Natural Help for Blood Disorders
(Sunshine Sharing Vol. 11 No.3)
The thick, red, liquid that circulates in our veins and arteries is the life support system of our body. Carrying oxygen, nutrients and waste products, our blood sustains our life processes, which is why it is symbolically associated with life. Blood is not just a fluid, either. Close to half the volume of blood consists of cells. These include red blood cells (or erythrocytes), white blood cells (or leukocytes), and platelets or thrombocytes. The rest of this fluid is comprised of plasma, which contains dissolved proteins, sugars, fats and minerals.
The main responsibility of red blood cells is to act as a capsule for the protein hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, where it is exchanged for the waste product carbon dioxide. Red blood cells make up about 40 percent of normal blood.
White blood cells are part of our immune system. They play an important role in the defense against infection by viruses, bacteria, fungi and in controlling inflammation.
Platelets are essential to arrest bleeding and repair damaged blood vessels. They clump together to block small holes, and these clumps release chemicals that begin the process of blood clotting. Thanks to platelets, blood has the incredible ability to stop its own loss from the body; it seals damaged blood vessels, protects the injury with a clot, and helps to repair the damage.
White blood cells and platelets make up about five percent of the total blood volume.
Blood plasma is a straw-colored fluid, consisting of 95 percent water and a little salt. Levels of its many other dissolved constituents vary from time to time. Measurements of these constituents are useful when a disease is being diagnosed. The important constituents of plasma include: nutrients, waste products, proteins and hormones.
The chemical composition of our blood is almost totally dependent on the chemical composition of the food you eat. Healthy blood is built from healthy food. It is not built from devitalized, refined, chemical-laden "artificial" food. Do you want "cheeseburger, soda pop, ice cream" blood or do you want blood composed of the juices of organic, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables?
The choice is up to you. The rest of this issue, we'll explain some of the problems associated with unhealthy blood and some of the natural remedies we can use to keep our life-stream pure and healthy.
Building the Blood
As we pointed out, our blood needs to be nourished by wholesome foods. When our blood becomes thin and deficient our health deteriorates. Although anemia is not the only weakness that signals a need to build the blood, it is the most common.
Anemia is caused by an iron deficiency that results in reduced hemoglobin production. Causes include abnormally heavy bleeding during menstrual periods, dietary deficiency of iron-rich foods and poor assimilation of iron. It can also be caused by several diseases and shortages of nutrients necessary to utilize iron.
The common symptoms associated with anemia are pallor, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, depression, slow healing, loss of sex drive, bruising, brittle nails, nervousness, shortness of breath and palpitation. Low iron levels also lead to reduced immunity and a greater risk of infections. The elderly (especially those who eat narrow or simple diets), children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to anemia. Women tend to have the problem more than men because of their monthly blood loss through their period. While anemia is typically treated with iron supplements, these pills are one of the least effective ways to treat iron-deficiency for two reasons.
First, the form of iron used in these supplements is very poorly absorbed and irritates the intestinal wall.
Second, a host of cofactors are needed to absorb and properly utilize iron.
Nutrients that help in the utilization of iron include L-Glutamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, vitamin E and folic acid.
For these reasons, the best way to increase your iron levels is to increase consumption of natural foods that are rich in both iron and in the cofactors that help the body use it. Some of the foods that we find particularly helpful in building iron levels in the blood include: dark green vegetables (beet greens, chard, kale, etc.), apricots, blackstrap molasses, berries and beets.
Herbal Aids to Build Blood
In addition to eating iron-rich foods, there are a number of herbs that help to build the blood. Yellow dock is particularly helpful for anemia. Even though the actual amount of iron in a few capsules of yellow dock is very low, the herb still acts to increase iron levels in the blood. It does this by increasing the body's ability to assimilate the iron present in the diet. It also helps to liberate iron reserves stored in the liver.
Alfalfa is also a good source of iron. We have used alfalfa and yellow dock for anemia during pregnancy and found it more effective than iron supplements. The dosage is high, three to four alfalfa capsules two or three times daily and two yellow dock capsules twice daily. One caution, the alfalfa does have a blood-thinning effect, so you may want to avoid it if you have a tendency to bleed easily.
