In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is responsible for the transformation of the food we eat, and transporting the nutrients to the rest of the body.
This is an important function, because the Spleen is the source of the formation of Qi and Blood. And, considering that Qi travels with Blood, and Blood is needed to nourish all systems in the body, yep, this is a big deal!
Unfortunately, unbalanced Spleens, otherwise known as Spleen Qi Deficiency, are something I see in my practice quite often.
When it’s in great working order, your digestive system is balanced, you feel grounded, nourished on all levels, and your intellect is even-keel.
A Spleen in need of balance, on a physical level, looks like:
- Digestive issues – this can include IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Crohn’s Disease, acid reflux, borborygmus (a fancy name for a rumbling stomach), nausea, stomach pain, acid reflux, cravings, constipation, diarrhea, or a fluctuation between the two
- Abdominal distention – especially after eating
- Bruising easily – this is due to the yin/holding nature of the Spleen being unable to hold the blood in the vessels
- Fatigue – this is usually accompanied by feeling “foggy-headed”
- Weakness or heaviness in the limbs – this is particularly true if the Spleen mechanism has been compromised for a long time, creating a condition we Chinese Medicine practitioners call “Damp”. This may make your limbs even more heavy, and fatigue more pronounced. Damp is as glamorous as it sounds!
- Flesh and muscles are less firm – this is because the Spleen rules the muscles
- Edema and swelling – this also happens because the containing nature of the Spleen is compromised
A Spleen in need of balance, on an emotional level, looks like:
- Worry – here, the Yi (intellect) aspect of the Spleen is going on overdrive
- Overthinking – sometimes obsessively, and can even cause issues when trying to get to sleep
- Mothering or taking care of others at the expense of your own health – doing too much for others, to the point of neglecting your own nourishment and self-care on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels
- Cravings – especially for sweets, carbs, and chocolate, this can often be our Earth element attempting to ground ourselves, or nourish ourselves, when our self-care has fallen to the wayside. Despite the fact that you may crave sweets, the sweets weaken the Spleen further.
Here’s the 411 on the Spleen to get you more familiar with this wonderful organ that does so much for us:
Sense organ: Mouth
Emotion: Sympathy, Compassion (or lack thereof)
Season: Late Summer
Sound: Singing (even people who are Earth element will have a singing quality to their speaking voice)
Spirit: Yi (Intellect)
Transforms Into: Integrity & Reciprocity
As you can imagine, students, those who work themselves to the bone, caregivers, parents, and others who may tax their Yi/Intellect or give a lot of themselves on the regular can be prone to Spleen Qi Deficiency!
Luckily, there are things you can do to nourish your Spleen, and support it so that it will be more balanced on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
5 ways to nourish your Spleen in Chinese Medicine:
- Eat more cooked and warm foods. A diet high in raw and cold foods is harder for the Spleen to digest, thus creating more Spleen Qi Deficiency. If you enjoy your salads, you can continue to do so, just in moderation. In the same vein, avoid eating late at night, or eating while stressed, as this will also tax the Spleen.
- Eat more Spleen supportive foods. Foods which correct Spleen Qi Deficiency are: oats, spelt, sweet rice, winter squash, carrot, pumpkin, yam, sweet potato, black beans, parsnip, turnip, well-cooked rice (particularly yummy and nutritious in congees!), molasses, date, anchovy, beef, mackerel, tuna, chicken, beef liver or kidney. I have also seen Spleens respond well to a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. To aid with the ease of digestion, soak your grains (except for millet) 8 hours, or overnight, before cooking. Believe me, it’s a night and day difference!
- Eat with consistency. If you enjoy lunch at 1pm today, enjoy it again at 1pm tomorrow. The Spleen loves schedule and consistency! And 5 smaller, spread out meals are better for a weak Spleen than 3 large meals in the day.
- Create pleasure around eating. The Spleen loves it when we eat with others and enjoy food with company. Eating with pleasure is a gift of the healthy Spleen, and enjoying the food also means being present with it, chewing it many times before swallowing and helping the Spleen’s digestive process. So, no whoofing your lunch, or working while taking a bite of your meal! Instead, if the weather permits, take your lunch outside and enjoy it in fresh air. If weather is horrendous, at least take the chance to step away from your computer work! Your tummy will thank you. This is especially important for those patients of mine who are overcoming eating disorders, because associating healthy pleasure with food is healing.
- Strengthen your Solar Plexus Chakra. Ok, I admit that I have never found a Chinese Medicine text that recommends this. Because I am not only a Licensed Acupuncturist, but also a Reiki Master/Teacher, I’m all about the energy and the woo. So, I’d like to point out the importance of the Spleen’s association with the Solar Plexus Chakra (otherwise known as the Third Chakra).