In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is paired with the Stomach, and the two work together to promote happy digestion. An imbalanced Spleen will lead to gas, bloating, fatigue, and bowel movements that are soft, unformed, and overall unsatisfying. The Spleen is also responsible for holding things up and in within the body. If the Spleen is weak, things will leak...either out or down. Hemorrhoids, easy bruising, miscarriages, incontinence, prolapse, and heavy periods can all manifest when things go awry with the Spleen. This sagginess isn't always physical. If the energy of the body sinks, patients can feel the mental/emotional effects, as well. Fatigue, depression, and a heavy, sluggish feeling are also symptoms of deficient Spleen energy. And since the Spleen helps transform fluids in the body, an issue with this organ can also lead to edema and swelling. The Spleen is weakened by excess sitting, poor diet, and overthinking...which means that the majority of patients are at least slightly Spleen deficient. When you get a chance, take a look at your tongue in the mirror. Is it pale and puffy, with teethmarks on the side? If so, your Spleen may need a boost. If you feel puffy or heavy (not necessarily physically), and are one of those people who are miserable in the damp weather, it's another sign that your Spleen may need a tune-up.
Acupuncture is all well and good for a balanced Spleen, but there are things that you can do at home, as well, to keep this organ healthy. Since the Spleen is affected by excess sitting, it's important to keep moving. For those of us who spend lots of time at our desks, we need to make it a point to get up every once in a while. Stretch, move, get the blood and qi flowing through your body as often as possible.
Diet is probably the greatest factor in keeping the Spleen in check. The Spleen likes sweet foods...but only in moderation. In small amounts, the sweet flavor strengthens the energy of the Spleen. Overindulgence in sweet foods, however, is damaging. And, it's good to remember that there are many foods that fall under the category of "sweet", particularly in Traditional Chinese medical theory. Fruits, veggies, grains...even meats can have this sweet component that the Spleen craves. It's not necessary to get your fix from cookies and cakes, I'm sad to say.
Very often, patients will come into my office with a Spleeny pulse and tongue, complaining of poor digestion, bloating, fatigue, and other telltale signs of Spleen deficiency...yet their diets seem very balanced. They will tell me that they eats lots of salads, yogurt, soy...all of those foods that are considered "healthy" in Western medicine. While these foods can be beneficial, they are the exact opposite of what you should be eating if you are Spleen deficient. The Spleen heartily dislikes cold, wet foods. Dairy is the top offender (ice cream is the worst: cold, wet, and sweet. Delicious, but deadly to the Spleen.) Yogurt and tofu are no-no's for those with Spleen deficiency, and even salads can be a poor choice. It's simple to tell if these foods are affecting your Spleen; all you need to do is eat them. Do you feel gassy and gurgly after eating a salad? Do your stools change for the worse when you have yogurt for breakfast? If so, it's your Spleen suffering and inflicting retribution.
So, what should you be eating to pamper your Spleen? Here are some foods to boost the energy of this organ: quinoa, parsnip, adzuki beans, black beans, pine nuts, garbanzo beans, cooked squash, cooked turnips, oats, rice, cooked cherries, cooked carrots, cooked leeks, mussels, shrimp, cardamom, black pepper, cooked strawberries, ginger, cooked yams, cooked onions, cooked rutabagas, cooked pumpkin, cooked peaches, dried litchi, cinnamon, arrowroot, dried figs, nutmeg, sweet potato, garlic, and fennel.
As you may notice, many of these foods should be cooked. The Spleen hates to be cold and wet; it prefers warming foods.
Adding more foods of these foods into the diet will help to improve digestive energy and quell dampness in the body. And as you add more of the foods listed above, you should also work on limiting or eliminating the following foods: sweets, seaweed, milk, chilled, iced or frozen foods or liquids, citrus fruits and citrus juices, tofu, cheese, salads, too much salt, millet, raw foods, hard to digest food, undercooked grains, and buckwheat.
Stay tuned, next we will be covering the Liver!