What is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The spleen is my favourite organ in the body. As an acupuncturist, I am not really supposed to play favourites, saying you love one organ more than the others is like a parent declaring that they love one of their children more, but I feel like I have a special connection with the spleen. I talk about it a lot and I seem to write about it even more. It is a hard-working and often under-appreciated little organ, so it is my duty, and my privilege to give it some much-needed love and attention.

The spleen is an organ that doesn’t really get discussed very much in relation to the other organs of the body. I think its role in Western medicine is perhaps seen as less ‘vital’ than the other organs, but the role of the spleen in Western medicine is very different than its role in Chinese medicine.

The Spleen In Western Medicine

In Western medicine, the spleen is part of the immune system and the largest organ in the lymphatic system. It is where red blood cells are recycled and where white blood cells, called lymphocytes, are stored. It is possible to live without a spleen. You can lacerate or rupture your spleen in a car accident or playing contact sports (or via any severe physical trauma) and the spleen may have to be repaired or removed completely (called a splenectomy). Although it is possible to live without a spleen because other organs overcompensate and take over many of its important functions, it makes a person more susceptible to infections and ultimately compromises their immune system.

The Spleen In Chinese Medicine

5 elements chart : Chinese Medicine Living

This lovely image from http://thespicedoc.com/content/glossary and designed by Patricia Callison

The spleen has a fundamental role in Chinese medicine. It, paired with the stomach, are the main organs of digestion and are responsible for digestion and distribution of food and nutrients throughout the body. The spleen extracts qi from the food we eat that is used by the body to build immunity (wei qi), keep things moving freely (stagnation leads to disease), the proper functioning of the other organs and helps to regulate mental functions and emotions.

Why Our Culture Is Hard On The Spleen

It is very common in our culture to have a deficiency of the spleen. Because the spleen is the main organ of not only digestion but processing, it is responsible for processing the food and drink that we consume, as well as all of the stimuli that comes in through our sense organs. We are a culture that values doing many things at once. The more productive we can be, the more we are praised at our jobs and in life. This philosophy is contrary to the health of the spleen. In Chinese medicine, to keep the spleen healthy, it is important to do one thing at a time, and as mindfully as possible. The idea is that the spleen is then able to use all of its energies to process one thing, rather than having to process many things at once, which wipes out its energy stores, or spleen qi. Examples of doing many things at once are eating (taking in food/drink) while watching TV (taking in stimulus). Or eating while sitting at your computer working. These are commonplace in a culture where everyone has too much to do and is always short on time. This is one of the biggest reasons that so many people suffer from a deficiency of their spleen qi. So, do one thing at a time. If you are going to eat, just eat. Really concentrate and be mindful about what you are doing. Enjoy and savour your food, this will not only help your spleen but lead you to be more relaxed and help you digest more efficiently too.

The Spleen in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

A Strong And Balanced Spleen

People with strong and balanced spleen energy have the following characteristics:

  • responsible
  • practical
  • hardworking
  • strong
  • like to nurture themselves and others
  • active
  • stable
  • excellent endurance
  • good appetites
  • good, healthy digestions
  • strong limbs
  • are orderly and careful
  • often very creative
  • have fertile imaginations

 

Chinese Medicine Living : Traditional Wisdom for Modern Living

A Spleen Imbalance

People with an imbalance of their spleen often display the following characteristics:

  • chronically tired
  • a feeling of being “stuck” in their lives
  • physical and/or mental stagnation
  • weak digestion (lots of digestive issues)
  • poor appetite
  • a diminished sense of taste
  • loose stools
  • abdominal bloating and tenderness
  • masses in the abdomen
  • weight problems (either overweight without overeating or underweight without the ability to gain)

Spleen Qi Deficiency

A deficiency of spleen qi can be caused by many things. Eating a poor diet of mostly refined, highly processed foods where the body is not receiving enough nourishment is certainly common, especially in industrialized nations where foods tend to be overly processed and many people make poor food choices. Another cause is simply our hectic lifestyles. As I mentioned above, we are a culture of multitasking, and this is particularly hard on the tiny organ that is responsible for doing all the processing. If it is constantly overloaded, then it will become exhausted, leading to spleen qi deficiency. Another cause and this is also extremely common, is the emotional aspect of the spleen. In Chinese medicine, every organ is associated with an emotion. An excess of that emotion can damage the related organ, and likewise, when the organ is out of balance, it can have a strong effect on the corresponding emotion. The emotion of the spleen in worry/overthinking. If there is one emotion that I see more than any other in clinic, it is WORRY. An excess of worry and overthinking, as well as having a hard time just shutting off your brain, is damaging to the spleen. And we do that so much in our society. The pressures on us are enormous, and people are simply overworked and overstressed. So, poor nutrition, multitasking and a propensity to worry are all part of our culture, and all are affecting our poor, overworked spleens. It's no wonder spleen qi deficiency is so common.

