My Acupuncturist Says I Have Blood Heat. What Does that Mean?
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), diseases are classified according which organ or vital substance has become imbalanced, and how. These imbalances are called ‘patterns’ or ‘syndromes’ and are given names such as Liver-qi stagnation or Kidney-yin deficiency, for example.
TCM patterns differ from western medical conditions as they take into account symptoms from throughout the whole body and mind and look at how they relate to one another. Western medicine, on the other hand, generally views symptoms in isolation and treats them one by one.
This is what is meant when acupuncturists talk about TCM being ‘holistic.’ It treats the entire body by addressing the root cause of a disease, meaning that it can help with multiple different symptoms all at once.
In this article, we look at a common TCM pattern which can cause a variety of different symptoms, both physical and emotional. This pattern is known as blood heat.
The Blood in Chinese Medicine
In TCM, the blood is viewed quite differently from the blood in western medicine. Far from being just a medium for transporting substances around the body, in TCM, the blood is a form of qi and, as such, has great importance.
Blood is responsible for nourishing and moistening all the tissues of the body. It keeps the skin, hair, and nails healthy and vibrant, the muscles flexible, and the eyesight sharp and clear. When blood is deficient, any of these tissues can become overly dry and dysfunctional.
The blood also acts as a vessel for qi and carries it around the body. This is a crucial function as without it, qi would not be able to reach the organs and muscles, providing them with energy and warmth.
Last but not least, the blood is responsible for housing the shen (mind/spirit). Blood works closely with the Heart to provide a material anchor for the shen and keep it calm and clear. When the blood is healthy, the emotions will be balanced and the mind will be relaxed, thus facilitating peaceful sleep.
However, if the blood is deficient or overly hot, mental illness can arise. This might manifest as anxiety and restlessness or insomnia. In more severe cases, it could result in dramatic mood swings or manic depression.
To summarize, the functions of blood in TCM are:
• Providing a vessel for qi
• Housing the shen
In order to function properly, the blood needs to be warm and flow freely throughout the body. However, if it becomes too hot, issues can begin to arise. Let’s take a look at what happens when there is excess heat in the blood.
Symptoms of Blood Heat
When the blood is too hot, it can cause symptoms throughout the entire body and mind. The symptoms of blood heat include:
• Dry mouth
• Mouth or tongue ulcers
• Dark yellow urine
• Bleeding (bleeding hemorrhoids, nosebleeds etc.)
If blood heat affects the Liver, this results in skin diseases which are hot, itchy, and red. This could include eczema, acne, psoriasis, boils, and ulcers.
If blood heat affects the Heart, it has a negative impact on the shen and can cause anxiety, impatience, and mental restlessness. This, in turn, can lead to insomnia, and in severe cases may cause mood swings, angry outbursts, or manic behavior.
If blood heat affects the uterus, it can cause menstrual disorders. Menstrual problems due to blood heat are characterized by a short cycle and heavy periods with bright red blood. Heavy bleeding is a common symptom of blood heat and it happens because the body is trying to cool itself down by getting rid of the hot blood.
However, this can lead to more problems in the long run, as heavy blood loss can cause a deficiency of both blood and qi. This leads to lack of energy and fatigue among other symptoms.
Causes of Blood Heat
Blood is primarily formed by the Stomach and Spleen using the nutrients from food. Therefore, one of the most common causes of blood heat is a diet which contains too many heating foods and drinks such as spicy food, caffeine, and alcohol.
Another common cause of blood heat is long-term emotional stress. Emotions such as anger, frustration, resentment, and even worry can all interrupt the flow of qi and blood, causing it to stagnate in the channels. When qi and blood become stagnant, they begin to generate heat.
Finally, blood heat can result from being exposed to excessively hot conditions. Although this cause of blood heat is far more unusual than the others, it is worth considering if you work in a hot environment such as a kitchen.
Preventing Blood Heat
One of the best ways to keep the body cool and prevent blood heat is by eating a diet which contains plenty of cooling foods. However, this does not necessarily mean foods which are cold in temperature. In fact, cold and raw foods are seen as damaging to the digestive organs in TCM.
When acupuncturists talk about cooling foods, they actually mean foods which have an energetically cooling effect on the body. These foods usually have a high water content and include many fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the best foods for cooling the blood include:
• Leafy green vegetables
• Melon and watermelon
• Mung beans
• Green tea
At the same time, you should avoid eating too many warming foods which could contribute to heat in the blood. Foods to avoid include:
• Hot spices (chili peppers, ginger, cinnamon)
• Red meat
• Caffeine (tea, coffee, energy drinks, chocolate)
As well as making some adjustments to your diet, you can help to prevent your blood from becoming too hot by managing your stress levels. Try practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. You might also want to consider a talking therapy such as CBT or counselling to help you learn coping strategies and get things off your chest when you need to.
Exercise is another helpful way to manage stress, but you should avoid anything which makes you too hot and sweaty. Therefore, gentle activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming are ideal.
By making these simple lifestyle changes, you should be able to keep your blood cool and avoid developing the symptoms of blood heat. Ask your acupuncturist for more personalized advice depending on your individual body type.