Anemia according to Chinese Medicine

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Anemia can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like anemia here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here anemia is often associated with palpitations, poor appetite and shortness of breath in the pattern “Empty-Cold”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause anemia.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of anemia we’ve identified three herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat anemia.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause anemia

In Chinese Medicine anemia is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Milkvetch Roots (Huang Qi) is the king ingredient for Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang, a formula used for Empty-Cold

Empty-Cold

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to anemia, other symptoms associated with Empty-Cold include palpitations, poor appetite and shortness of breath.

Empty-Cold is often treated with Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm the middle and dispel cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach)".

Read more about Empty-Cold here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to anemia, other symptoms associated with Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen include poor appetite, vertigo and irregular menstruation.

Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen here

Three herbal formulas that might help with anemia

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with anemia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Deficiency with disharmony of Liver and Spleen' of which anemia is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Blood Deficiency With Disharmony Of Liver And Spleen include poor appetite, vertigo and irregular menstruation.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach). Tonifies Qi. Relieves spasmodic pain.

Why might Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang help with anemia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Empty-Cold' of which anemia is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Empty-Cold include palpitations, poor appetite and shortness of breath.

Read more about Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang here

Da Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Middle Burner Deficiency. Directs rebellious Qi downward. Relieve pain.

Why might Da Jian Zhong Tang help with anemia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Empty-Cold' of which anemia is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Empty-Cold include palpitations, poor appetite and shortness of breath.

Read more about Da Jian Zhong Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat anemia

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with anemia?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat anemia and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat anemia as a symptom (such as Xiao Yao San for instance).

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with anemia?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat anemia and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat anemia as a symptom (such as Xiao Yao San for instance).

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with anemia?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat anemia as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Maltose (Yi Tang) help with anemia?

Because Maltose is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat anemia as a symptom, like Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang or Da Jian Zhong Tang for instance.

Maltose is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Fortifies Qi and tonifies the Spleen. Soothes and tonifies the Middle Warmer. Lubricates the Lungs.

Read more about Maltose here

Why might Milkvetch Root (Huang Qi) help with anemia?

Because it is a key herb in Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Empty-Cold' (a pattern with anemia as a symptom)

Milkvetch Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Wei Qi and stops perspiration. Tonifies the Spleen Qi and the Yang Qi of the Earth Element. Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Expels pus and assists in the healing of wounds. Helps to regulate water metabolism in the body and reduce edema.

Read more about Milkvetch Roots here