How To Strengthen Your Spleen with Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Every organ is important in Chinese medicine and that is because they all work in tandem, each benefiting the other. Chinese medicine is a holistic system and each part of the human being is integral to the balance that is necessary to achieve and maintain health.

The organs are in a constant state of flux, moving between excess and deficiency, yin and yang. Nothing in the body is static, it is a dynamic system, always attempting to heal itself and rebalance. If we are able to give the body everything it needs, it is able to heal itself from almost anything. Like a garden, it must be tended, watered, weeded and if it is cared for, it will grow nothing but the most beautiful and healthy plants and flowers that are resilient and able to fight disease.

One of the first steps on the path to health is figuring out what it is that the body needs so that it can heal itself and remain healthy and strong. This, unfortunately, is not easy. This is why we read books on nutrition, exercise and go to doctors, we are all trying to figure out what it is our bodies are asking for. In Chinese medicine, there are organ systems that each have specific responsibilities. Each organ system works with the others to keep the body in balance. The spleen is one of the organs that, because of the society in which many of us live, becomes weak and can cause all kinds of health problems that are very common - from digestive problems, to insomnia, to weight gain to depression. Because the spleen is like the hub at the centre of the wheel, it is the foundation for many of the body's important processes and therefore, we must try to keep it strong and healthy.

Here are some simple (but powerful) things you can do to strengthen your spleen.

Avoid Ice In Your Drinks

The spleen in Chinese medicine is the main organ of digestion. The difference is that it is not only digesting food and drink, but the emotions and everything that comes in through the sense organs. So, you can see that the spleen is busy. The spleen likes to be warm and dry and dislikes cold. It slows down its processes and cold is seen to extinguish its digestive fire. So, cold foods, like foods with a cold thermal nature, like many raw foods and seafood in Chinese medicine, as well as foods that are physically cold like ice cream, and frozen foods and desserts are very hard on the spleen. A simple way to give your spleen some love is to drink water and other drinks at room temperature and not add ice. Your spleen will love you for it. Unfortunately, ice cream too is a bit of a nono, but moderation! Everybody needs ice cream sometimes, no?

Be Mindful

Mindful : Chinese Medicine Livingthis lovely image from mindful.org

As stated above, the spleen has the important task of processing all of the stimuli that comes into our bodies from the outside world. That is no small task considering that we are constantly being bombarded with stimulus. Thanks to advances in technology, we are *always* connected and able to receive phone calls, texts, and emails, but this also means that we never really get a break or time to be away or unavailable. The spleen loves to focus, and do one thing at a time. That way it can concentrate its energy fully and completely to the task at hand, get the job done efficiently and excellently and then can move on to the next thing. The spleen loves to get things done, but it needs to be mindful and concentrate on one thing at a time.

Do One Thing At A Time

Yes! We are a culture that loves to multitask. We are often praised at work or school for the sheer number of things that we can do at the same time with the thinking that it makes us more productive humans. As life becomes more complex and we are more connected than we ever have been it becomes ever more difficult to be able to focus and do one thing at a time. Because of this, the spleen works extra hard and never gets to rest and easily becomes deficient leading to health problems that are often seen in clinic. Digestive problems, muscle weakness, prolapse of organs, bleeding and bruising easily, weight gain, the formation of tumours are all symptoms of spleen deficiency. But, trying to focus on one task at a time allows the spleen to focus its energies without scattering its qi, thus keeping it strong and healthy.

Take A Break

Take a Break : Chinese Medicine Livingthis nice image from adweek.com

Because of all the reasons listed above, our crazy schedules, working many hours, often not getting enough sleep, overthinking and worry, the spleen's energy becomes exhausted and we can develop various health issues from digestive problems to depression. We have full lives and many of us don't get enough time to recharge our batteries. Taking small breaks throughout the day is not only good for the spleen but your entire person, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We are all giving so much of our energy to our jobs, school, our families and often our worries that we need to be feeding ourselves too so that we have the energy to keep going.

Chew Your Food

Because the spleen, with its yang partner the stomach, are the main organs of digestion, they are responsible for breaking down all the food and drink that we bring into the body. The spleen uses the "digestive fire" to break foods down so that they can be used by the rest of the body, so the spleen needs to be strong and have lots of energy to break down foods properly. One of the things you can do to take some of the burden off your spleen is to chew your food well. This means that you are saving some of your spleens' precious energy so other things (and there are a lot of them, believe me!). The better you can break down food with your teeth by chewing means the less work the spleen and stomach have to do to break it down for you.

