Love Your Spleen.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Helpful tips - How to Keep Your Spleen Strong According to Chinese Medicine.

One of the most common things I see in my practice is problems with digestion. Interestingly, this isn’t usually the reason that people come to see me, but when I am going through their medical history, it usually comes up. The sad thing is that most people live with digestive problems when in Chinese Medicine they are relatively easy to fix with a little treatment, nutritional counselling and some tips on how to help support and strengthen our digestions.

Now, a lot of people think of the spleen as in the western medicine spleen, part of the immune system and responsible for the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) and removal of old red blood cells. It is not the same as it is in Chinese Medicine. The spleen in Chinese Medicine is paired with the Stomach, and both are the main organs of digestion for the body. The difference is that they not only digest food but also stimulus and information - everything that comes into the body through our sense organs.

What you learn your first year in Acupuncture school when learning Chinese Medicine theory, is that we live in a Spleen deficient culture. We are constantly taking in information, and that information has to be processed by, you guessed it, the Spleen. We eat in front of the TV (taking in food, and stimulus at the same time), we are constantly looking at our mobile devices on the road and wherever we go, and we are always multitasking. Never doing just one thing at a time. And thus, we are overloading our poor Spleens.

So, what can we do? There are lots of things that, once you are aware of them, can help take the burden off your Spleen.

Don’t Put Ice In Your Drinks. Avoid Cold Foods.

The Spleen hates cold, so one easy way to help your Spleen is to avoid ice in your drinks. Because the Spleen is responsible for breaking down your food through the process of digestion, and this is powered by heat. Eating and drinking cold foods such as icy drinks, eating ice cream (a TCM nono!), or eating a lot of frozen or very cold foods (many foods in raw form are considered “cold”) taxes the Spleens energy, as it has to heat up again to be able to do the work necessary for digestion.

Be Mindful.

This is not just good advice for helping your Spleen, but a good life philosophy. One of the best things you can do for your Spleen is to do one thing at a time and be absolutely mindful when you do it. This means when you are eating, JUST EAT. Don’t sit in front of the TV, read, study or catch up on work. In such a fast-paced world where everyone is short on time, it is understandable that people are always doing many things at once, but this small thing will not only help your Spleen, it will relax your mind and body as well.

Chew Your Food.

We can all help our Spleens by making sure that we really chew our food well. We tend to all be in such a hurry that we do not chew our food nearly as well as we should. Chewing will help the breakdown of the foods before they get to the stomach, making the Spleens job a little easier.

Eat Soups.

Since most of us have at least some Spleen deficiency, one of the best things you can do to be kind to your Spleen is to eat soups. These are warming (the longer and slower they are cooked, the more warming they become) and they are very easy to digest which is why they are prescribed to you when you are sick - your body requires less energy to digest them, focussing its energies to fighting pathogens and getting you well. Soups do not take a lot of energy to digest, saving the Spleens energy for other things. There are many foods that are beneficial to the Spleen which I will list later in the article. I will also list foods that the Spleen is not so fond of so you can at least be aware of what they are and avoid them when you can.

Take A Break.

Because we live in a culture that is so bombarded by stimulus, most people have deficient Spleens. The Spleen must take in and process ALL that information, including the food we eat and liquids we drink, so you can imagine, it is a very hard-working organ. Something that you can do to give your Spleen a break, is to literally, take a break. Go for a walk outside. Leave your phone at home. Sit somewhere quiet and meditate away from the TV, the phone and try to avoid interruptions. Doing this even once a day for a few minutes will really help the Spleen and you will notice a big difference in how you feel. You will notice that you are calmer, more aware and feel more at peace. And your Spleen will love you.

The Spleens Functions in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen is responsible for many functions so that if you have symptoms in any of these areas, they point to a disharmony of the Spleen.

The Spleen Controls Blood

The Spleen is responsible for manufacturing the Blood and the Spleen Qi keeps it in the vessels. If Spleen Qi is weak, a person will bruise easily, and/or will have problems with bleeding.