A well-known blood building formula is I-X. It contains the iron-rich, blood nourishing herbs red beets, yellow dock, strawberry leaves, chickweed, burdock, nettle and mullein. Historically this formula has been used to treat anemia, fatigue, oxygen-deficient blood, pale complexion, skin disorders and sickle cell anemia. It can also be a useful tonic for pregnancy. With this formula take two capsules three times each day. The combination has a slow cumulative effect and works better when used along with iron-rich foods and/or extra yellow dock.
The Green Blood of Plants
Chlorophyll is the stuff that makes leaves green and puts grass stains on your clothes. It is also the undisputed king of blood builders, which is why green leafy vegetables are important to building healthy blood. For those who don't obey mother's injunction to "eat your veggies," liquid chlorophyll may be helpful.
Liquid chlorophyll is extracted from plants (usually alfalfa) and stabilized by replacing the magnesium, naturally found in chlorophyll, with copper and sodium. This creates a water soluble substance called sodium copper chlorophyllin, which is used to make liquid chlorophyll.
Liquid chlorophyll is used by natural heath practitioners for a wide variety of blood disorders, including anemia and blood loss. It speeds up the process of building red blood cells and increases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. It has been consumed in large quantities after heavy blood loss to quickly rebuild the blood volume. For these reason, many midwives find it beneficial for women during pregnancy and after childbirth. It has also helped clear up blood poisoning.
Although liquid chlorophyll does not contain iron, it helps overcome anemia when iron is available from other dietary sources. It appears to stimulate production of blood. Remember that liquid chlorophyll is not a source of magnesium, like natural chlorophyll is, but is a good source of copper. If you want the magnesium, natural fat-soluble chlorophyll is available in soft gel capsules.
Cleansing the Blood
One of the concepts in traditional herbal medicine is the idea of "purifying" the blood. Diseases involving skin eruptions, general weakness, bad body odor and wasting were thought to arise from "bad blood." Herbs which overcame these conditions became known as "blood purifiers." Later, they were classified as "alteratives," meaning that they gradually cleared up morbid conditions involving infection, degeneration or putrefaction.
The exact mechanism of how these herbs work is not known, however, it is a simple, observable fact that they do work to "clean up" the body. It is likely that they strengthen the liver and kidney function, helping these organs remove impurities from the blood.
Some popular blood purifiers (alteratives) include burdock, dandelion, yellow dock, red clover and blessed thistle. A few blood purifying combinations containing these herbs include Enviro-Detox, BP-X and IN-X. These herbs and formulas have been used to treat skin eruptive diseases such as boils, eczema, psoriasis, acne, chicken pox, measles and so forth. They are also used for treating soft masses such as cysts and fibroids and even serious illnesses such as cancer and leprosy.
Thinning the Blood
Sometimes our blood gets a bit "sludgy" like the oil in our car if we don't change it regularly. Feather Jones, a former president of the American Herbalists Guild, described a woman in this condition as having "Cheeseburger blood." Thick or stagnant blood is involved in a wide variety of conditions such as varicose veins, hemorrhoids, uterine fibroids, prostate problems and more.
Blood that is too "thick" also increases our risk of thrombosis (the formation of blood clots in the circulatory system) which causes heart attacks, strokes and other diseases of impaired circulation. Medical doctors put people on blood thinners to reduce the risk of these disorders. Fortunately, there are herbs available that work as natural blood thinners. Blood purifiers generally help to thin the blood, but there are some more specific herbal remedies that help to filter the "sludge" from our life-stream. Alfalfa contains natural blood thinning agents called coumarins. Taken in capsules or eaten as sprouts, alfalfa can be very beneficial in thinning the blood. Another great herb for preventing blood clots in the circulatory system is butcher's broom, This herb is very effective in preventing postoperative thrombosis and blood clots in the legs. It is also helpful for varicose veins. It accomplishes this feat without increasing the risk of bleeding.
Vitamin E has long been used for these same purposes. Another great remedy for "thick" blood is horse chestnut found in the formula Vari-Gone. Vari-Gone also contains butcher's broom.
