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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Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Taking Care of Your Spleen Will Do Way More Than Improve Your Digestion

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

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.

muscles

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 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.

The Spleen manifests on the lips

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 are dependent on the strength of the Spleen.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger Nail

Worry - The Emotion of the Spleen

All organs in Chinese Medicine 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.

Colour food circle

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
  • A small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • A small number 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

preparing food

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

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. :)

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If you suspect you are having problems with your spleen and would like an expert opinion, Emma offers skype consultations. Please email emma@chinesemedicineliving.com for more information or to set up an appointment.

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Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living