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I’m currently taking a course in Classical Chinese Medicine, and it has helped me to look at nourishing myself — specifically, nourishing my “blood” and “body fluids” — in a whole new lens. (We’ll chat more below, but our “fluids” including our blood are akin to the life and vitality that ‘runs through our veins’ and fuels every cell and organ. Fluids = our sense of being juicy and ALIVE! Our fluids and blood nourish the entire body and mind, and when they become dried out due to poor digestion, overwork, and constant stress, we can become ‘fluid deficient’ or ‘blood deficient’ and suffer from fatigue, brain fog, and more).

Every time I eat a meal now, I’m trying to layer more “blood and fluid” building herbs and ingredients into it… I mean, I even stopped drinking coffee recently because this class helped me realize how much the cortisol spike and “heat” (stress) from caffeine was depleting my vitality and my ‘fluids’ by overstimulating me and drying me out!

My latest adventure is using herbs to make my morning oatmeal into a super-concoction of nourishing, rebuilding ingredients, and I can’t even tell you how much more grounded and stable I feel on a base level.

While these concepts may sound strange to those of us who are unfamiliar with Chinese Medicine (what the heck does “nourishing my blood” mean?! what are these “fluids” you’re referring to, crazy herbalist lady?!), I promise there’s a method to the madness.

WHAT ARE “FLUIDS” AND “BLOOD” IN CHINESE MEDICINE?

In Chinese Medicine, the concept of our “blood” does not just refer to the red stuff in our veins — it refers to the inherent energy, life force, oxygen, and nutrient content that our blood brings to every organ and every cell of the body in order to fuel the functioning of the processes that keep us alive. Proper digestion is essential for healthy “blood” in Chinese Medicine, because the healthy and complete absorption of nutrients from food is required to supply the blood with everything is needs to bring to our organs, including the brain.

“Blood” is created in part from nutrients extracted in the digestive tract as a result of the breakdown of food into components such as B vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and so much more. It also refers to the quality of that blood (its ability to carry oxygen, its iron content, etc) — therefore, a classic Western example of being “blood deficient” would be the mirroring of anemia caused by iron or B vitamin deficiency.

When one’s “blood” is “deficient” [in iron or B vitamins], one *feels* deficient as well, with symptoms like fatigue, poor memory, headache, palpitations, blurred vision, dry eyes, dry or flaking skin, pallor, paleness of the lips and nails, depression, anxiety, dizziness, numbness/tingling of limbs, scanty periods, amenorrhea, and more. These are the same symptoms of “blood deficiency” in Chinese Medicine. However, in Chinese Medicine, a deficiency of iron is not the only cause of a diagnosis of “blood deficiency” as a whole, as overwork, trauma, excessive menstrual bleeding, poor digestion, and even excessive exercise can deplete much more than just iron alone, and can contribute or lead to a blood and fluid deficiency pattern.

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Chronic stress is the leading cause of fluid depletion (think about how you start sweating when you’re super nervous, or how you stop digesting properly because you have knots in your stomach and can’t break down your food to transform it into new ‘fluids.’) Luckily, there’s so many things we can do to replenish and regulate our nervous systems in the face of daily stress.

In Classical Chinese Medicine (which is a bit different from TCM), blood and body fluids are interchangeable. Think about how one builds another in a real life example of the body: fluids make blood, then blood makes breast milk. When one is under extreme stress aka “self consuming their fluids,” (because again, stress causes us to burn through precious nutrients, vitamins and minerals at a much faster rate), breastmilk production decreases.

Classic nutrient rich “blood and fluid building foods” like rice, oats, dark leafy greens, along with nourishing and lubricating essential fatty acid rich nuts and seeds all promote breastmilk production, along with digestive tonics like fennel and ginger that help your digestion get stronger so that you can actually create “new fluids” (absorb more nutrients) from the foods you eat. 

Because I’m constantly paralleling what I’m learning in Chinese Medicine to my Western herbal background and paradigm, time and time again I find myself equating “fluids and blood” to our adrenal reserves (our energy levels and deep vitality) and our vitamin and mineral status (which fuels and protects our adrenals/HPA axis in the face of stress, especially because stress can deplete so many of our B vitamins and minerals aka our “fluids”). When you’re stressed, you burn through and use these nutrient stores at a much higher rate

The more “body fluid” and “blood” depleted we are, the less our organs and glands will function, whether that’s:

  • less of our digestive juices being secreted (like stomach acid, bile and saliva) which hinders digestion and nutrient absorption, further preventing the creation of new fluids
  • our thyroid/HPA axis becoming less able to output a proper amount of thyroid hormone due to chronic stress suppressing the feedback of the axis
  • our pancreas becoming less able to support us in processing carbohydrates (think insulin resistance),
  • our liver becoming less able to convert thyroid hormone into active T3 and metabolize toxins,
  • or our brain becoming less able to think and focus

Our “fluids and blood,” and thus our ability to function and carry out these biochemical processes, is everything to us — and it’s the most important concept we’re asked to grasp in Classical Chinese Medicine.

