Always feel cold or have dark circles under your eyes, dull skin, or headaches? It’s easy to explain those symptoms away as needing a little more sleep or being stressed, but they could also point to a blood-stasis body constitution.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a body constitution is a unique combination of structural, physiological, and psychological features (including everything from age and gender to diet and lifestyle habits) that help determine how susceptible we are to certain diseases and illnesses. Blood-stasis, one of the nine TCM body constitutions, refers to poor blood circulation throughout various parts of your body or the blood is not flowing within the blood channel. It could lead to intractable pains and other serious health conditions over time if not properly addressed. However, knowledge is power – once you understand the causes of this body constitution, there are best practices you can adopt to help ease your symptoms from the root.
Blood Stasis: the Tell-Tale Signs
Do any of these physical characteristics and temperaments sound familiar?
Common physical characteristics of blood-stasis are:
- Dull complexion
- Spots on the face
- Dark, red lips
- Dark circles under eyes
- Uneven skin tone
- Unexplained bruising
- Scaly skin
- Spider (varicose) veins
- Susceptible to bleeding
- Menstrual pain
- Prolonged headaches, aggravated at night or during rainy days
- Purple hue to nails
- Chest pain or pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Upper abdominal pain
- Swelling, pain, and/or stiffness to the arms, hands, legs, or feet
Common temperaments and other non-physical attributes of blood-stasis are:
- Mildly irritable
- Easily startled
- Discomfort in cold environments
Possible Causes of Blood Stasis
The most common cause of blood stasis is the prolonged stagnation of qi, which is the vital energy of your physical and emotional being in TCM. Qi moves blood, so if it stagnates, blood congeals. Deficient qi can also cause blood stasis — a deficiency of Qi makes it too weak to move blood.
Both heat and cold can also cause blood-stasis. Heat in the blood can cause it to coagulate and stagnate. Meanwhile, cold slows the circulation of blood, sometimes causing it to congeal (often when people say they’re always cold, they’re dealing with poor blood circulation).
Potential causes also go beyond a physical root. Emotional stress can lead to tense muscles, slowing blood flow and resulting in blood-stasis. Suppressing emotions long-term also stagnates the qi, which in turn can congeal blood.
Possible Links Between Blood Stasis and Health Conditions
Researchers have found links between blood-stasis in elderly people and a higher risk of arterial stenosis (a narrowing of the aortic valve opening) and sclerosis (the thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries), making them more susceptible to cognitive impairment. This can range from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.
Blood-stasis is often considered a “silent killer” because it can be the hidden reason behind chronic health problems that don’t get resolved — the constitution can be linked to issues with joint or muscle pain, tumors, gynaecological disorders, cancer, vertigo, tinnitus, constipation, incontinence, gastritis, ulcers, polycystic ovaries, infertility and more.
Restoring Blood Stasis with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Cold foods stagnate circulation, so you may want to cook your vegetables instead of opting for a big salad. You may also want to reduce your intake of cold drinks, as well as other highly processed fatty and oily foods, e.g., dairy products like full-fat milk and cheeses. A good diet for blood stasis generally involves red in color or fragrant and lightly spiced dishes to invigorate your blood flow. Various other foods that help resolve blood-stasis and get the blood moving include:
- Nuts - chestnuts
- Fruit - hawthorn berry, cherry, strawberries or durian
- Vegetables & beans - beetroot, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives, taro root, eggplant, mushrooms, kelp, adzuki beans, kidney beans
- Meats - beef, lamb
- Herbs & spices - ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, oregano, rosemary, basil, white pepper
- Other - Rice vinegar (small quantities), red wine (small quantities), sugar cane, rose water
Your day-to-day lifestyle and habits can also play a big role. Here’s what can make a difference:
Move all day…without overdoing it
Movement shouldn’t be all-or-nothing. Rather than relying on big workouts, make sure movement is an all-day habit, especially if you sit long hours for work. Those with blood-stasis often have a weaker heart, so don’t push yourself with extreme workouts on your active days, and take breaks especially if you tend to stick to one sport or type of workout that leads to repetitive use of the same joints, muscles, or tendons. Some good workouts for those with blood stasis include hiking, swimming, jogging, and dancing.
Get outdoors…at the right times
Outdoor activities keep movement of qi and blood circulation high. That said, cold weather can have the opposite effect, so don’t skimp on hats, scarves, gloves — whatever you need to stay warm without overheating.
Stay calm and carry on
Excessive emotions will make your blood rise, so keeping yourself calm through meditative practices can help ease your mind and even out your qi and blood from negative thoughts or frustrations.
Have regular work and rest times
Keeping irregular hours and staying up late can damage the liver and gallbladder and affect the flow of qi and blood that governs the functional organ of the liver. It's recommended to sleep before 11pm-3am since the meridians of the liver and gallbladder lie within this range of time.
Remember, our body constitutions aren’t fixed
Finding your balance is an ongoing process. Don’t put too much pressure on any single one of these tips — try what speaks to you, listen to your body, and adjust as needed. Reaching balance isn’t a one-and-done deal for most people. Follow your natural ebbs and flows, adjust your lifestyle and nutrition as needed, and your body will thank you.
Want to know your constitution? Take our quiz to find out!