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A Look at Blood Stasis and Common Chinese Herbs for Treatment

By Darren Holman

For the body to remain healthy it must be constantly moistened, nourished, and detoxified by an abundant supply of clean, fresh blood. When the blood does not circulate freely, known in Chinese Medicine as blood stasis, the body begins to show signs of disease. These signs include but are not limited to the following: stabbing pain that is worse when pressed upon, fixed masses on the surface of the body, dark complexion, rough scaly dry skin, dry hair, a purple cast to the lips and finger nails, a dark purple tongue with possible signs of bruising, and a sluggish feeling pulse.

There are two different kinds of blood stasis manifestation in the body which include blood that has leaked from the vessels and is lodged in the tissues, and blood that has stagnated in the meridians (channels that transport energy and blood throughout the body) and organs. The location of the blood stasis will determine the kinds of symptoms that the person will experience. For example, according to Chinese Medicine theory blood that has stagnated in the liver will present as stabbing pain and abdominal mass. In the heart stagnation can show up as chest pain and palpitation. In the stomach it can cause blackish looking stool and possible vomiting of blood, and in the lung as chest pain and possible coughing up of blood. These are all extreme versions of blood stagnations as presented in the classics of Chinese Medicine. In the clinic we see much milder cases including pain from traumatic injuries such as sports injuries, painful menstruation and cramps, and migraine headaches. Cases that are as severe as the ones described above are better suited to seek care from their doctor and utilize Chinese medicine as an adjunct therapy.

Blood stasis presents in numerous combinations with other pathogenic disharmonies. When the body presents with blood stasis signs, dizziness, palpitations, insomnia, and the tongue is pale rather than purple, this is indicative of blood stasis with underlying blood deficiency. In this case the body does not have enough blood to properly circulate, so the blood becomes sluggish and stagnates.

When blood stasis signs are accompanied by cold limbs, which are made better upon warming, this is called cold invading the meridians causing blood stasis. This can also show up as painful menstrual period, delayed menstruation with dark purple clots, pale tongue, and a pulse that feels deep and slow. In this case the cold has caused the blood to congeal and become sluggish. This leads to pain and the other symptoms mentioned above.

Blood stasis that is accompanied by heat symptoms such as fever that is worse at night, bleeding gums, bloody nose, coughing blood, rectal bleeding, etc., it is called blood heat with blood stagnation. According to theory there are two types; one in which the internal heat of the body “burns” the blood causing it to thicken and become sluggish, and the second in which the stagnation of blood results in the formation of internal heat. The type is determined by the progression of the symptoms. The first is more often seen in cases of disease with high fever leading to signs of stasis and bleeding, while the second comes on after long term blood stasis.

Blood stasis can also be paired with stasis of energy, or qi stagnation. When this occurs the patient can experiences stuffiness in the chest, indigestion, swollen mass in the abdomen with stabbing pain, irregular menstruation, distention in the breast, purple tongue with bruising, and sluggish pulse.

The Chinese have been using natural herbal formulations for thousands of years to treat health maladies, and blood stasis is no exception. Numerous great scholars have dedicated their lives to the study of this particular health problem and have achieved great clinical success in its treatment. The treatment of almost any kind of blood-related disease starts out with the theory that in order to treat the blood you must ensure that it is plentiful and circulating properly. The core formula for blood disorders demonstrates this in its simple composition. This formula, Si Wu Tang (Four Substances Formula) has two ingredients, Shu Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae Conquitae, rhemannia root) and Bai Shao Yao (Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae, white peony root) that nourish the body’s blood, and two other ingredients Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis, angelica root, dong quai, Cinese angelica) and Chuan Xiong (Radix Ligustici Chuanxiong, Sichuan Lovage root) to invigorate the circulation of blood. In cases of blood stasis, other herbs are often added to increase the formula’s action in stimulating circulation. Two of the most popular choices are Tao Ren (Prunus Persica, peach seed) and Hong Hua (Flos Carthami, safflower.) When you add these two ingredients you get a new formula known as Tao Hong Si Wu Tang (Peach Kernel and Saflower with Four Substances formula) that was created by the greatest scholar of blood stagnation in Chinese history. This formula has been modified to create numerous formulas treating everything from angina, painful period, migraine headaches, infertility, and many other disorders.