The Spleen Controls The Muscles And The Four Limbs

The Spleen is responsible for circulating nutrients to the muscles and tissues. If the Spleen is weak, then the muscles and limbs are not nourished and become weak and tired.

The Spleen Is Responsible For Transformation & Transportation

The Spleen is responsible for the intake, processing and distribution of nutrients extracted from food and drink. The Spleen takes these nutrients and creates Qi and Blood, both vital substances for all the body’s functions and maintaining proper health. If transformation and transportation is functioning properly, the Qi is strong, digestion is smooth and the body is kept moist. When malfunctioning, the Qi is weak (lassitude and lethargy), the appetite is poor, digestion is sluggish and the stools are loose and watery.

The Spleen Opens Into The Mouth & Manifests In The Lips

Chewing is necessary for the functioning of the Spleen and if the Spleen is deficient, the sense of taste may be dulled. Red, moist and vibrant lips indicate a healthy Spleen. If the Spleen is deficient however, the lips will be pale from lack of nourishment.

Controls The Upright Qi

The Spleen is responsible for the body’s “holding” function. This is called the upright Qi. It is specifically the force that counteracts gravity when it comes to holding things, specifically the organs, in place. This is very important! Without healthy upright Qi, all of our organs would be at the bottom of our abdomen! When the Spleen is weak, we see prolapse of organs (uterus, bladder, stomach), prolapse of the vagina as well as things like haemorrhoids (prolapse of the anus, PLUS bleeding also attributed to the Spleen).

Houses Thought

Every organ in TCM is seen to have its own unique Spirit, and the Spirit of the Spleen is called the Yi. The Spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking. How well we manage our thoughts, concentrate, exercise discernment and form intentions is dependent on the strength of the Spleen.

Worry - The Emotion of the Spleen

All organs in TCM also are associated with an emotion, and the emotion of the Spleen is worry and overthinking. This works in two ways. Excessive worry will damage the Spleen Qi, and a deficient Spleen can weaken the mind and our capacity to think clearly and focus, leaving us susceptible to worry.

Foods Beneficial For The Spleen

  • Organic lightly cooked vegetables, corn, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, alfalfa sprouts, button mushrooms, radish, caper
  • Brown rice, barley, amaranth, rye, oats
  • Legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils
  • Small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • Small amount of whole fruits, 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

Foods That Hurt The Spleen

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

When the Spleen is functioning well a person will feel energetic, their digestion will be smooth, their bowel movements will be regular and firm (not soft), thoughts will be clear and one will be able to concentrate.

When the Spleen is imbalanced there will be symptoms of digestive upset, loose stools, poor appetite, low energy, oedema (water retention), nausea, vomiting, weakness in the four limbs, pale lips, organ prolapse, bruising and a feeling of cold.

Because most of us have some level of Spleen deficiency, we can all help our Spleens by being aware of simple things we can all do to take some of the pressure off of this important organ. Your Spleen will love you for it.

 

Download Our Sheets - The Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Are You A Practitioner?

Please visit the Chinese Medicine Professionals Shop to get PRO sheets for your clinic that you can share with patients. Yay!


Healing the Gallbladder with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The Gallbladder in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the Gallbladder has many important functions. Firstly, it has a very close relationship to the Liver. The Gallbladder is a Yang organ and the Liver is its Yin organ partner. The Gallbladder stores and excretes bile governs decision making and planning, controls the sinews and effects dreams. On a deeper emotional level, the Gallbladder is responsible for our passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness. When we are having problems being assertive, making decisions or following through, are lacking passion, feeling timid or uninspired, we are experiencing an imbalance of the Gallbladder. When the Gallbladder is balanced and its energy is flowing freely, we are happy, healthy, assertive and passionate.