Here are some symptoms of spleen qi deficiency so you know what to look for:

  • weakness of the whole body
  • fatigue
  • loose stools with undigested food
  • a pale tongue with a thin white coat and teeth marks on the sides
  • a weak pulse
  • weakness of the arms and legs
  • weak muscles
  • prolapse of organs (such as haemorrhoids, uterus, bladder, intestines)

The symptoms above all point to a spleen imbalance. There is good news though. There is wonderful nutritional therapy for deficient spleen qi, and as many Chinese doctors have known for centuries, food is the best medicine.

The Thermal Nature Of Foods In Chinese Medicine

When we talk about nutritional therapy in Chinese medicine, which is an important modality, we talk about the thermal nature of foods. This can be a bit of a difficult concept to understand at first, but once it's explained, it actually starts to make a lot of sense. Thermal nature is not just how physically cold or hot a food is as a result of cooking. In Chinese medicine, all foods are seen to have a fundamentally thermal nature, either warming, cooling or neutral, and these are important to know as they have a direct effect on the body. In the context of Chinese medicine, it is also important to know the thermal nature of your body, which is measured by the relative yin and yang energies it encompasses. For example, if a person comes to you with a red face, bloodshot eyes, outbursts of anger and is shouting, it is pretty safe to determine that that person has an excess of yang energy and thus, should eat cooling foods and stay away from warming ones until the balance of yin and yang is reestablished. Every organ also has a temperature that it prefers, so it is good to know all these things when thinking about food therapy in terms of health and disease.

Foods for Spleen : Chinese Medicine LivingBeautiful Foods

Food Therapy For Spleen Qi Deficiency

With foods thermal nature in mind, the spleen likes to be warm and dry. So if you have spleen qi deficiency, you want to eat foods that are warming, or at least neutral to help build the spleens energy. Cold foods should be avoided as they weaken digestion. Also, foods that are cold in temperature take more energy for the spleen to digest and are seen to extinguish the digestive fire. The flavour associated with the spleen is sweet, so as a rule, sweet foods are prescribed to correct a deficiency.

One of the best foods to build spleen qi is cooked white rice, often eaten in the form of congee or jook. Congee is essentially a porridge made of overcooked rice and water. You may add other ingredients depending on your condition and taste. For spleen qi deficiency or any weakness of the spleen, warming ingredients would be appropriate. See the list below.

Beneficial Spleen Foods

Vegetables

  • pumpkin
  • yam
  • black beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • carrot
  • parsnip
  • squash
  • peas
  • sweet potato
  • onion
  • leek

Spices

  • black pepper
  • ginger
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • fennel
  • garlic

Sweeteners (in small amounts)

  • barley malt
  • rice syrup
  • molasses
  • cherries
  • dates

Animal Products (if the deficiency is severe)

  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • halibut
  • anchovy
  • beef
  • beef liver or kidney
  • turkey
  • chicken
  • lamb
  • butter

Chewing foods well is also important when spleen energy is weak. This helps to break down foods before they get to the spleen and means the spleen has less work to do and conserve its energy. Eating things like soups are beneficial because they are cooked until soft and are less work for the spleen to digest. And finally, the preparation of food is also a factor in helping to build up spleen qi. Eating on the run and eating out mean that you are not taking the time and intention to mindfully prepare the foods that you are eating. To prepare foods with care infuses them with healing energies that the whole body, and especially the spleen, needs. So take the time to prepare the foods that you are eating with love, your spleen will appreciate it. :)

Spleen in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

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What is Spleen Qi Deficiency? : Chinese Medicine Living

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The Spleen and Dampness in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The Spleen is an extremely important organ in Chinese medicine and imbalances in the spleen system are some of the most common. It is sometimes confusing to refer to the spleen, as it is very different than the spleen of Western medicine. In Western medicine, the spleen is part of the immune system, where the blood is purified and red blood cells are recycled taking things like iron and cycling them back into the bloodstream so they can be used by the body. The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ and plays an important part in the body's immune system by helping it to recognize foreign invaders. The spleen also holds a reserve of blood which is valuable in case of haemorrhage. It is possible to survive without a spleen, with the liver taking over many of its functions. Removal of the spleen, however, does make one more susceptible to certain infections. The spleen is approximately 3x1x5 inches in size, weighs seven grams and is located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, between the 9th and 11th ribs on the left-hand side, beside the stomach.