In recent years numerous scientists have turned their attentions on trying to find out what makes these herbs so effective in treating blood stasis type disorders. Their findings show verifiable proof of the power of these ancient medicines. For example, Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis, angelica root, dong quai, Chinese angelica) was shown in laboratory tests to decrease blood viscosity, reduce arrhythmia, reduce plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and to decrease the risk of atherosclerosis which is hardening of the arteries. This versatile herb was also shown to have effects similar to aspirin as an anti-clotting agent. It also boosts immunity by increasing the activity of macrophage white blood cells, reduces bronchial spasm, and inhibits numerous harmful bacteria in the body. It was also shown to be 1.1 times as powerful as aspirin as an anti-inflammatory, and 1.7 times stronger at relieving pain.

According to one report, 100 patients were treated with two different Dang Gui preparations for arrhythmia with an 83.3% effectiveness rate. This herb has also been effectively utilized in stroke rehabilitation, migraine headaches, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, insomnia, dermatological disorders, and many other conditions.

Bai Shao Yao (Radix Paeoniae Lactiflorae, white peony root) has been shown to prevent platelets from clotting, is anti-inflammatory, and helps reduce fever. Bai Shao has also demonstrated an inherent ability to relax the blood vessels, dilate peripheral blood vessels, and cause blood pressure to decrease slightly. It has been used to treat the following clinical conditions with marked success: lowering blood sugar, treating restless legs syndrome, calming cough, relieving muscle pain and spasm, relieving constipation, and healing peptic ulcers.

Chuan Xiong (Radix Ligustici Chuanxiong, Sichuan Lovage root) has been shown to dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow to the heart, and decrease oxygen consumption by cardiac muscle. It is also an anticoagulant and has been used to treat Alzheimer’s, migraine headaches, and stroke by increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing swelling. Clinical studies show it is also effective in treating chest pain and topically to treat heel spurs.

Shu Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae Conquitae, prepared rhemannia root) is the cooked form of Sheng Di Huang which has been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling and increase plasma levels of adrenocortical hormones. These hormones are involved in all of the following processes: proper glucose metabolism, regulation of blood pressure, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, immune function, inflammatory response, and controlling blood volume. The plant has also been shown to have diuretic properties, lowers blood pressure, has a tonic affect on the heart, protects the liver, and stops bleeding. In one study, 62 patients were treated with 30 to 50 grams of Shu Di Huang for 2 weeks and showed reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides. They also showed an increase in blood to the brain and in ECG (electrocardiogram) results.

Hong Hua (Flos Carthami, safflower) has been show to stimulate the heart muscle in small doses, while large doses reduce heart output. It inhibits platelet aggregation, and one study showed it to be 73.4% effecting in preventing blood clots in rats. Hong Hua has a mild sedative effect on the central nervous system and has been used to prevent drug induced seizures in rats. It has also been shown to be adaptogenic, and can increase uterine muscle contraction. A clinical study demonstrated that administration of 15ml of 50% Hong Hua solution once daily was 94.7% effective in treating 137 patients with cerebral blood clots. Another study showed that of 100 patients treated with a similar solution, 80.8% had less chest pain and 66% showed improvement in ECG results. Most reported reduction in headaches, dizziness, and palpitations.

Tao Ren (Prunus Persica, peach seed) has been shown to prevent and facilitate dissolution of blood clots when given by intravenous injection. It has anti-inflammatory effects and has been shown to treat otitis media (inflammation in the inner ear) in mice. Other animal studies show it has anti-allergic properties, stops cough, and is anti-parasitic.

These are just a few of the useful tools that your Chinese herbalist has in their bag of tricks to help you with blood stasis and other health concerns. As with all medicines, herbs need to be used properly in the right combination, correct dosage, and should be appropriate for the correct diagnosis of your ailment. Please do not self-medicate with Chinese herbs without talking to a professional. Herbs have tremendous power to heal when used correctly.

Darren Holman is an Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who is licensed in North Carolina and nationally certified in Oriental Medicine including both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. He graduated valedictorian of his class at the Texas College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and brings his passion for healing and Chinese medicine to Carolinas Natural Health Center in Matthews. Darrren also utilizes cupping, moxabustion, and CranioSacral therapy in his healing work. To make an appointment for treatment or to schedule a free consultation, contact Carolinas Natural Health Center at 704-708-4404.