In TCM, organs are categorized as either Yin or Yang. Yin organs are defined as organs that produce, transform, regulate and store fundamental substances, such as Qi, Blood and body fluids, and in general, the Yin organs are not empty cavities. They are function versus form. The Yin organs in TCM are the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys. The Yang organs are organs that are mainly responsible for digestion and for transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. Usually, they are organs with empty cavities and have a connection to the outside of the body. The Yang organs in TCM are the Gallbladder, Stomach, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Bladder and San Jiao (Triple Burner).

The Gallbladder is unusual in the sense that it is the only Yang organ that does not have direct contact with food and drink or a direct connection to the outside of the body. Because of this, it is also considered an extraordinary organ.

Just as in Western medicine, the Gallbladder receives bile from the Liver which it stores until it is needed in the digestive process. When the Gallbladder releases bile, it is considered to be regulated by the energy of the Liver, or Liver Qi. When digestion is smooth, so is the Liver Qi. The Gallbladder also needs the Liver Qi to be able to release its bile smoothly. If this relationship is impaired, it can adversely affect digestion and cause problems like vomiting, regurgitation, belching and hiccups, which are all symptoms of rebellious Stomach Qi.

It is common in the modern age to see many patients who have had their Gallbladders removed because of gallstones and other problems. In ancient China, the organs were never removed. That has remained the thinking in Traditional Chinese Medicine today, and if a patient is having problems with their Gallbladder, the practitioner of TCM would always explore dietary options, herbs and acupuncture, and possibly cleanses before considering surgery as a last resort.

Why Do So Many People Have Problems With Their Gallbladders?

So, why do so many people have problems with their Gallbladders? It is a good question. I believe that one reason is diet, and the other is stress. These are 2 of the things that affect the gallbladder the most. Another, in Chinese medicine, is the emotions. Each organ in TCM is associated with an emotion. And the Liver/Gallbladder’s emotion is anger. Now, experiencing emotions is a healthy part of life and one of the things that make us human. But in TCM, the philosophy is that having a healthy emotional life is just as important to our health as eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping your Qi strong (your immune system) so that you can fight off pathogens. The effect of anger on the Liver/Gallbladder works 2 ways.

1. If you repress anger, hold it in and never express it, it will eventually hurt the Liver/Gallbladder and cause imbalance, which will lead to disease.

2. If you are experiencing unusual levels of stress because of things going on in your life (a traumatic event, death, an illness, breakup of a relationship), or stress at work, and/or are eating badly (lots of greasy, fatty, rich or spicy foods), then eventually, the Liver/Gallbladder will become impaired and can cause an excess of anger which can manifest in symptoms like red face & eyes, irritability, angry outbursts, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and migraines. These are symptoms of Liver Fire (excess heat in the Liver).

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

So, How Can You Take Care of Your Gallbladder?

Here are some things that you can do to keep your Gallbladder healthy and happy.

1. Avoid Greasy, Fatty, Rich or Spicy Foods

Sharp abdominal pains after eating these types of foods point to Gallbladder stones and other problems. Because the Gallbladder is responsible for releasing bile which helps break down fats, you want to keep intake of these foods to a minimum and not overload your Gallbladder.


Photo by Robin Stickel on Unsplash

2. Express Emotions Freely

This may be easier said than done, but any stagnation or blockage in TCM is what causes disease and pain. This includes emotions, so it is important to have a healthy emotional life, and always try to express what you are feeling instead of allowing it to build up. Emotions specific to Gallbladder are anger (frustration, resentment, etc..) associated with its partner, the Liver. Emotional changes such as depression (which is considered anger turned inward) can also point to a Gallbladder imbalance.

3. Eat Foods Grown Locally and in Season

This is a big one in Chinese Medicine, and, if you look at history, it is the way we are designed to eat. Our digestive systems have evolved to digest the foods that people were able to grow once we were able to leave our nomadic roots and start farming. People only ate foods that were available to them and grew in the present season. With the recent proliferation of air travel, we have been spoiled by being able to have whatever foods we want, any time of the year (strawberries in winter, blueberries in the tropics, mangoes in the far North...). And although this is wonderful, it is not the way our digestive systems were designed, so we are overloading them with too many kinds of foods at all times of the year. To be kind to your gallbladder, try to eat foods that grow locally and are available in the season you are presently in.