Ginkgo/Hawthorn for Brain and Peripheral Circulation
Ginkgo enhances peripheral circulation and improves blood flow to the brain. It also helps prevent blood clots from forming. General strengthening for effects of aging. Ginkgo has been used by Chinese for centuries to build vitality and alertness. Hawthom berries build the heart and improve vascular and coronary blood flow. Together, the combination is used to help recover from a wide range of diminished mental and physical capacities. It is combined with hawthorn, one of the best general herbs for heart health.
Recommended Use: Take 1 capsule with a meal three times daily.
Blood poisoning is a serious, often life-threatening illness caused by multiplication of bacteria and their formation of poisons or toxins in the bloodstream. Due to the serious nature of this condition, medical attention should be sought, but here again, blood purifiers may help. Specific herbs useful for this condition include burdock, lobelia, echinacea and yarrow. For best results take internally with plenty of water and apply externally as a poultice.
The Chinese formula IF-C is also a powerful internal aid for blood poisoning and low-grade infections in the blood. It is specifically useful for skin infections with local redness, swelling, pain and/or bleeding. In Chinese philosophy, it reduces "heat" in the blood.
There are a number of herbs that can help to arrest bleeding both internally and externally. Again, in all cases of serious bleeding seek appropriate medical help, but the following herbs can be applied topically for external bleeding or taken internally for internal bleeding: yarrow, calendula, capsicum and white oak bark.
Blood in Chinese Medicine
Blood is one of three major substances addressed by Chinese medicine: Blood, moisture and chi. These three substances can be likened to the land (blood), the oceans (moisture) and the atmosphere (chi) that make up the earth. Blood is the physical substance that governs the process of generating, distributing and storing nutrients. While there are many types of blood disorders identified in Chinese medicine, here are the two major imbalances that occur in the blood.
1. Blood deficiency
This is characterized by a deficiency in the volume of the blood. It is associated with blood loss or a deficiency in blood production. A person with deficient blood will be very pale and anemic looking. Their fingernails, tongue and face will lack color. The pulse will be fine or thin, because of the decreased volume of blood.
Specific health problems which can arise from blood deficiency
Palpitations and irregular heart beat, muscle cramps or spasms, insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, numbness of hands and feet, loss or thinning of hair, itching or prickly skin or scalp, easy bruising and scant or irregular menses.
If you have a number of these symptoms, coupled with a pale, anemic complexion you probably have blood deficiency. This is treated with herbs that tonify (or build) the blood. Some of the herbs used for this condition include: dong quai, peony, rehmannia and Korean ginseng. Two Chinese herb formulas that address this problem are Blood Stimulator and Trigger Immune. Western herbs used to treat anemia and build the blood will probably help, too.
2. Blood stagnation
In both Chinese and Native American medicine we find the concept that blood can become sluggish or stagnant. This can also be a localized condition, caused by blood congealing in an area due to injury or poor circulation. A bruise is an example of stagnant blood. According to this traditional viewpoint, an injury like a bruise, that isn't treated properly, may give rise to swellings or masses such as nonmalignant tumors, cysts and fibroids. These signal further development of blood stagnation. Sharp stabbing or cutting pain is also an indication of this blood disorder. It is thought that eventually blood stagnation may give rise to cancer. A person with blood stagnation will have dark skin that lacks luster, the tongue will be dark with a purple coloration and the pulse will be rough or uneven.
Many female problems are thought to arise from blood not moving properly. These include: uterine fibroids, menstrual pain, scant menses with purple-black color and lumps, uterine hemorrhage with large clots, hard breasts and ovarian cysts. Other conditions that may arise from blood stagnation include: sharp pains in the head, eyes, joints or internal organs, and chronic inflammation of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Stagnant blood is treated with herbs that disperse (move) and thin the blood. Herbs that have this property include yarrow, alfalfa, arnica, horse chestnut, butcher's broom and white willow. The essential oils of lemon, lavender and sage also help when applied topically.
For more information, consult the following sources, or talk to the person who gave you this newsletter. Their address should appear on this page.
"The ABC+D Approach To Natural Healing" by Steven H. Horne & L. Carl Robinson, (Roosevelt, UT: Tree of Light Institute, 1999).
"Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs" Claire Kowalchik & William H. Hylton, Editors, (Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania,1998).