Dispelling Woo presents
My acupuncturist told me I'm blood deficient. That sounds bad.
first of all: don't worry!
As an acupuncturist, if someone walks in my office complaining of dizziness, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, increased anxiety, complaining of a poor memory, with a sallow pallor to their face, I'm going to know that that person has at least a touch of Blood Deficiency (ok, let's be real: that's the full-on diagnosis for those signs and symptoms). Additionally, if that person hears that diagnosis and begins to worry, well... that tendency to worry is diagnostic as well!
Chinese Medicine sees each individual as a myriad of patterns: Blood Deficiency is one of those patterns, and an extremely common one at that. What it means is that your body is possibly not getting adequate nutrition to keep you going at full speed, which translates into you maybe looking a little pale, your heart may be a little speedier, you may be a little more sensitive to the world around you (both physically and emotionally), and your hair and nails may be dry or brittle.
Reasons for what translates into Blood Deficiency include genetics (the MTHFR gene is shedding a lot of light on ways we're staying vitamin deficient), dietary choices (a diet high in carbohydrates needs more vitamin B supplementation in order to process those carbs), and external stressors.
So how does that translate in the realm of red blood cells, amino acids, vitamins, and mineral?
B vitamins are huge players in the world of making the food you eat a source of nutritive energy for your body - brain included. Getting enough of your B vitamins is crucial, but it's not the whole picture, because there are behaviors and lifestyle choices that, as I like to say, eat away at your blood - which in our western-oriented minds translates into robbing yourself of the life-giving benefits of your B vitamins. This happens through unhealthy food choices, inadequate ways of dealing with stress, and the toxic load of pharmaceuticals and environmental pollutants. Excess sugar, refined flours, processed foods, stress, and toxins all increase the inflammatory response in your body. To put the fire out, your body needs a whole host of nutrients - B vitamins being a big piece of that puzzle. As we blow through our B vitamins to counteract our lifestyles, and because B vitamins are water soluble (that means our body doesn't store them and we need to constantly replenish them through food and supplements), eating a nutrient dense diet is really, really important.
In Chinese Medicine, we talk about pre-natal and post-natal energy. Your pre-natal energy is what you got from your parents so in terms of Blood Deficiency and genetics, this could be a disease such as Sickle Cell Anemia, Thalassemia, or Von Willebrand's (in addition to many other blood disorders). Barring those sometimes serious disorders though, pre-natal energy (and within that, the development of congenital Blood Deficiency) also comes from something much more simple: the diet of BOTH your biological parents in the time span leading up to your conception (yup: dad, too!), and the diet of your biological mother as she carried you to term.
HERE'S WHERE WE BRING IN THE WOO.
I'm super into the "why" of things, which is why we've been through some of the physical causes of Blood Deficiency: poor diet, genetics, toxins.
But here's another one for you: in Chinese Medicine, the theory is that emotion is housed in the blood.
So what does that mean? Just that: our emotions have an actual blood component to them, and they live in the blood. For the woo-fighters out there who are saying "that's hogwash, our emotions are generated by thoughts and mediated by the amygdala, hippocampus, and overall limbic system," I totally agree with you. The basic tenet on which cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is based tells us that our thoughts lead to our emotional state, and neuroanatomy and neuropsychology tell us that certain areas in the brain play larger roles that previously known in emotional regulation.
Our emotions are regulated in our brain, and they are these ephemeral things that can't actually be physically stored, which we as acupuncturist totally understand and are not trying to refute.
There are very physical correlations between blood and emotion, and just because we agree that emotions aren't physical 'things' in the blood doesn't mean there's not a deep connection between the two.
- One study relating blood and emotions found that "blood glucose of poor emotion regulators was reduced after performing an affect-improving task, whereas the blood glucose of good emotion regulators remained unchanged." This means that we literally use components of our blood to regulate our emotional state, especially if we are unpracticed in doing so.
- Another study found that the "suppression of negative emotions may adversely affect blood pressure control in treated hypertensive patients and it should be considered a cause of uncontrolled hypertension." This doesn't mean that our emotions are physical and tangible things that, should we investigate a drop of blood under a microscope, we'd see them (though writing that, I absolutely love the idea).
When Chinese medicine states that "the blood houses emotion," part of that meaning implies that if we keep that emotion in, we may do harm. If we deny the existence of that emotion, we may do harm.
Essentially, if we have thoughts that cause emotion and we do not allow our bodies to adequately process those emotions, we may get sick.
If we do not respect the emotion in the blood, the body will respond in ways that become diagnostically relevant for an acupuncturist. So a psychiatrist may have their patient on a low dose of Paxil, and we support whatever western medical interventions that patient seek for himself.
While those pills are doing their neurchemical work, we may be treating you for Liver Blood Stasis or Heart Blood Deficiency - so that your brain can learn to work more effectively for your body (using the idea in Chinese medicine that we exhibit patterns corresponds nicely with training-induced brain plasticity, or more plainly: the patterns we create in our minds with repetitive thoughts and behaviors) , and your body is ready to deal healthily with the existence of its own emotional states.