While the anatomical spleen is part of our immune system and responsible for the production of white blood cells, the spleen from the perspective of TCM is an entirely different one. The spleen is commonly mentioned with the Stomach - they are the main organs at helm of the digestion and assimilation processes in our body. While TCM refers the kidneys as the origin of “congenital constitution”, the spleen is the source of “acquired constitution”. This is because they are the site of production of ‘qi’, blood and fluids which are vital substances for life.
Spleen – Source of qi and blood
Firstly, the spleen is responsible for the intake, processing and distribution of nutrients from food. Digested food is turned into nutrients by the stomach and the spleen. It is then transported upwards by the spleen to the lungs. The heart and lungs take over and generate qi and convert the nutrients to blood. Additionally, excess water produced from the digestion process is circulated to the lungs and kidneys where it is vaporized to form perspiration and urine and excreted out of the body.
The transportation and transformative role of the spleen depend greatly on the “pushing” action of the spleen ‘qi’. A distinctive feature of spleen ‘qi’ is that it mainly ascends, so as to relay the nutrients to the heart and lungs where it can passed into the circulatory system to the rest of the body. This ascending function of the spleen ‘qi’ also helps to maintain the position of the organs in the body. On the other hand, the stomach ‘qi’ mainly descends to facilitate the digestion process and excrete the undigested food out of the body. These ascending and descending actions complement each other to complete the digestion process. When the ascending function of the spleen becomes impaired, the ‘qi’ flows downwards and may result in symptoms such as giddiness, fatigue, flatulence, loss of appetite and diarrhea. Likewise, vomiting can occur when stomach ‘qi’ fails to descend.
Eu Yan Sang's Healthy Digest strengthens the spleen and stomach and is an improved formula on the traditional folk herbal remedy Si Shen Herbal Soup. It is suitable for both young and old. It may also be wise to include wholegrain foods, red dates, Chinese yam and lotus seeds into your daily diet to nourish your spleen and improve overall digestion.
Another psychological function of the spleen is the regulation of blood within blood vessels. This astringent effect on the blood prevents abnormal bleeding disorders. If spleen ‘qi’ is week, a person is prone to bruises, blood in the stools, and urine and purple-colored spots found under the skin, amongst other bleeding problems.
How fatigue is linked to the spleen
IIn TCM, fatigue is often attributed to a deficiency in spleen ‘qi’ and is commonly accompanied by other symptoms such as loss of appetite, abdominal fullness especially after meals, loose stools, breathlessness and a pale yellow complexion. Since the spleen is responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients for bodily functions, a deficiency in spleen ‘qi’ will result in inadequate nourishment for the organs, suppressing their optimal functions, causing the individual to feel sluggish and tired. Over time, the deficiency will display outward symptoms like distinctive “teeth marks” can be imprinted on the edges of the tongue.
Dampness and the spleen
Dampness is a concept in TCM where the spleen is incapable of transporting and transforming body fluids, leading to an accumulation of moisture within the body. The characteristics of dampness are that it is turbid, heavy, and hard to get rid of. It often starts at the legs area and moves upwards to the abdomen. Depending on the location in the body, the pathogenic manifestations will be different. For example, if it is found in female genital area, there will be an increase in foul-smelling vaginal discharge; if dampness accumulates in the intestines, it results in loose stools. Other symptoms of dampness include: bloating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, heaviness feeling in the body or limbs and a thick greasy tongue coating.
TCM believes that high and frequent intake of raw, cold and spicy foods can damage the spleen and result in dampness accumulation. If dampness in the spleen is already present, certain foods like dairy products, processed foods, alcohol, sugars and sweeteners are said to exacerbate the situation.
Eu Yan Sang’s An Ji Le capsules is traditionally used for symptomatic relief of headache, mild vomiting, mild diarrhea and indigestion. The constituent herbs aim to resolve dampness in the body and improve spleen function. It is also suitable for children under 10.
Snap your spleen back into shape
Strengthening the spleen function is one of the most important considerations in TCM treatments, this allows for more effective absorption of herbal medication and foods that are beneficial for overall health.
- Here are some tips on how to nurse your Spleen back to optimal health:
- Relaxation: The Chinese believe that meals are important times of the day and food should not be mixed with work, reading or watching television. This may inhibit the passage of food through the body and affect with digestion.
- Eat in moderate amounts: Overeating results in an overworked spleen and food stagnation. The spleen does not have sufficient time to empty your stomach before your next meal, causing you to feel bloated and fatigued.
- Chew your food well: Chewing your food thoroughly reduces the workload for your digestive system and food gets absorbed more easily. This also allows a longer time for your meals, letting you realize the feeling of fullness and prevent overeating.
- Avoid cold or chilled beverages: Too much cold drinks can damage the spleen and the body will take time to warm up the food before it gets digested.
Herbs that help to nourish the spleen include Astragalus (黄芪), Ginseng (人参), Codonopsis (丹参), Chinese Yam (Huai Shan), White Atractylodes ( 白术), Licorice (甘草). To resolve dampness in the spleen, the most effective herbs are Poria (茯苓), Barley Seeds (薏苡仁), Hyacinth Beans (白扁豆).
As the saying goes, “You are what you eat”. It may be convenient to ignore good eating habits in today’s busy environment, quality or quantity wise. However, developing healthy dietary habits is not as confusing or restrictive as many people imagine. You can nourish and strengthen your spleen with many various methods for good health, longevity and vitality.