The concept of blood (Xue) in traditional chinese medicine (tcm) has a broader and more philososophical meaning than the understanding of blood in western medicine. In the West, blood is seen as a fluid that carries nutrients, white blood cells and other organisms to all parts of the body. While that idea is certainly found in TCM as blood carrying nutritive qi, blood in Chinese medicine is also thought of as having been ‘energized’ and is closely related to nourishing us in a broader context.
Blood originates from ‘our essence’, Jing, which is controlled by our kidneys. Both original Jing and acquired Jing in the form of food is used. Therefore, when we lack ‘essence’ or Jing of either type, we find it difficult to produce blood. Out of the two, it is the acquired Jing that plays the primary role in producing blood.
The spleen acts on the food we consume to produce food qi which is sent up to the lungs. The lungs add air (also a form of nutritive qi) and send the result up to the heart which transforms it into blood.
The kidneys also produce the bone marrow in our body which can produces blood, while the Liver can store and release blood when needed. When a person is active, the Liver releases blood to the tendons, muscles and body. When a person is at rest, the Liver stores the blood. Blood is important when considering the uterus in women or menstruation problems.
Blood is also a form of qi but is denser, being Yin in nature. Qi (of a Yang nature) is needed to move the blood. While qi gives blood movement, blood is essential to the organs that produce qi therefore blood and qi exist very much in a mutual relationship of Yin and Yang.
Blood has three functions in TCM;
1. It nourishes the organs, muscles, bones and skin. Radiant cheek bones are a symbol of good blood circulation and nourishment. Poor blood supply can be seen in withered hair, pale skin, weak muscles and zangfu organs.
2. Blood keeps the organs and skin moist and aids in smooth and harmonious body movement.
3. It supports the Shen (spirit) – If blood is short, the Shen will be downbeat. If blood is abundant, the Shen will be bright and alert. If the blood is disruptive, the Shen will be in turmoil. The Shen lives in the blood vessels and heart.
The heart is said to govern blood. The circulatory system of blood in the body is called the ‘blood vessels’ and these form part of the heart. The Spleen keeps these vessels tight, preventing blood from flowing out. The Liver releases and stores blood as required.
If we are looking to nourish blood, we should look to the Spleen and Liver.