Cold hands and feet? It could be iron deficiency – TCM practitioners provide tips on how to fix this common condition
- Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, with symptoms of fatigue, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath
- Dried longan, lotus seeds and dates are among the foods that can help restore qi and overcome deficiencies, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say
Feeling a bit peaky in the cold weather and cannot seem to warm your hands and feet no matter what you do? You might be iron deficient – but a simple change in your diet may fix this.
If left unchecked, iron deficiency can lead to anaemia – when the number of red blood cells, or haemoglobin in them, is lower than normal.
Haemoglobin carries oxygen around the body. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or not enough haemoglobin, the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues will decrease. This may cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath.
About 30 per cent of the global population has this condition, which affects women three to five times more than men. The World Health Organization estimates that 42 per cent of children under five years of age and 40 per cent of pregnant women worldwide are anaemic.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, anaemia was responsible for 5,633 deaths in the country in 2020.
Iron-deficiency anaemia can largely be prevented by eating a balanced and varied diet with iron-rich foods. To get the most out of iron in foods, experts advise including vitamin C in your diet, and being aware of foods that contain iron absorption blockers, such as tannin in tea and coffee.
To prevent or treat iron deficiency, general medical advice points to eating iron-rich foods such as red meat. People with this condition who are on a plant-based diet can turn to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which takes a more holistic perspective when it comes to iron deficiency.
Hong Kong registered Chinese medicine practitioner Yu Man-fung agrees. “According to TCM, frequent dizziness, pale complexion, and cold hands and feet are often related to blood deficiency.
“Blood deficiency refers to weakness of blood or insufficient blood supply in the body, which leads to the loss of nourishment to vital organs … resulting in physical weakness.”
In TCM, the diagnosis of iron-deficiency anaemia is a combination of weakness of the spleen and stomach.
Sze suggests that those who suffer from insufficient qi and blood deficiency can add dried longan or lotus seeds to their diet, to nourish the heart and spleen.
Common symptoms of qi and blood deficiency include dizziness, a pale or yellowish complexion, fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or irregular menstruation.
She recommends three-date tea, which helps to nourish the qi and blood.
4 dried red dates
4 dried black dates
1 dried preserved date
2g American ginseng
700ml of water
Method: Simmer ingredients for 20 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes before drinking.
Symptoms of spleen and kidney deficiency include a sallow complexion, cold limbs, tinnitus, dizziness and loose stools. In this case, the following herbal concoction can help nourish the blood by warming the yang and nourishing the spleen and kidney.
Herbal concoction to nourish the blood
30g Mongolian milkvetch root
15g largehead atractylodes rhizome
4 pieces of dried longan
15g dried yam
15g poria cocos mushrooms
6g lotus seeds
6g dried goji berries
1 litre of water
Method: Add ingredients to water, bring to a boil over high heat and then turn to low heat for 20 minutes before drinking.
Also, she says, avoid fried, spicy and frozen foods.