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blood-building formula

What Is It?
Health Benefits

Forms

Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects

Cautions

References

Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

Blood-Building formulas are also known as “hematinics”. These products contain a variety of substances that support and improve the condition of the blood, by providing key nutrients and factors necessary for blood cell production. This combination of substances may increase the number of blood cells, increase the concentration of hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying component) in the blood, or promote blood flow. Anemia specifically refers to a condition marked by a deficiency of either red blood cells or of hemoglobin in the blood. Blood-building formulas are often used either to address anemia directly or to address nutritional deficiencies that may lead to this condition.  

Certain blood-building formulas also include components that stimulate the production of all blood cells. A variety of other conditions such as malabsorption of nutrients, bone marrow disorders, chronic diseases, and low levels of certain hormones, for example, erythropoietin, thyroid hormone, and others, may result in decreased red blood cell production. Since there are several different forms of anemia with various underlying causes, it is important to seek a diagnosis by a trained medical professional. (1) 

For more information on anemia, see the separate Anemia entry in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library.

Health Benefits

Blood is vital to human life, playing several functions in the body. The transport of oxygen and nutrients are two of its most important roles. Blood transports the oxygen we breathe in from the air to all the tissues in the body. Similarly, blood transports carbon dioxide out of the body to our lungs where it ultimately expelled into the air. It transports nutrients obtained through the digestion of the food to body tissues. It also helps to get waste products out of the body. (2-4) 

Blood composition

Blood is a fluid tissue with both solid and liquid components. Plasma is the liquid component of blood representing 55% of blood volume. Plasma consists primarily of water (91%) but also contains proteins (albumin, globulins, fibrinogen) as well as other solutes (ions, nutrients, waste products, gases and regulatory substances). (4) 

Approximately 45% of blood volume is more solid. There are three major types of formed elements in blood:  red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells are the most abundant type of blood cell in the body. Most blood-building formulas target red blood cells. However, some ingredients in these formulas target white blood cells involved in immunity and inflammation. (4) 

Blood production or Erythropoiesis 

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone produced by specialized cells in the kidneys. When the body loses blood or when the amount of oxygen in the blood is low, more of this hormone is made. EPO stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. (5) This hormone can increase the rate of red blood cell production by several-fold if there are adequate stores of iron, folate, and cobalamin (vitamin B12) available in the bone marrow. (6) If the stores of these nutrients are too low when more red blood cells are needed, anemia may develop. Approximately one-third of anemia cases in the United States are due to nutritional deficiencies of folate, iron, and/or vitamin B12. (7) 

The liver and spleen also play an active role in blood-building. In addition to its role in digestion, the liver plays a major role in the metabolism, detoxification, and elimination of waste substances from the blood. It helps break nutrients down to provide energy in different forms for the body to use. It also takes away waste from the blood. While bone marrow is where red blood cells begin development, the liver produces other key blood components. There are many important proteins and factors that the liver makes that help maintain healthy blood (i.e. serum albumin, blood clotting factors, and blood plasma proteins, etc.). These substances enter the circulation in the liver. Many blood-building formulas contain factors that support the liver’s role in the production of plasma proteins, clotting factors or albumin. (8) 

The spleen serves as a reservoir for blood. It contains more than a pint of blood at any given time. Blood, entering the spleen, passes through dense collections of white blood cells. These cells specialize in fighting infection and disease. The spleen filters the blood and removes bacteria and foreign substances. In this way, old and worn blood cells are removed. However, the iron in these old cells is recycled for future use. (8) Some blood-building formulas include factors aimed at augmenting the spleen’s lymphoid and filtration roles. 

Blood-building formulas typically include a combination of vitamins, herbs, and other factors to create an ideal environment for the production of blood cells and the removal of metabolic toxins and waste from the blood. 

More specifically blood building formulas:  

1) Reduce nutritional deficiencies that increase susceptibility to anemia. 

