'Tis the season...to start blaming the dryer for your shrinking pants. If you are like most people, you probably tend to put on a few pounds between Christmas and New Year's. Part of it is the food, but most of it is the mindset. Yes, there are a lot more cookies and cakes around at this time of year, but don't we always have access to these types of foods? It's easier to indulge in these types of foods now, though, because of the all-or-nothing mentality (and tendency to procrastinate) that most of us seem to have. Why bother holding back on all of these sugary, fatty foods when Christmas is just a few weeks away? Why not simply wait until the new year and start fresh? I'm guilty of this same type of thinking, I admit. So I decided to post this blog today to remind myself, and all of you, what these cookies are doing to our Spleens. As I have explained in previous blogs, the Spleen functions as a digestive organ in my medicine. Some of its jobs do overlap with its Western medical activities: for example, it is connected to building and holding the blood. But in TCM, its connection to the digestion is vital.
Each organ system (Liver, Lung, Kidney, Spleen, and Heart) is balanced out by a particular flavor. A bit of this flavor, in moderation, will build and strengthen that particular organ. Too much of the flavor, however, will weaken it. The Spleen's flavor is sweetness. It requires a bit of sugar to keep it functioning smoothly. Too much sweetness, on the other hand, will weaken the Spleen.
So what happens if your Spleen is weakened through an overindulgence of the previously mentioned Christmas cookies? First of all, fatigue will set in. In my medicine, the Spleen loses its strength to send that vital qi out to the rest of the body. The rest of you might view this as the "sugar crash." We all know that we become exhausted a few hours after excess sugar consumption, but did you ever notice how easily fatigued you become after spending a few days eating a high-sugar diet? (If you don't notice, try excluding all sugar and flour from your diet for a week-the changes you see will be astounding.)
Fatigue is only the beginning. If the Spleen isn't happy, your intestines won't be, either. Gas, bloating, and irregular bowel movements are the result of a sad Spleen. By "irregular," I am referring to poop that is sticky, snake-like, and generally messy. You may start to see a bout of constipation, followed by gassy diarrhea. Happy Holidays!
The Spleen is also connected to water metabolism, so a weak Spleen may lead to lots of water retention. If this water is sitting in your body, it can manifest in edema, nasal stuffiness, or even a type of mental dampness-a sort of sluggish, muddy thinking.
Eventually, a weakness of the Spleen will affect the muscles, as well. They will become flaccid, soft, and lose strength. Getting to the bathroom for those bouts of messy diarrhea will become even more difficult now that your muscles have turned to mush. Not a great prospect to look forward to.
I'm not telling you to stop eating those cookies, but you might want to focus on moderation. And if you can't do that, come to see me in January, and I will whip your Spleen back into fighting shape with my magical needles.