The spleen in Chinese medicine is quite different. The spleen is considered the major organ of digestion and is partnered with the stomach. The spleen is yin and the stomach is yang. There are many factors that affect the spleen.

Emotions

Every organ in Chinese medicine has an emotion associated with it. The emotion of the spleen is worry and overthinking. We live in a culture where both of these things are extremely common. We work long hours, often don't eat properly and don't get enough sleep. We eat at our desks, multitasking, which puts more of a burden on the spleen because it is responsible for taking in not only the food and drink we consume, but all the stimulus as well. This is why doing one thing at a time and doing it mindfully takes the load off the spleen. Chewing your food very well and not eating too many raw foods will also help take the burden off the spleen. Intense thinking, concentration, studying, brooding and obsessing are all emotions that, if in excess, also weaken the spleen.

Nutrition

What we eat is of vital importance to the spleen. This is good news because there are many foods that are beneficial for this important organ. The spleen likes to be warm and dry, so eating warming foods that do not create too much moisture are excellent for the spleen. Also, the colour associated with the spleen is yellow, so as a rule, yellow foods are healing for the spleen. Below is a handy chart.

Foods The Spleen Loves

  • Corn
  • Celery
  • Watercress
  • Turnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Button mushrooms
  • Radish
  • Caper
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Amaranth
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Kidney beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Lentils
  • A small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • A small amount of whole fruits (as opposed to just the juice), lemon
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Green tea
  • Jasmine tea
  • Raspberry leaf tea
  • Chai tea
  • Raspberry
  • Peach
  • Strawberry
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Chestnuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  • Lobster
  • Mussels
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp
  • Trout
  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Clove
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Turmeric
  • Thyme
  • Horseradish
  • Cayenne
  • Nutmeg

 

Spleen Foods : Chinese Medicine Living

Foods That Hurt The Spleen

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Cold drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Processed foods
  • Refined flour, pastry, pasta, bread
  • Cold raw foods
  • Refined sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Coffee, alcohol
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Bananas
  • Avocado

The Spleen and Dampness in Chinese Medicine

The concept of dampness in Chinese medicine is related to a deficiency of the spleen's function of transporting and transforming body fluids. When the spleen becomes deficient, it will cause it to produce more dampness, creating a vicious cycle. Dampness can come from both internal and external factors.  The characteristics of dampness are that it is heavy, sticky, difficult to get rid of, slows things down and tends to settle in the lower parts of the body like the legs and abdomen. Dampness often starts in the legs and can work its way up to the organs in the abdomen. If it settles in the female genital system it causes vaginal discharges, often with a foul odour. If it settles in the intestines it will cause loose stools and if it gets into the bladder it will cause cloudy urine, difficulty, frequency and even a burning sensation upon urination.

Dampness has several clinical manifestations, which can be broken down into a few categories. Each has specific symptoms associated with it. Below are some common symptoms of dampness.

Dampness Symptoms

  • A feeling of being tired
  • A heavy feeling in the limbs
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning and getting going
  • A heaviness or fuzzy feeling in the head
  • Unclear thinking
  • A feeling of fullness or oppression of the chest
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urinary difficulty
  • Vaginal discharges
  • No appetite
  • Sticky taste in the mouth
  • Dull ache and swelling of the joints
  • Skin diseases with weepy discharges
  • A thick, sticky tongue coating

External Dampness

Dampness can be acquired externally by living in damp conditions (like moist basements), being out in damp weather, wearing wet clothing or sitting on damp ground. It can then get into the channels causing the above symptoms. External dampness generally invades the lower body, typically the legs and can cause aching and swelling of the joints. It can work its way up the leg channels and cause symptoms in the urinary system, female genital system, and intestines. Because of the heavy, sticky nature of dampness, especially when it mixes with heat, it is difficult to get rid of and tends to return again and again.

Being careful to stay covered up and warm as well as staying out of damp environments as much as possible is the best defence against an invasion of external dampness. If you are out in the rain, dry off right away so dampness doesn't set in.