Iron is a critical nutrient for the growth of all cells and is needed to make hemoglobin–the important oxygen carrying molecule in blood, which is made primarily of iron.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in the United States, where it typically arises from blood loss. (9) Blood loss may result from normal physiological processes such as menstruation, or it may arise from pathological states such as trauma or from occult bleeding, for example from ulcers,. (8) Other causes for iron deficiency include malabsorption, decreased dietary intake, and inflammation. (9) Approximately 25% of menstruating women have depleted iron stores due to menstrual blood losses making them highly susceptible to anemia. When the body’s iron stores are diminished, symptoms of anemia may develop. 

Iron supplementation in blood-building formulas is aimed at replenishing iron stores in the body. (5) Studies demonstrate that iron supplementation is effective at promoting blood production, when existing iron stores are low. (5, 10-12) Efficacy is further increased when iron supplementation is accompanied with vitamin C. (10)  

Folate, a B-complex vitamin, is also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9. Dietary intake is typically from liver, dark leafy greens, asparagus, and yeast sources. However, it may be destroyed by heat during the cooking process. (8, 13) In the body, it plays several important roles. It enhances chemical reactions that contribute to the manufacture and production of red blood cells, providing factors necessary for the replication of cellular DNA. It is also involved in the breakdown of amino acids that the body needs to make protein. Folate deficiencies may result from a number of causes including malabsorption due to intestinal disorders, alcoholism, and medications that interfere with folate metabolism in the body such as sulfonamides, trimethoprim, methotrexate, and anticonvulsants. Children and pregnant women have higher folic acid requirements for proper growth and development. A deficiency of folate can lead to a type of anemia known as folate-deficiency anemia or megaloblastic anemia. (8)  Studies demonstrate that folate supplementation in cases of deficiency promotes the production of blood cells in the body. (12, 14-15) 

Cobalamin or Vitamin B12, another B-complex vitamin, is included in several blood-building formulations. Deficiencies may arise from gastritis, other gastrointestinal disorders, congenital conditions, autoimmune conditions, or as a result of certain medications such as metformin and trimethoprim. Malabsorption is the most common reason for deficiency. Studies demonstrate that supplementation in cases of deficiency promotes the production of blood in the body in individuals who have pernicious anemia from vitamin B12 deficiency. (18-20)  

While cobalamin and folate may be included separately in blood building formulas, other B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and niacin may be included in the formulation as well. 

For more information on the different types of vitamins or minerals, see the separate entries in the WholeHealthMD Reference Library. 

Herbs

Herbs are a major component of many blood-building formulas. Herbs in blood building formulas are typically rich in iron and abundant in a variety of minerals and enzymes that can activate key biochemical processes in the body. Unfortunately, few extensive studies have been performed on specific herbs in order to confirm their effectiveness at blood building agents in humans. 

The following are some of the more commonly included herbs in blood-building formulas aimed at replenishing nutrient levels in the body; however, in many case their inclusion is based on theoretic grounds and they have not been studied as individual substances for this purpose. 

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) sprouts are a nutritive herb rich in a variety of trace minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. They contain iron, a number of B vitamins, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and K4. (7) The herb is generally regarded as safe, but is associated with increased photosensitivity. However, because it contains constituents that may have estrogenic activity, pregnant and lactating women should avoid taking the herb orally in medicinal amounts. (21-22) Individuals with a history of lupus (systemic or drug induced) should avoid alfalfa seed products. Both the leaves and stems of alfalfa can be consumed. (23) 

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) This fruit has a reputation for supporting the circulatory system. It contains substances known as anthocyanins, which are believed to help reinforce blood vessel walls. (7) It is rich in vitamins A and C and, to a lesser extent, B vitamins. It also contains trace elements such as chromium. (33) There is insufficient evidence demonstrating the plant’s effectiveness as a blood-building agent in humans. Animal studies suggest that extracts of the fruit may also improve blood-urea-nitrogen levels in individuals with kidney damage. (34)  

Burdock (Arctium lappa) Burdock is considered a depurative herb or “blood purifier”. It has a reputation for draining toxic substances from the blood, including byproducts of normal metabolism. The plant is a mild diuretic containing potassium mineral salts and vitamin C. Although there is insufficient evidence for the plant’s effectiveness as a blood-building agent; in studies, it has demonstrated potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and liver protecting activity that may support blood health. (7, 26-29) 

