In the West, donating blood is no big deal - some juice and cookies and it's back to work. But in China, blood is associated with qi, or life energy, and so many people are (unnecessarily) reluctant to donate.
The ancient Chinese believed that we inherit our essence from our father and blood from our mother, both vital to human life. And the very life force and energy, qi, is closely identified with blood.
Qi and blood nourish the body; qi moves the blood; blood is the mother of qi. Losing blood weakens you, so donating blood voluntarily is bad for your health and saps your energy. That's the thinking.
So, while many Chinese are willing to help others, they hesitate to join blood drives or visit blood collection stations. Some young people who are willing are prevented from donating by their parents who worry about their health. If they do donate, they are often ordered to go to bed.
As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approaches, China will need a lot of donated blood, and education is of prime importance at this time.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), donating 200-400ml of blood once every two years - not more frequently - is not a problem and may even enhance the body's ability to produce more blood.
In the West, whole blood can be donated every eight weeks, but regular donors usually give two or three times a year. Some people donate out of charitable impulse: No preparation is required - just good health. Afterward, donors are usually given some juice and cookies for energy, observed for 20 minutes or so for possible dizziness - and then they're on their way.
Because donating is a big deal in China, two weeks' advance preparation is ideal before donating - lots of rest, no vigorous sports and lots of nourishing food. That's why people are notified two weeks in advance of their donation appointments.
And after donating, two weeks' rest is recommended - no work and more nourishing, energy-reinforcing food to build up the blood and energy (recipes below). And still many people are reluctant to donate.
According to Western medicine theory, a 200ml donation of blood only represents five to 10 percent of the total in a healthy adult. The blood loss is quickly made up and a healthy adult can recover completely in 10 days after donation.
As TCM attaches great importance to blood as the carrier of nutrition and source of energy, it also emphasizes the need to help the blood regenerate quickly.
"Only by connection with the blood can the ethereal energy stay inside the body, so losing too much blood may involve losing energy as well," says Dr Zhou Shigao, deputy director of the Internal Medicine Department of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
"Yet as long as the yuan qi, or the original energy, isn't damaged, the loss can be made up quickly. Donating 200-400ml blood is far from damaging to the original energy."
TCM believes that blood is composed of nutrition and fluids from the foods we ingest. The stomach and spleen turn the foods into essence first, and then into red blood with the help of energy. Therefore, as long as both stomach and spleen function well, and the original energy is healthy, donating blood only involves a metabolic process at a quicker pace.
And according to Dr Zhou, donating blood can enhance the emergency reaction of the stomach and spleen (a source of vital energy, blood and blood circulation) in blood regeneration - if you do it regularly, say once every two years.
"Most people don't have to take extra reinforcing therapy after donation," says Dr Zhou. "Enough rest and regular meals are enough. But those with a weak stomach and spleen, which are difficult to identify with a regular pre-donation blood test, may need some adjustment with herbal therapy if they feel weak."
Dr Zhou urges donors to avoid vigorous sports and get plenty of rest for two weeks before donating blood. They should avoid cold temperatures and cold yin energy foods. This will help ensure the quality of donated blood and a quick recovery as well.
After donating, he recommends protein in foods like fish and lean meat and spleen-strengthening foods like shan yao (yam), lotus seeds, and bean products. Actually, most people can eat whatever they like except irritating foods like hot pot, fried or spicy foods.
Herbs like dang gui (Chinese angelica), huang qi (astragalus root) and jujube fruit can help in the case of weakness.
Recipes to build the blood
Dang shen, jujube and pork liver soup
Dang shen (radix codonopsitis) 15-20g, jujube berries, (10g), chopped pork liver (50-100g)
1. Wash dang shen and jujubes and soak in warm water for 30 minutes.
2. Cook in a saucepan for 30 minutes with low heat. Filter the soup.
3. Add pork liver to the soup, cook until liver is done. Season to taste.
4. Drink once a day.
Reinforces energy and produces blood.
Jujube and peanut congee
jujubes (10g), peanuts (50g), rice (100g)
1. Wash ingredients, add water cook congee.
2. Eat once in the morning and once in the evening.
Benefits spleen and stomach, produces blood.
Misunderstandings about blood donation
1. It results in weight gain. Some people gain weight after donating but that's not directly from donating but from eating too much afterward, getting too much "reinforcement."
2. Blood donation undermines men's fertility. Fertility is related to the reproductive system - not the blood.
3. People become addicted to donating blood. Physiological addiction to blood donation is nonsense, but the sense of honor at helping others after donation may induce the donor to do it again and again.
4. Donating blood on an empty stomach can help lose weight. Blood donation if you're hungry can lead to faintness, not weight loss. Eat a good basic meal before donation.
5. People get infections through blood donation. All the needles and blood bags are sterile and disposable.
6. Blood donation causes problematic drops or increases in blood pressure. A few donors' blood pressure may rise because of stress or excitement; some may drop. Relax and stay calm and blood pressure will soon return to normal.
(Shanghai Daily December 11, 2007)