Dampness in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

Photo by Dannyst @ Deviantart

Internal Dampness

Internal dampness mainly affects the spleen, but can also affect the kidneys. If the spleen becomes deficient and its ability to transport and transform fluids is affected, it will lead to the accumulation of fluids, creating dampness. The symptoms for both internal and external dampness are the same, the difference being that internal dampness will have a slow onset, as external dampness' onset is more sudden. Another difference is subtleties in the tongue and pulse. In external dampness, the tongue will have a thick, sticky coating, whereas in internal dampness, the tongue coating will be thin. The pulse in both internal and external dampness will be slippery, but with internal dampness, it will be fine, or weak and floating. An external damp pulse will be slippery and full.

Acupuncture as well as Chinese herbs are used in the treatment of dampness. Most commonly points on the spleen meridian are used to clear dampness and strengthen the spleen, and Chinese herbal formulas are used to drain dampness, expelling it from the body (often through urination), as well as building the spleen so that more dampness is not created. Dampness can be difficult to treat because of its heavy, sticky nature, but with nutrition therapy - eating foods that strengthen the spleen and drain dampness - as well as acupuncture and herbs, you can get rid of dampness, and have a happier spleen as a result - which is what we all really want. :)


Beautiful featured image photo by Hansjörg Keller on Unsplash



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Horse Chestnut for Hemorrhoids

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Nobody likes to talk about hemorrhoids. Frankly, I would be a little worried if you DID like to talk about hemorrhoids. And what is worse than talking about them, is having them. And many people do. The thing about hemorrhoids is that many people suffer in silence when there are many things that can help, and that is what I want to talk about.

Hemorrhoids

Ok, lets get the gory bits out of the way. What is a hemorrhoid? A hemorrhoid is literally a varicose vein located in the anus and/or rectum. There are two types, internal and external depending on their location. It is thought that about 50% of people will have hemorrhoids by the age of fifty, some say it is 50% by the age of thirty. Because those don't sound like very good odds, the rest of this article should be very useful. :) But first, lets talk about other things that can happen in that general vicinity according to Chinese medicine so that you know the difference and can proceed with appropriate treatments. Hemorrhoids are also called piles.

Hemorrhoids : Chinese Medicine Living

Anal Prolapse

Anal prolapse (also called rectal prolapse) is defined as a condition in which the rectum, which is the lower end of the colon, just above the anus, becomes stretched out and protrudes outside of the anus. The prolapse is often due to weakening of the sphincter muscle and can result in leakage of stool and/or mucus. The condition appears to be more common in women but does occur in both sexes. In Chinese medicine, anal prolapse is often caused by a deficiency of spleen qi, causing it to "sink". The prolapse of other organs, such as the bladder, uterus and vagina are also often due to sinking of spleen qi.

Anal Fissure

Anal fissures are cracks or tears in the anus or anal canal. They can be acute of chronic. In Western medicine they are seen to be largely caused by trauma, but in Chinese medicine they are mostly a result of deficiency (deficiency of blood causing dryness in the intestines) and fire and damp heat.

Anal Fistula

An anal fistula is a small tunnel that develops between the end of the bowel (the anal canal) and the anus. In Western medicine, surgery is often needed, but in Chinese medicine they can be treated successfully with Chinese herbs and acupuncture. The causes in Western medicine are that fistula's are often the result of an abscess (a collection of puss) that has not been treated properly and has burst. Fistulas are also common in people with conditions that affect the intestines like Crohn's disease, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and diverticulitis. 30% of HIV patients develop anal fistula's, probably as a result of the body's immune system attacking the body. Fistula seems to be more common in women than men, although both are affected.

In Chinese medicine, anal fistula's are a result of heat, either from an excess or deficiency, or from deficiency cold.

anal fissure / fistula : Chinese Medicine Living

Anal Ulcers

These are literally ulcers located near or on the anus. In Chinese medicine, they are due to deficiency of the lungs, spleen and kidney or to toxic heat.

Horse Chestnut

For years whenever I have a patient who has varicose veins, or is suffering with hemorrhoids (and for every person who has told me they are suffering with hemorrhoids, I suspect there are ten that don't) I recommend they take horse chestnut. Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is an herb that comes from the horse chestnut tree and is used to help build up the walls and elasticity of the veins. It also increases circulation and is an anti inflammatory. The flowers and seeds of the horse chestnut tree have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicines, and is still a common treatment for disorders of the vessels, circulation problems and arthritis for its anti-inflammatory properties.

horse chestnut for hemorrhoids

Horse Chestnut for Hemorrhoids

Horse chestnut contains several chemical compounds called saponins, the most potent of which is called aescin. Aescin has a very strong anti-inflammatory effect and is why horse chestnut is used to treat varicose veins (which is what hemorrhoids are), arthritis and rheumatic conditions and is used to reduce inflammation after trauma or surgery. Horse chestnut is used to treat hemorrhoids because it strengthens the walls of the veins, increases their elasticity, reduces inflammation and prevents the breakdown of smaller capillaries.

