Improve Anemia With Diet and Lifestyle Tips From TCM Physician

Improve Anemia With Diet and Lifestyle Tips From TCM Physician - According to traditional Chinese medicine, adjusting eating habits, integrating dietary therapy, and getting plenty of rest can help improve anemia.

Improve Anemia With Diet and Lifestyle Tips From TCM Physician

Improve Anemia With Diet and Lifestyle Tips From TCM Physician

Anemia can be caused by a multitude of factors, including iron, folate, or vitamin B12 deficiencies, and even certain medications. It can also be caused by bone marrow, gastrointestinal, renal, or liver diseases. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regards the intestines and stomach as the hematopoietic center. Therefore, adjusting eating habits and combining TCM dietary therapy can help improve anemia.

The red blood cells (RBCs) in human blood are responsible for carrying oxygen to the whole body. If the number of RBCs or the hemoglobin within them is too low, it may lead to insufficient oxygen supply in the body, resulting in a condition called anemia. In quantitative terms, anemia is defined as hemoglobin levels below 13.5 g/dL (grams per deciliter) in adult men and below 12.0 g/dL in non-pregnant women.

Self-Test for Anemia Symptoms

What are the symptoms of anemia? Common symptoms are frailty, shortness of breath, dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, throbbing or whistling in the ears, headache, cold hands and feet, chest pain, and pale or skin turning yellowish.
In addition, there could also be emaciated muscle, dry skin, hair loss, limb numbness, non-agile movement, forgetfulness, insomnia, dreaminess, irritability, palpitations, and even a state of trance, delirium (acute mental disorder syndrome), coma, and other symptoms.

How the Body Makes Blood

Modern medicine believes that red blood cells and white blood cells in the blood come from the bone marrow, and platelets are formed by the rupture of polymerized cells within the bone marrow. However, recent research has found that the intestines also play a key role in blood production.

Japanese physician Keiichi Morishita put forward the theory of intestinal hematopoiesis, which holds that after food is decomposed by enzymes into smaller molecules, it then reaches the small intestinal villi in the state of a paste after being stirred by gastrointestinal peristalsis and decomposed by intestinal bacteria. After the villus epithelial cells of the small intestine absorb these fine substances in the food, they undergo a series of changes to produce the RBC progenitor cells. These cells first adhere to the capillary walls and are later released as RBCs.

A 2019 study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell followed patients who had undergone intestinal transplants. It found that the intestines contain blood-forming stem cells as well as various progenitor cells. Hematopoietic stem cells and progenitor cells from intestinal donors still exist in their intestinal mucosa, lymph nodes, liver, and other tissues and organs five years after being transplanted. The study found that blood cells from intestinal donors can coexist peacefully with the patient's original blood cells. This study simply reinforced the hematopoietic function of the intestine.
In addition, intestinal flora also plays a significant role in blood production. A 2017 study in the journal Blood found that mice raised under sterile conditions and mice on antibiotics did not have normal gut microbes, and they both developed similar symptoms of anemia, thrombocytosis, and Leukopenia.

TCM’s Understanding of Blood Theory

Likewise, TCM blood theory also focuses on the blood-producing functions of the kidneys and bone marrow, but at the same time believes that the intestines and stomach are part of the hematopoietic center too. The main substances that generate blood are "essence derived from water and grain," and "kidney essence." The essence of water and grains is the subtle substance produced by the digestion and absorption of food in the intestines and stomach, while the essence of kidney is the essential substance and energy stored in the kidneys. These substances are transformed into blood under the joint action of the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and stomach. In TCM the spleen and stomach form a system jointly responsible for the digestion and absorption of food.

The food we eat first enters the stomach and is digested by the spleen, stomach, liver, gallbladder, and other organs. This part is also called the "central energizer” cohort in TCM. The classic of traditional Chinese medicine "The Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic" points out: "The central energizer receives qi (as energy) to extract the liquid, changes and turns it red, which is called blood." This means that after the central energizer receives the essence and juice from food, it changes it into a red liquid, which is called blood. This transformation process is carried out under the joint action of the spleen, stomach, heart, and lungs.

Another important theory of TCM on blood production is "kidney essence to transform blood." Here, essence includes the innate essence from parents and the acquired essence obtained from diet and breathing. Most of the essence is stored in the kidneys.

