood in the body. Therefore overall blood deficiency will affect the function of the Liver. In Chinese medicine the Liver governs women’s menstrual cycle therefore Liver blood deficiency may result in scanty menstruation (amenorrhea) and painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea). The Liver opens to the eyes and nails therefore with Liver blood deficiency the vision may be blurred, there may be floaters in the eyes, and the nails may be dry and cracked.


The majority of the Heart blood deficiency symptoms are spirit related (in to TCM the Heart houses the mind).  Such are nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, poor memory. There could be also heart palpitations - the main symptom that manifests when the Heart is in disharmony.


A lot of the herbs in this class are heavy and sticky in nature and should be prescribed with caution as they could be heavy on the digestion. On the other hand they are very potent and strongly reinforce deficient blood. For better effect it is good to use them together with some Qi tonifying herbs.


Major Chinese herbs


Shu Di Huang (Rehmania glutinosa) is a processed herb that strongly tonifies blood. Traditionally the herb is steamed 10 times and dried in the sun 9 times, in order to make it black and shiny and increase it’s potency of a tonifying herb. (1) The raw root (before it is processed) is used in a different class of herbs - "Herbs that cool the blood". Besides tonifying blood Shu Di Huang tonifies the Yin addressing body substance loss manifesting in night sweats and nocturnal emissions. It also tonifies the Essence benefiting hearing loss, premature graying of the hair, lightheadedness, dizziness all due to exhausted Kidney Essence. (2)


He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) – fleeceflower root – is translated “black-haired Mr. He”. There is a story about a man named Mr. He in his 50's who was weak and feeble ever since he was a child. One day when working in his garden he noticed two plants two meters apart with their vines crossing each other, looking like a man and a woman embracing. He thought this cannot be coincidental and dug out the roots of the plants. After consuming the roots for a month he started feeling much stronger, and after one year his grey hair turned back to completely black. He got married and together with his family lived 130 years. (1)




He Shou Wu strongly tonifies the blood and supplements Essence. The Essence is responsible for the length of our lifespan (as well as the speed of our aging). He Shou Wu benefits premature graying of the hair, blurred vision, weakness in the lower back and knees, poor sleep. It also treats malarial disorder due to blood deficiency.




Dang Gui (Angelica sinesis) is Chinese angelica root and is commonly referred to as the “women’s herb”. It tonifies blood and regulates menstrual disorders due to blood deficiency, such as scanty, painful menstruation or lack of menstruation.  It also has a moving quality thus is used for pain due to blood stasis.


Bai Shao (Paeonia lactiflora) is another famous blood tonifier that regulates the menses. It also preserves the Yin and harmonizes the Liver and the digestion. E Jiao (Equus asinus L.) is donkey-hide gelatin – a rather expensive herb, at least in China. It nourishes the Yin and has a moistening effect. It tonifies and nourishes the blood, and stops any kind of internal bleeding.


Long Yan Rou (Euphoria longan) translates as “dragon eye flesh”. This “fleshy” herb enters the Spleen and the Heart and calms the spirit, especially Heart-Spleen related disturbing emotions such as overthinking (Spleen) and anxiety (Heart).


Last but not least the famous in the West Goji berry – Gou Qi (Lycium barbarum). Considered to be one of the longevity herbs Goji berry nourishes the Essence, the Yin and the blood. It is known for one of the herbs that majorly benefits the eyes and the vision.


Healing foods


To treat blood deficiency blood needs to be build. The best way to do that is adding blood tonifying foods to the diet. 


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(1) Benski, Dan & Gamble, Andrew (1993). Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Seatle: Eastland Press, Incorporated

(2) Lu, Henry (2005). Chinese Natural Cures. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

(3) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books

(4) Holmes, Peter (1998). The Energetics of Western Herbs. Boulder: Snow Lotus Press, Inc.


Related Articles:

Liver Blood Deficiency

Heart Blood Deficiency

Herbs That Invigorate the Blood

Herbs That Cool the Blood

Herbs That Stop Bleeding



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