Kelp (Laminaria saccharina, Laminaria digitata; Laminaria japonica). Laminaria kelp is a form of Japanese seaweed rich in iron and potassium. It also contains iodine, the basis for thyroid hormone production. (7) There is insufficient evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness for stimulating blood-building. (35)

Kelp, Atlantic or Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus; Ascophyllum nodosum; other Fucus species) Bladderwrack is a form of brown algae seaweed rich in iron and vitamin B12, which are nutrients essential for blood health. It also contains fucoidan, a sugar derivative thought to stimulate fibroblast proliferation. Fucoidan has anticoagulant activity and prevents platelet adhesion. Other nutrients present in this seaweed include fiber and iodine in high concentrations. Care must be taken regarding the source of the algae as the heavy metals arsenic and cadmium may be present. Despite the presence of vitamins and minerals known to be critical to blood-building, there are insufficient studies demonstrating the used of bladderwrack alone for stimulating blood-building. (30) 

Dong quai (Angelia sinensis) is a Chinese herb that has a reputation as a “blood purifier” and treatment for anemia. The root is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals needed for blood production including vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin C. It also contains vitamin A, carotenoids, biotin, calcium, magnesium, and phytosterols. (32) Despite the presence of vitamins and minerals known to be critical to blood-building, there are insufficient studies demonstrating the used of dong quai alone for stimulating blood-building. (30)   

Lycium fruit (Lycium barbarum) is a nutritive Chinese fruit rich in carotenoids such a zeaxanthin and beta-carotene and p-coumaric acid. Nutrients in the fruit which may contribute to blood-building include niacin, vitamin C, minerals and amino acids. Despite the presence of vitamins and minerals know to be critical to blood-building, there are insufficient studies demonstrating the used of the fruit for stimulating blood-building. (49)  

2)  Increase the hemoglobin or red blood concentration of the blood closer to normal levels. Iron supplementation remains one of the most effective ways to increase hemoglobin concentration. (10-12) However, amino acid supplementation has also been associated with increased hemoglobin concentration in the blood. Consequently, amino acids are often a third major component in blood building formulas after vitamins and herbs. Cysteine and leucine are two essential amino acids commonly included in blood-building formulas. Although there is insufficient evidence of their direct impact in blood-building, amino acid mixtures containing cysteine have been associated with an increase in plasma red blood cell count and an increased blood iron concentration. (61) For more information see Amino Acids entry in the WholeHealth MD Reference Library. 

RNA and DNA Blood Factors are included in some blood-building formulas. RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxynucleic acid) are nucleic acids. Nucleic acids serve as the building blocks of nucleotides. DNA is the master code or set of instructions for the assembly of proteins and products that the body needs to function. RNA and DNA factors may include phosphate, the sugars deoxyribose and ribose, as well as nitrogenous bases such as cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine. RNA and DNA Blood Factors contain ratios that are suitable for the blood. Although studies have been performed on RNA and DNA factors, there is limited evidence demonstrating its effectiveness in blood building. (40-41) 

3) Increase the number of white blood cells in the circulation 

Herbs known to stimulate white blood cell (lymphocyte) production are commonly included in blood building formulas. Reishi Mushroom and bupleurum are two products often included in many Chinese blood building preparations to stimulate lymphocyte production. Bupleurum (Bupleurum rotundifolium) is thought to increase the number of B-lymphocyte white cells in the circulation. (51-52) Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) appears to stimulate the production of cytokines in specific types of white blood cells known as T-lymphocytes and macrophages. (37-39) Although researched in animals models, there is insufficient evidence to establish these roles in human studies. (51, 52)  

Both thyme and astragalus root are known for their ability to stimulate and strengthen the immune system. A common western herb, thyme (Thymus vulgaris) stimulates the production of white blood cells in a process known as leukopoiesis. It has demonstrated antiviral and antimicrobial properties. (7, 31) Studies suggest that astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) stimulates the production of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell involved in antibody production and cellular immune responses. The root contains a wide variety of active constituents including vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and saponins. (36) 

4) Support liver blood-building function

Herbs and factors that have traditionally been viewed as liver protecting are commonly included in blood-building formulations. Some support some of the liver’s role as an organ of detoxification, in this way aiding the detoxification of the blood. 

