I see more and more people present with weak Spleens in my clinic. The past few years have been tough for everybody and the added stress that has been put on us is starting to have negative physical and emotional effects. The TCM Spleen (which includes the pancreas) is easily injured by a poor diet of greasy, processed, and sweat foods, lack of proper exercise, stress, and overthinking/worrying (sound familiar for how we’ve been living through the pandemic?).
The Spleen has several functions in the body. Arguably the most important is its role in digestion. It is like a conductor for an orchestra ensuring that every instrument is playing its part at the right time and with the correct force.
Simply put, it’s in charge of the proper transformation of our food into useable units by the stomach, gallbladder, and small intestine, and for the proper transportation of what is not used for excretion by the large intestine and urinary bladder. When the Spleen is weak we start seeing symptoms of loose stools/diarrhea and cravings (often for sugar). It is through digestion that the Spleen obtains the building blocks to make good blood to nurture the body with. As a result, whenever there are signs of blood deficiency, TCM practitioners often look to the Spleen first to see if it is the cause.
The second function of note for the Spleen is that it is the organ system that holds blood within the vessels. When deficient, the symptoms of easy bruising and heavy chronic bleeding (ex. in menstruation, chronic rectal bleeding, or chronic nose bleeds) will present, typically accompanied by fatigue. A weak Spleen is not the only possible cause for bleeding though; please discuss with your TCM practitioner to determine the cause if you are suffering from a bleeding condition.
The Spleen is also responsible for holding organs in their proper place so many forms of prolapse (bladder, uterine, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, etc) can occur if there is a deficiency in this system. Typically, the Spleen will be quite weak for prolapse to occur and will be accompanied by strong fatigue. This is known as Spleen Qi sinking.
Similar to the previous function, the Spleen is also responsible for raising clear Qi to the head so that we can think clearly. As a result, when the Spleen is weak it can manifest as foggy thinking, ruminating, and worry.
The main causes for a weak Spleen are poor stress management, diet, and overthinking (common for students). When stress exceeds what our body can tolerate it puts a strain on the Liver system whose role is to smooth out all physical and emotional stress. When the Liver system becomes overburdened it turns into the schoolyard bully and the Spleen is the system that it typically picks on first. Often, this manifests with being easily frustrated and having stool that alternates from compacted (like goat stool) to loose. Loose stools don’t necessarily mean diarrhea, but rather that it is softer than it should be. If you find yourself wiping more times than you’d like, you probably have a weakened Spleen.
A diet that is heavy in raw foods, dairy, greasy, processed, and cold temperature foods damages the Spleen’s ability to properly transform and transport. In Victoria, smoothies are very popular as a breakfast choice, but they are typically made from raw fruit/vegetables, dairy, and added processed protein powders. This is a recipe for disaster for the Spleen, especially as we move into the colder and damper days of winter. Instead, to help repair and maintain the health of the Spleen system we want to eat easy-to-digest, clean, warm foods, such as grains, yams, baked fruits, ginger, and soups. (You can find some soup recipes here.)
Overthinking and worrying can be tricky to navigate. It’s not like you can tell your brain to just stop thinking about something. Instead, provide balance by pulling some of that energy that’s going to the head and bring it back into your body through exercising the muscles. A nice walk is a great way to clear the mind, especially if you can get out and do it in nature.
In addition to the above-mentioned lifestyle tips, acupuncture and TCM herbs can effectively treat Spleen Qi deficiency. Get in touch with me at email@example.com or book an appointment to get a personalized treatment plan for restoring your Spleen’s health.