Eat Soup

Eat Soup : Chinese Medicine Livingthis beautiful photograph from beefandlamb.com.au

Ever wonder why you are told to eat soup when you are sick? Well, when the body is sick it has been compromised in some way leaving it in a weakened state. Its resources are being diverted to fighting the infection or rebalancing from whatever imbalance has caused you to get sick in the first place, so you want to be as gentle and kind with your body as possible. Soups cooked for long periods, full of delicious veggies, especially root vegetables that grow in the ground have a double positive impact on the spleen. The first is that they are warming. Soup is warming, and the longer and slower it has been cooked, the more warming it becomes. Secondly, vegetables that grow slowly in the ground are also considered warming which the spleen loves. The spleen loves to be warm and dry, and soup is like its medicine. The other reason soup is so wonderful when you are sick is that it has been cooked and most of the foods in it have been broken down from the cooking process so it takes the body (and spleen) less energy to break it down so that it can be spending its energy focusing on making you better. So, if you didn't love soup before, you will now! Your spleen loves it too.

Move Your Body

Our bodies were designed for movement! Unfortunately, many of us have sedentary jobs that require that we sit at desks and in front of computers for many hours a day. Our poor bodies are not designed to sit for extended periods, and it causes all kinds of problems. When we were all living in hunter-gatherer societies, we spent our days hunting, cooking, travelling, always moving. We all have energy in our bodies. The Chinese call is "Qi". That Qi needs to be in a constant state of movement or it gets stuck or becomes stagnant. A blockage of the flow of Qi is also at the root of many illnesses. The spleen has its own unique Qi, and for the body to be healthy, we must keep that Qi moving. And what is the best way to keep your Qi moving? That's right, by moving your body. It can be as simple as walking around the block, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, sitting outside on a park bench instead of inside the cafeteria, or standing up at your desk a few times a day to do some stretches. I promise, just doing this one small thing will make you, and your spleen, feel so much better,

Stop Worrying

Every organ in Chinese medicine has an emotion associated with it. And the emotion associated with the spleen is worry and overthinking. We are a culture of worriers and over thinkers. Worry hurts the spleen and leads to a deficiency of its energies and the reverse is also true, that a deficiency of the spleen can cause a propensity to worry. A vicious cycle. It is an easy thing to stay to just stop worrying, lord knows I haven't been able to do it and I've been trying for years, but I know that when my spleen is being overworked, the worries come more often and more intensely and that is always a sign that something is out of balance. The wonderful thing is, that with a balanced spleen, you will find that everything else in your body and your life will fall into place as well. This is not to say that you will never have a worry or a cause to overthink, but it will not be the dominant emotion in your life. The whole philosophy in Chinese medicine is balance, in all things.

Self Love

I think as a people and society we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what is "wrong" with us and not nearly enough time focussing on what is "right" with us. When I turn on the news (and I try not to turn on the news unless really necessary) I am always bombarded by the darkness in our world. But, when I spend my days treating patients, and listening to their struggles, I am confronted with the light. There are so many wonderful things about this planet and so many of the people living on it. In the newsletter every month I deliberately seek out stories of inspiration, and I always find them. There are wonderful, joyous, generous, kind and loving things happening all over the planet. People being kind to people. Helping the environment. Saving animals. Saving themselves. I believe that we all have a light and that if we feed it, it will reach out and touch others, helping them to see the light in themselves. Self-love isn't unique to the spleen, or any other organ, I think it is important for human beings. We often have so many worries, fears, and troubles, that we forget to focus on the positive, wonderful things about being human, happiness, joy, kindness and love.

This lovely spleen chart by Chinese Medicine Living

**The beautiful featured image from technogym.com



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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 hemorrhage. 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 in 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
  • Small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • 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. :)

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The featured image is this adorable spleen, brought to you by the nice people at I Heart Guts

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The Spleen - The Earth Element

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I don't want to play favourites, but the Spleen is a pretty awesome organ. The Spleen and I have gotten pretty cosy over the years, as I talk about it a lot and treat it probably more than any other organ. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen, along with its Yang partner the Stomach, are the main organs of digestion. The Spleen has an important job in the body and psyche, processing not only all the food and drink we consume but all the stimulus as well. If you think about how we live you will realize that the nature of our lifestyles - which is to constantly be doing many things at once - puts a lot of pressure on the Spleen, and I would say that most people in the West have some level of Spleen deficiency as a result.