Horse chestnut can be taken orally or applied topically. The recommended dose for oral use of horse chestnut when treating hemorrhoids is 300mg twice a day. Horse chestnut contains esculin which is toxic when eaten raw, so be careful to look on the bottle of your horse chestnut to see that esculin has been removed. This is a standard practice to make sure it is safe.

Orally: take at least 40mg of horse chestnut three times a day (the recommended dose for treating hemorrhoids is 300mg twice a day).

Topically: Many hemorrhoid cremes and ointments contain horse chestnut extract. Although this will help, you want to make sure that there is no bleeding as the horse chestnut may increase the bleeding temporarily.

 

Hemorrhoids And The Spleen

So, what do hemorrhoids have to do with the spleen? Well, by now you should know that almost everything has to do with the spleen!! The spleen, in Chinese medicine, is responsible for the body's holding function. This means the ability to hold organs in place is determined by the spleen's energy. Things like prolapses, prolapse of uterus, bladder, vagina, hernias and yes, hemorrhoids (this is literally a prolapse of the anus) are governed by the spleen. I often see these problems with patients who have chronically deficient spleen's. There is a lot we can do to strengthen the spleen, and you can read about that here - Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine. :)

Horse Chestnut Leaves : Chinese Medicine Living

The leaves of a horse chestnut tree - so pretty!

Other Helpful Things

Many people think that if you have hemorrhoids that you just have to live with them, or that surgery may be the only option. Not so! There are other things that you can do to help heal your hemorrhoids.

  • Eat a clean diet with lots of fruits and vegetables (but go easy on the fibre, as this can make hemorrhoids worse)
  • Stay away from foods that cause inflammation like processed foods and sugar
  • Exercise to keep things moving through your digestive tract - this will make sure that nothing sits in your intestines too long which will aggravate your hemorrhoids
  • Drink plenty of water - this will help with constipation which is a major cause of hemorrhoids
  • Don't rush when you poop! Take your time and relax. Don't strain, give yourself the time to poop and don't rush.
  • Using probiotics with help keep everything in the digestive tract healthy and happy.
  • Taking supplements like horse chestnut will help strengthen the walls of your veins and combat inflammation.
  • Be mindful! This is the first step to healing any problem. :)

 

Horse Chestnut Tree Flower : Chinese Medicine Living

The flowers of a horse chestnut tree - beautiful! 

Hemorrhoids are a very common problem, but you don't have to suffer. Diet, exercise and supplements can really help to improve hemorrhoids and give you a better quality of life. With these simple steps instead of dreading a bowel movement, you can have everything move freely with no discomfort, and we all deserve that. :)


Documentary - Cancer Is Curable Now

This is a very interesting documentary about curing cancer with non-conventional (non Western) treatments. Is this even possible? YES, and it has been going on all over the world for years. There are many, many alternatives to the standard Western treatments of radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer is big business, especially in the United States, so many of the other treatments available for cancer are suppressed so people don't find out about them. Most of these treatments are safer, less expensive and way less destructive than conventional treatments. If you know anyone with cancer, this is definitely something they should see. Everyone of course has the right to choose what treatment they would like, but it is important to make an informed decision and get all the information about what it out there.

Many of these treatments use the philosophy that if you rebalance the body and give it what it needs then it will heal itself. (This is also the Chinese medicine philosophy). This is so often why conventional treatments may work temporarily but the cancer inevitable returns. It is because it is dealing with the symptoms (the cancer), and not the reason the cancer developed in the first place.

There is a lot of excellent information in here, and hopefully this will introduce some of you to some treatments that you did not know about. It all seems like common sense to me, but I will let you be the judge. Knowledge is power. :)

Documentary - Cancer is Curable Now

 

Natural Laundry Soap : Chinese Medicine Living9000 Needles : Chinese Medicine LivingChinese Herbs : Chinese Medicine Living


Can You Die of a Broken Heart?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Can you die of a broken heart? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer is yes.