Modern medicine has found that the kidneys secrete erythropoietin. When there is anything wrong with the kidneys, they secret insufficient erythropoietin, resulting in fewer red blood cells produced. Therefore, patients with chronic kidney disease are prone to anemia. A survey showed that 15.4 percent of patients with chronic kidney disease suffered from anemia, and the number increased to 53.4 percent ​​of patients with stage five chronic kidney disease.
TCM believes that the kidney stores essence and the liver stores blood, so liver disease can lead to anemia too. Studies have found that 75 percent of patients with chronic liver disease develop anemia, and the causes include gastrointestinal bleeding and hemolysis, among others. To protect the liver, the most important thing is to ensure having enough rest. TCM believes that blood will protect the liver during one’s sleep time.
To sum up, the most important organs for hematopoietic function in TCM theory are the spleen, stomach, and kidney. In addition, the liver, heart, and lungs are also indispensable in the process of blood production.

Anemia Improvement Starts from Diet

So, how can we avoid anemia? First, start with your diet to keep the intestinal health:

1. Balanced nutrient intake

The "Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic" mentions the "five grains for nourishment," which means that eating different types of grains can enrich the energy content of different viscera. Therefore, you should eat more whole grains, that is, unrefined grains, as well as fresh and seasonal vegetables, fruits, meat, and seafood to achieve balanced nutrition.

2. Stop eating at 70 percent full

Overeating will hurt the stomach and deplete the body's energy. Stop eating at 70 to 80 percent full at each meal, and always maintain a slightly hungry state to encourage the best absorption in the stomach.

3. Chew thoroughly

When eating, you should chew as thoroughly as possible, so that the saliva and food are fully mixed into paste form before swallowing, to enhance the body's absorbing every bit of the nutrition from the food. Saliva contains enzymes that are essential for digesting food. If not chewed thoroughly enough, the nutrients in the food become hard to absorb, and it will turn rotten in the intestinal tract, producing toxins.
Food chewing may look simple, but it is actually the most important first step in maintaining good health. Taoist health care pays special attention to saliva, calling it "golden juice and jade liquid." According to TCM theory, saliva is part of the kidney system, and swallowing saliva is equivalent to conserving the energy of the kidneys.

4. Food supplements to nourish the stomach

Clinical data shows that many patients with anemia also have symptoms like bloating and indigestion. They can take some medicinal herbs such as hawthorn, fermented rice koji, and malt that aid digestion. However, it should be noted that pregnant women should avoid eating hawthorn. Tangerine peel, Citri sacrodactylis fructus, Cyperus rotundus, Citrus aurantium, and Magnolia officinalis are all helpful in relieving abdominal distension.
For patients with habitual constipation, they should eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water. Meat can be eaten in moderation, and always avoid taking too much. In addition, more exercise can also promote intestinal peristalsis and prevent toxins from accumulating in the intestines.

Two Soups for Nourishing Blood

TCM refers to the energy that circulates continuously in the human body as "qi." It believes that tonifying qi can enhance blood production and that taking qi tonic medicines (e.g., ginseng, astragalus) enhances the vitality of the body's cells, tissues, and organs, and strengthens the function of blood production.

As for food that could enrich the blood, basically, all red foods such as apples, carrots, goji berries, beef, and the like, are helpful. Among them, beef is the most effective in enriching blood, and the tail of an ox, being its most active part, also has the most potential in enhancing blood production.

Here is one recipe recommended as a medicinal soup for enriching blood:
Into 1250cc (42.3 fluid ounces) of water, add 30g (1.1 ounces) of astragalus, 6g (0.2 ounces) of angelica, 10g (0.4 ounces) of ginger (optional), bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the herb residue, then add blanched oxtail (about 6-8 pieces), boil together and serve.
For cancer patients, eating red meat is not recommended as it may cause cancer relapse, so they can try the following blood-tonifying soup as an alternative:
Take 10g (0.4 ounce) of ginseng (either Korean ginseng, Chinese Shizhu panax, American ginseng, or Codonopsis ginseng), 3–5 longans, and 10g (0.4 ounce) of wolfberry (gojiberry). Drink after boiling or just drink with water. If your mouth feels dry after taking it, you can add 10 grams (0.4 ounces) of Ophiopogon japonicus or Polygonatum odoratum.
Various kinds of ginseng fit people of different constitutions. For people with weak and cold constitutions, that is, people who easily feel tired, breathless, and fear of the chilly weather, Korean ginseng or Chinese Shizhu panax is more suitable. People who are easily agitated and prone to autonomic nervous system disorders, irritability, and poor sleep can use American ginseng, which has the effect of stabilizing the autonomic nervous system.
Note: Some of the herbs mentioned above may sound unfamiliar, but many can be found in health food stores and Asian groceries. Medicinal recipes are primarily for daily health care purposes. To fit each person's constitution and other symptoms, please consult a professional physician for specific treatment plans.