Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Anemia

Anemia is a disorder in which the body produces an insufficient number of red blood cells (RBCs) to provide other cells with the oxygen they need to function normally. A common symptom of anemia is tiredness, which occurs because the body is unable to function at normal levels. Because of this symptom, anemia is sometimes referred to commonly as “tired blood.” There are many kinds of anemia, ranging from relatively mild to very severe and that may last only short periods of time or as long as one’s lifetime. The choice of treatment in allopathic medicine is determined by the type of anemia the patient experiences. Similarly, practitioners of alternative medicine, such as those experienced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), take advantage of herbal remedies, various types of bodywork, acupuncture, or other alternative and complementary forms of medicine to treat anemia.

How Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Used to Treat Anemia?

Allopathic physicians recognize many kinds of anemia, including aplastic anemia, sickle-cell anemia, vitamin-deficiency anemia, iron-deficiency anemia, hemolytic anemia, and thalassemia. Each type of anemia is thought to have a different cause and, hence, a different treatment. By contrast, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that all kinds of anemia are indications that the body is producing insufficient quantities of blood of good quality and/or that the flow of qi, the essential vital spirit that keeps a body healthy, has become blocked or reduced. To resolve this problem, they use various techniques to stimulate the organs to produce more and a better quality of blood and to improve the flow of qi. The specific treatment used depends on the symptoms presented by the patient.

Acupuncture for Anemia
One method for treating anemia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is acupuncture. Acupuncture is the process by which long, thin needles are inserted at various points under the skin to improve the flow of qi throughout the body. In the treatment of anemia, needles are inserted at the meridians (channels through which qi flows) that increase the flow of qi to the spleen, where blood is produced, and to the stomach. Needles are also inserted at other meridians that improve the flow of qi to the liver, which stores blood and maintains a properly balanced flow of blood throughout the body.

Typical acupuncture points for the treatment of anemia include:

  • Spleen 10: This acupuncture point on the Spleen meridian is traditionally called Xue Hai, or Sea of Blood. Sp 10 is used to invigorate and tonify the blood, and can treat all forms of blood disorders.
  • Liver 8: This acupuncture point on the Liver meridian, called Qu Quan or Spring at the Crook, is the most commonly used point for deficiency of the Liver which is always associated with blood disorders. Liv 8 invigoriates the blood and tonifys both the yin and blood of the body.
  • Stomach 36: This acupuncture point is located on the Stomach meridian has the name of Zu San Li or Foot Three Mile, indicating its function of relieving fatigue and allowing you to walk farther, perhaps another 3 miles. The point strongly tonifies both energy (Qi) and blood as well as improving digestion and the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Anemia
Both single herbs and complex formula are used to treatment anemia with Chinese Herbal Medicine.

A number of different herbs can also be used to increase and/or improve the supply of blood and qi in the body, including:

  • Bai zhu (white Atractylodes rhizome; Atractylodis macrocephalae), supplements qi and tonifies (improves the quality of) the Spleen.
  • Dang gui (angelica; Archangelica spp.), invigorates and harmonizes the blood, tonifies (strengthens) blood, and dispels cold.
  • Dang shen (radix codonopsis pilosulae; Pilose asiabell [Codonopsis pilosulae] root), for nourishing the blood and body energy.
  • Gan cao (licorice root; Glycyrrhiza uralensis), to tonify spleen and stomach qi.
  • Huang qi (Astragalus propinquus), to tonify blood and spleen qi.
  • Lu rong (deer antler), for strengthening yang and tonifying blood and qi.
  • Sheng Di (Rehmannia), to nourish yin and generate fluids. Processed form is called Shu Di.
  • Bai Shao(white peony rhizome), to nourish blood and astringe yin.

In many cases, the treatment of a disorder in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) involves the use of a combination of herbs with complementary properties. The most classical TCM formula for blood deficiency is Si Wu Tang (Four Ingredient Decoction), which contains Shu Di, Bai Shao, Dang Gui, and Chuan Xiong. Another prominent formula used to generate blood is Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang (Angelica Tonify the Blood Decoction); a simple formula containing only two herbs: Dang Gui and Huang Qi. A large variety of other formulas exist to target specific aspects of anemia in conjunction with the clinical presentation of the patient. Other notable formula include Sheng Xue Jiao Nang, Xue Bao Hau Jia, Ye Xue Jing, Yi Xue Sheng, Zhang's Anemia Formula, and Zhou's Anemia Formula; all of these formulations have been tested in scientific studies and found to be effective in treating one or another type of anemia.

Tui Na Massage Treatment for Anemia
Tui Na massage therapy has been a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. The principle underlying this therapy is similar to that for acupuncture, namely the manipulation of meridians that improve the flow of qi, yin and yang throughout the body. Some practitioners, for example, focus on foot and hand massage to improve the production of blood in the spleen and to improve the flow of qi throughout the body.

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system for treating a variety of physical, mental and emotional disorders. It has been used by untold numbers of people in Asia and, more recently, throughout the world, for at least 2,000 years. The general principle behind TCM is that the health of mind and body depend upon a balanced amount and flow of forces and energy throughout the body along channels known as meridians. The primary bodily energy is called qi (pronounced “chee”), while the two primary forces are known as yin and yang. The production and movement of these forces and energy are controlled by the primary organs—heart, lung, spleen, kidneys and stomach, for example—which work in conjunction with each other. If insufficient quantities of yin, yang and/or qi are produced by the organs and/or if the flow of these forces and energy are blocked for some reason or another, a medical disorder such as anemia is produced. The TCM practitioner’s task is to review the symptoms presented by a patient, determine the precise deficiency or imbalance causing the symptoms, and prescribe one or more treatments to resolve the problem.

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a disorder of the blood characterized by a number of symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue and loss of energy
  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • inability to concentrate
  • headache and shortness of breath, especially following exercise
  • muscle cramps

Various types of anemia are caused by different factors. For example, people with sickle-cell anemia have a genetic disorder which results in their body’s producing red blood cells of abnormal shape. These blood cells tend to clump together in the bloodstream, causing symptoms such as pain in the joints, poor muscular development and susceptibility to infection. Iron-deficiency anemia is caused by an insufficient level of iron in the blood. Other forms of anemia include aplastic anemia, vitamin-deficiency anemia, hemolytic anemia, and thalassemia.

Additional Resources
Ting, Esther, and Marianne Jas. Total Health the Chinese Way: An Essential Guide to Easing Pain, Reducing Stress, and Restoring the Body through Chinese Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2008.

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