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

In Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy is a huge aspect of the medicine. What better way to heal the body than to use the food that we eat 3 times a day? In TCM, every food has a temperature, that interacts with your body, adding heat, cold, or keeping it neutral. Foods also all have healing properties, so the Chinese felt it very important to eat the proper foods when they became sick to help rebalance them so they could recover. I will include a list of some foods beneficial for the Gallbladder at the end of this article.

4. Exercise. Keep Moving!

The Gallbladder meridian runs bilaterally along the body starting at the outside corner of the eye (at the end of the eyebrow) and runs along the side of the body, ending at the corner of the nail bed of the 4th toe. Therefore, any exercise that stimulates the sides of the body are beneficial for the flow of Qi and to help remove any blockages in the Gallbladder organ and meridian. Side stretches are ideal. There are many Chinese internal as well as external martial arts that are excellent for mind, body, and spirit. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are 2 examples of internal martial arts that are beneficial for moving Qi in all of the meridians, as well as strengthening the body and the mind. Kung Fu is a bit more rigorous, but has an emphasis is circulating Qi throughout the body to maintain physical and mental health. Movement is the most important aspect for keeping your Qi from stagnating, so if Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Kung Fu are a bit more physical activity than you are used to, just simple things like walking are a wonderful way to keep Qi moving.

 

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

5. Be Kind to Your Gallbladder in Spring

Spring is the season related to the Gallbladder, and its partner the Liver.
The Spring element is wood, the taste, sour and the colour is green. So you can imagine after a lengthy winter, the new bright green shoots of plants breaking through the ground representing new life after a long, cold slumber. This is the reason that it is especially important to give the Gallbladder and the Liver a rest from things like caffeine, alcohol and other intoxicants during this time. It is also beneficial to cleanse these organs by drinking lots of water and eating things like fresh greens to nourish the Gallbladder and Liver, especially in the spring.

6. Know What Time It Is

In Chinese medicine, every organ is seen to have 2 hours out of every 12 where its Qi is at its peak. The time when the Gallbladder’s energy is it's most abundant is between 11pm-1am. During these 2 hours, it is helpful if you can refrain from drinking alcohol or other intoxicants, as they place unnecessary stress on the Gallbladder. It also helps the Gallbladder if you can rest the body as much as possible in these 2 hours.

Foods that are beneficial to the Gallbladder

  • Broccoli
  • Rocket
  • Beetroot
  • Oranges
  • Jasmine tea
  • Green tea
  • Radishes
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne (this may seem contradictory, but Cayenne is very moving for qi. Just remember moderation!)
  • Dill
  • Chive
  • Cardamom
  • Lemon
  • Dandelion root
  • Licorice root
  • Cumquat
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chrysanthemum tea
  • Tea with orange peel

 

Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

Foods that hurt the Gallbladder

  • Deep fried food - (Greasy)
  • Alcohol - (Damp)
  • Spicy foods - (remember moderation is important!)
  • Hot foods - Foods that are considered “Hot” in TCM are:
    • Lamb
    • Beef
    • Curry

If you are experiencing any Gallbladder symptoms, or have been told by your doctor that you should consider surgery, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and explore the non-surgical options to rebalance your body and heal your Gallbladder.

The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is that it was developed to be a system that focuses on prevention. That is why, it is not only the oldest medical system on earth, but it teaches an entire way of life, teaching how to live in harmony with nature, eating with the seasons, moderation in work and play, exercise and emotional wellness. By practicing these basic principles, Chinese medicine teaches that you can maintain optimum health so that illness never has a chance to develop.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

If you suspect you are having problems with your gallbladder and would like an expert opinion, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers skype consultations. For more information and pricing, see our Skype Consult Page.