In fact, CCM’s entire diagnostic system focuses on the patient’s state of “body fluids” in order to understand how deep one’s illness has reached. The severity of an individual’s disease actually depends on the severity of the loss of body fluids, because your body fluids (aka your reserves and vitality) are what fight for you — and your body will self consume its own reserves fighting for you until the very end. When the body starts to get ‘dried out’ of these fluids (depleted of nutrients and energy reserves), your body doesn’t have the necessary energy or tools to be able to protect itself against stress, pathogens, even the elements outside (think of those of us who are extremely sensitive to the cold) — so in the healing process we focus first on nourishing the lost body fluids, to help the body fight on its own.

“When you have a body fluid deficiency, essentially you also have a Qi [energy] deficiency, because body fluid is the component of the body that makes sure all of our organs function, especially the digestion. If your stomach is dry and has lost all of its fluids, you cannot digest. If your intestines are dry, you cannot extract toxins. That’s why body fluid is the key to stay healthy and restore health in our patients.” – my CCM teacher

WHY GUT HEALTH IS KEY FOR REBUILDING BLOOD + FLUIDS

An important concept to remember is that our “fluids” and “blood” (again, our nutrients and reserves that move from our blood to our organs and fuel us), are extracted and transformed from the foods and liquids that we consume each day.

However, in order for the digestive system to create new, healthy fluids, the stomach needs to be nourished and hydrated to a certain level to be able to absorb and transport the input. In essence, digestive health is key when you’re dealing with “blood” or “fluid” deficiency and working on rebuilding.

This concept of dryness in the body has been fascinating to me, and connects beautifully to my education on North American mucilaginous, soothing, gut-healing herbs. We’ve all had to deal with dry skin externally on our body and face during an especially dry winter that no skincare regimen seems to even touch… but what happens when the skin inside of us becomes parched and dehydrated, too, due to periods of stress or not eating properly? While this may sound like a strange concept, the same epithelial cells that make up your skin can be actually found in the lining of your intestines — and they can become ‘fluid deficient’ and dry as well. Think about what happens when you pour liquid on dry, cracking earth. Like the desert, it just runs off, as so much moisture has been drained that it can no longer hold proper hydration.

Since rebuilding our blood and fluids (aka absorbing and transforming them from food) can’t happen without a properly nourished environment within the stomach and intestines, I decided to start making a mucilage-rich, hydrating and gut-healing oatmeal to moisturize and soothe my digestive tract so that I can transform the nutrients I consume from food and teas more effectively to ‘build my blood.’

The herbs I’m using are found within my tea blend The Healer, which I created specifically for dry, dehydrated, inflamed tissues states within the gut that are affecting intestinal permeability and nutrient absorption. As you moisturize and soothe the gut with healers like Calendula, Marshmallow, and even Plantain Leaf, your cells become able to absorb and respond to the water you drink and the healthy diet you work so hard to consume.  Plantain Leaf is especially unique, as it contains both mucilage (coating, soothing, protective) and tannins (toning to gut junctions) — moistening dry, dehydrated tissue while also supporting optimal intestinal integrity.

MY GUT-SOOTHING, BLOOD + FLUID BUILDING OATMEAL RECIPE

Did you know that you can make oatmeal with tea instead of water or milk?!

It’s actually my favorite thing to do, because it allows me to stack my health habits and make an already nourishing breakfast 10x more nutritive.

You can use any tea you’d like, but for this recipe The Healer is the perfect blend to ‘loosen the soil’ of the intestines, hydrate dry tissues, and allow for greater gut health and digestive function in order to ensure that the nutrition from this meal is fully transformed and absorbed to create brand new healthy blood and fluids.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • a mason jar
  • a french press (for brewing)
  • The Healer tea
  • ~1.5 cup oats

DIRECTIONS:

  1. First, brew a batch of the tea in your french press. Add 1-2 heaping spoonfuls of The Healer to your press, and pour freshly boiled water over the herbs. Let steep for 10-15 minutes.
  2. While that’s steeping, add about 1.5 cups oats (I use organic, sprouted oats) to a large mason jar.
  3. Once the tea is done, pour it into the mason jar over the oats. Tightly lid the jar and place in the fridge overnight, which will pre-‘cook’ the oats.
  4. In the morning, remove the mason jar from the fridge and dump the contents into a small pot on the stove.
  5. Heat on medium for about 10 minutes, stirring consistently, until this results in a creamy consistency.
  6. Remove from heat, add to a bowl and garnish with your favorite fixings: cinnamon, honey, tahini, berries, etc! Enjoy 🙂

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