Anyone who has had their heart broken wouldn't even have to think about the answer to this. "Yes" they would say, or at least that is what it feels like. Heartbreak is like walking around with tiny shards of glass in your chest. You feel a crushing sense of sadness, and you are miserable. I suspect that most of us have had our hearts broken at least once, and it feels awful. Sometimes it is so bad that you literally feel like you want to die. But did you know that you can actually die of a broken heart? Yes, that's right. You CAN. And the medical name for it is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.

In Western medicine the condition has several different names; transient apical ballooning syndrome, apical ballooning cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy, stress cardiomyopathy and Gebrochenes-Herz-syndrom. The syndrome is characterized by a sudden weakening of the myocardium, or heart muscle. Broken heart syndrome is a well recognized cause of acute heart failure, and the interesting thing is that there are often no structural problems in or around the heart which is why, at least to Western medicine, its cause is a bit mysterious. Broken heart syndrome symptoms mimic those of a heart attack so people report symptoms like chest pains and shortness of breath. A heart attack results from a near or almost complete blockage of a heart artery. In broken heart syndrome, there is no such blockage.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living

Broken heart syndrome has been well documented. If the sufferer survives the initial attack (which most do), all the symptoms often resolve completely in a couple of months. But perhaps the most significant thing about broken heart syndrome is that it is usually preceded by an intense emotional event, either a sudden shock, like the death of a loved one, or an ongoing emotional stressor like the breakup of a relationship. It can also be brought about by a constant state of anxiety - for example, living in a war torn country where you have watched your family die and have been torn from your home. This kind of ongoing stress and anxiety puts a huge load on the heart, both physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Interestingly, broken heart syndrome was first documented in Japan in the 1990's, and it gets its name - Tako-tsubo - from the Japanese literally meaning "octopus pot". It gets this name because of the shape of the heart when the syndrome is present - apical ballooning, a reversible abnormality characteristic of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. During systole (when the heart contracts) the midsection and tip (apex) of the left ventricle balloon out, while the area above, called the base, contracts normally. The shape is similar to the tako-tsubo - a round bottomed vessel with a narrow neck used to catch octopuses in Japan. The syndrome also seems to occur in much higher instances in women than in men, and most reported cases are of women from ages 58-75.

The Heart in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the heart is at the centre of the body and its activities. The heart is said to govern and be responsible for all of the bodies functions via the other organs. The heart is also the residence of a very subtle but profoundly important energy, called the Shen. The Shen has been loosely translated as "spirit", but this does not encapsulate the entirety of what Shen means. It is a difficult concept to explain, but many mental illnesses are described in Chinese medicine as disturbances of the Shen. When you look into someones eyes and they are clear and bright and full of intelligence, this is someone with healthy Shen. When you look into the eyes of someone who is depressed, deeply sad, or is going through something very difficult in their lives that is, at least at that moment, getting the better of them, their eyes have a cloudy, unfocused appearance. This points to a disturbance of the Shen. Our Shen is our ability to be in the world, deal with problems effectively, be emotionally balanced and be clear and focused in our thoughts, feelings and ability to handle life and everything is throws at us. So, having a healthy Shen is of supreme importance, and its residence is the heart.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living

To anyone who practices Chinese medicine, dying of a broken heart isn't such a bizarre thought. A sudden shock, or prolonged emotions like worry, sadness, anger and guilt (which is a uniquely Western emotion) weaken the heart and its energies. As we know, Chinese medicine takes the emotions very seriously and they are one of the main causes of disease. Now, for those of you who this is new to, let me clarify - it is not HAVING emotions that can cause disease, emotions are a natural part of being human. But emotions that are repressed, unexpressed or experienced intensely for extended periods of time without being resolved can certainly be a cause of disease.

In Chinese medicine, the body is like a garden, and everything must be working in harmony for the garden to flourish and grow. This means that the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person must all be in harmony for ultimate health to be achieved. So, take care of your heart. If you are dealing with something difficult in your life, acknowledging it and either dealing with it or seeking out help to get you through it is my best advice to keep your heart, and your Shen happy and balanced for many years to come.  And if you are having symptoms of a heart attack, even if you have no prior history of heart problems, take them seriously. Especially if they occur after an intense emotional event or sudden shock. Broken heart syndrome is real, and arming yourself with information is the best way to avoid problems in the present and the future.

Broken Heart Syndrome : Chinese Medicine Living


Want to learn more about the heart in Chinese Medicine? The heart is associated with the Summer season in Chinese Medicine. You can check out some of our sheets below.

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