People new to Chinese medicine might think it strange that the Spleen is seen as an organ of digestion, as they probably know it as an important part of the immune system which is how it is viewed in the West. In Western medicine, the spleen is a part of the immune system and is where old red blood cells are recycled and platelets and white blood cells are stored. It is on the left side under the rib cage and sits next to the stomach. You can live without a spleen (called a splenectomy), but this makes you much more susceptible to infections. The spleen is sometimes removed in emergency situations like car accidents or serious traumas, but you definitely want to keep your spleen, as it serves many vital functions both physiologically and psychologically.

5 Element Chart - Spleen

This lovely 5 element chart designed by Angel B Lee in New York, NY

The Spleen

In Chinese medicine, the Spleen has a list of responsibilities. Every organ has a unique list of things they are responsible for in the body, and from an emotional point of view. Here are the things the Spleen is responsible for.

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.

Controls The Muscles And The Four Limbs

the spleen controls the muscles

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.

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 are 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.

Opens Into The Mouth &
Manifests On The Lips

The Spleen manifests on 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.

The Spleen in 5 Element Theory

In 5 element theory, the Spleen is attributed to the earth element, the centre, and the colour yellow. The season is late summer, but more specifically, it is the late stage of each of the seasons. The taste is sweet and the emotion is worry / overthinking.

Spleen and the 5 Elements

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

Late Summer and the Spleen

In the summer, we reach a maximum of Yang energy, so when we move into late summer that energy shifts and begins to turn to more Yin in preparation for fall. It is also the beginning of the harvest with fruits and vegetables at their peak of growth, so it is the perfect time to pick foods right off the vine and benefit from good Qi that they have been soaking up from the surrounding environment all summer. The earth element represents being grounded and having solid roots connected to the earth. Late summer is also a time to prepare for the coming year's work, so it is a time to go from the outward expressions of summer to a more inward expression to prepare for the year ahead.

"The Earth Element, represented by the Spleen-Pancreas, regulates the "centre," that which is constant, from where it harmonizes the effects of the four seasons."
~ Inner Classic

The flavour of the Spleen is sweet, and just as foods with a sweet flavour are stimulating and healing to the Spleen, too much can be damaging and decrease your energy level so balance is the key.  The Spleen likes to be warm and dry so avoid cold foods like putting ice in your drinks and ice cream if you have digestive troubles. Chewing your food very well is another simple way to support the Spleen.

Beneficial Spleen Foods

  • Millet
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Soybeans
  • Squash
  • Potatoes
  • String Beans
  • Yams
  • Tofu
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Sweet Rice
  • Rice
  • Amaranth
  • Peas
  • Chestnuts
  • Filberts
  • Apricots
  • Cantaloupe

Foods in late summer should be prepared simply with minimal seasoning to support the Spleen. Because the Spleen is constantly overloaded by the things we eat as well as the stimulus we are taking in, it is a good idea to prepare simple meals with few ingredients as well as longer cooking times (which further breaks down foods, requiring less of the Spleen's energy to digest them) and using water and cooking oils.

Healthy Spleen

Those with a very balanced Spleen will be hardworking, responsible and practical. They like to nurture themselves and others and are very aware of other people's needs. They are strong and stable and live to be active. They have good appetites and strong digestive systems. They will have strong muscles and be very grounded. Those with balanced spleens are orderly and careful and generally are creative and have very fertile imaginations.

Spleen Out of Balance

Those with an imbalance in their Spleen can manifest symptoms of both mental and physical fatigue, loose stools, a feeling of being "stuck" which feels like you are being prevented from moving forward. Weak digestion which is often accompanied by nausea, poor appetite, diminished sense of taste and abdominal bloating are common when Spleen energy is weak. Struggles with excess weight, even if there is no overeating, or being underweight without the ability to gain weight are symptoms of a Spleen imbalance as well. Those with weak Spleen's can tend to have a messy appearance, live in chaos and accumulate many possessions that do not serve them.

As you can see, the Spleen is an organ that gets a lot of attention in clinic. It is out of balance in many people, but there are simple things that we can do to bring this important organ back into balance. Living in a mindful way and being aware of what it needs are the first steps to having a healthy, happy Spleen.

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Suspect you might have a Spleen imbalance? Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP offers consults via skype. For more info, write to info@chinesemedicineliving.com.

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