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), for example, is thought to support the role of enzymes that play a key role in the liver’s detoxification mechanisms that help to remove toxins and waste products from the body. Two chemicals found naturally in the plant, thymol and carvacrol, support specific enzymes in the liver associated with detoxification. Although studies demonstrating this action in animal models have been conducted, there are currently no human studies. (31) 

Bilberry, burdock, astragalus, cnidum, and lycium berry are included in blood-building formulas for their traditional use and reputation as liver protecting herbs. Most studies on these herbs have been conducted only on animal models and there is insufficient evidence establishing their efficacy for liver protection. (42-44) 

Other herbs that support the liver’s role in blood building are liver stimulants. Glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) is traditionally considered a liver and immune stimulant and is occasionally included in blood building formulas. Nevertheless, there is insufficient evidence to support its use for these purposes. (45)   

Fo-ti or Ho Shou Woo (Polygonum multiflorum) is a Chinese herb that contains some constituents demonstrated to have hepatoprotective (liver protecting) properties such as stilbene glycosides. However, consumption of the herb may be unsafe as some of the plant’s other constituents are considered potentially dangerous to the liver. Consumption of the herb has been linked to several cases of liver damage. (46-47) Until more evidence is available, it may be advisable to avoid formulations with this product. (48-49) 

RNA and DNA liver factors are included in some blood-building formulas in ratios of constituents found in RNA and DNA that are suitable for the liver. Although studies have been performed on RNA and DNA factors, there is limited evidence demonstrating its effectiveness in blood building. (40-41) 

The amino acids cysteine and leucine are also involved in physiological processes in the liver. Cysteine plays a key role in the detoxification of the blood via a process known as conjugation where a specific chemical molecule is appended to toxins in order to neutralize them and facilitate their excretion into bile or urine. It is also involved in the processes used to remove excess hormones and neurotransmitters from the blood. (50) 

5) Support Spleen function 

RNA and DNA Spleen Factors are included in some blood-building formulas. RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxynucleic acid) are nucleic acids. RNA and DNA factors may include phosphate, the sugars deoxyribose and ribose, as well as nitrogenous bases such as cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine. RNA and DNA Spleen Factors contain ratios that are suitable for the spleen. Although studies have been performed on RNA and DNA factors, there is limited evidence demonstrating their effectiveness in blood building. (40-41)

Forms

  • capsule
  • tablet
  • tincture

Dosage Information

Dosages vary according to specific formulas, as amounts of each individual ingredient in blood-building vary among formulas. Follow label instructions.

Generally, the following dosages should be met:

  • Iron:  18-30mg of iron bound to succinate or fumarate is the standard daily requirement in normal adults. Individuals taking supplements containing iron should have their iron levels measured by their healthcare provider every six months to prevent accidental overload.
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): 500-3000 mg daily. May be taken as 1000 mg three times daily, preferably with meals. It helps increase the absorption of iron.
  • B Vitamins
    • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): 1.1-1.2 mg daily
    • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 1.1-1.3 mg daily
    • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 14-16 mg daily
    • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) 5 - 7 mg daily
    • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):  1.3 mg daily. Individuals over age 50 have higher minimum recommended values of 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women.  
    • Vitamin B9 (Folate): At least 400-1000 mcg daily. Increased efficiency when taken with vitamin B12.
    • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin):  500 – 1000 mcg daily
    • Vitamin K: 90-120 mcg daily

Guidelines for Use

Most nutrients in blood-building formulas are best absorbed when taken with food. Taking divided doses over the course of the day is best, because there is a limit to how much the body can absorb at one time. Follow the recommended dosage guidelines as outlined on the product. For more information about each nutrient, refer to the specific entries in our WholeHealthMD Reference Library. If you are already taking a multivitamin, compare the ingredient list and dosages with substances on this list to avoid excessive consumption of a particular supplement.  

General Interaction 

The amount of each individual ingredient in a blood-building formula is usually quite small. Always use caution when if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking medications. 

If you are concerned with possible interactions, refer to the separate entries (vitamin C, iron, B-complex vitamins, etc) for the ingredients listed in your blood-building product in our WholeHealthMD Reference Library.

Possible Side Effects Date Published: 04/18/2005

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