The Spleen and Traditional Chinese Medicine


Traditional Chinese medicine considers that the Spleen is one of the most important organs within our body. Many chronic and difficult health problems (such as oedema, chronic fatigue syndrome, digestive troubles, insomnia, brain fog, hair loss, iron deficiency, irregular periods, infertility etc) can be due to a disorder of the Spleen function. It is part of the immune system and is responsible for the production of WBC's and the removal of RBC's. It is paired with the stomach, and both are the main organs for digestion.

Western culture, in general, exhausts the stomach-spleen. A heavy reliance on wheat and dairy, too many cold, raw foods, eating on the run at irregular hours, sedentary lifestyles, and large amounts of unmanaged stress and anxiety are classic of much of American culture, and are all extremely disruptive to the spleen. Antibiotics and other medications add an additional level of stress. Energetically, antibiotics are cold and dampening, the exact opposite of what the spleen needs.

A Spleen in need of balance, on a physical level, looks like:

  • Digestive issues – this can include IBS, Crohn’s Disease, acid reflux, borborygmus, nausea, stomach pain, acid reflux, cravings, constipation, diarrhea, or a fluctuation between both constipation and diarrhea

  • 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.

  • Lack for firmness in muscles and flesh– this is because the Spleen rules the muscles and provides nutrients to them

  • Edema and swelling – due to fluids not being metabolised correctly because of a weak spleen

A Spleen in need of balance, on an emotional level, looks like:

  • Worry – 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, these sweets weaken the Spleen further. Try foods like sweet potato and pumpkin.

Yang Organ: Stomach

Emotions: Pensiveness, metal activity, worry

Element: Earth

Season: Late Summer

Taste: Sweet

Direction: Middle

Time: 9-11am

Body Tissue: Muscle

Direction: Center

Change: Transformation

Colour: Yellow

Climatic Qi: Damp

Sense Organ: Mouth


Governs Transformation and Transportation The spleens function in Chinese Medicine is to transform and transport food, it breaks down the food we eat and extracts the Qi (energy) from it to form Qi & Blood.

When functioning properly: qi is strong, digestion goes smoothly, body is kept moist. When malfunctioning: qi is weak (lassitude), appetite is poor, digestion is sluggish, stools may be loose, phlegm and damp may accumulate.

Controls the Blood The spleen is the key to the production of blood and is in control of its quantity in the body. Additionally, the spleen qi holds the blood in the vessels. If the spleen qi is weak there may be haemorrhaging, spilling over of blood or a person may be easily bruised.

Controls the Muscles and Four Limbs The spleen is directly connected to the muscles and four limbs as it is in charge of sending nutrients to them. If the spleen is weak, the limbs and muscles aren't nourished and they become weak and tired.

Opens into the Mouth & Manifests in the Lips The spleen 'opens' into the mouth and manifests on the lips. When the spleen is deficient, the lips may be pale and the taste dulled.

Controls Upright Qi The upright qi is that which holds the body, particularly what holds the organs right and in place. It is like the gravity fighting force of the body, that without, the organs would all by lying at the bottom of your abdomen. If the qi is weak, prolapses may occur.

Houses Thought The spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking. How well we manage things that require concentration is dependent on the strength of the spleen. It is meant that the spleen controls how much we overthink and analyze and when strong the spleen is weak it can't keep the mind from running through things over and over. Foods that are beneficial for the spleen are:

- Lightly cooked vegetables; corn, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, sweet potato, mushroom, radish, caper, alfalfa sprouts - Brown rice, oats, already, rye, barley - Legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils - Raspberry, peach, strawberry, cherry - Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds - Seaweed, kelp - Walnut, chestnut, pine nuts, pistachio - Black pepper, cinnamon bark, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, nutmeg

Foods that hurt the spleen: - Dairy - Wheat - Cold drinks - Fruit juice - Processed foods - Refined foods, pastry, pasta, bread - Cold raw foods - Refined sugar and sugar substitutes - Coffee, alcohol - Deep fried foods - Peanuts and peanut butter -Bananas and avocado

Additional tips:

- Avoid prolonged exposure to damp environments

- Have more soup, stews and broths

- Focus on a plant based, whole foods diet

- Reduce your intake of processed and refined foods

- Choose foods that are easy to digest or additionally you may want to add a digestive enzyme to your meals

- Chew food properly & don't drink while eating

- Avoid ice in drinks and excessive amounts of cold / raw foods

- Be mindful: adding yoga or meditation into your daily routine can help alleviate excessive stress and reduce its impact on your organs

- Keep active: exercise daily, even if just for a walk

- Take a break every 1-2 hours from sitting at a desk, go for a 5-10 minute walk

- Eat more cooked and warm foods

- When eating do so with pleasure and take time to acknowledge the food you are eating. Try not to eat infront of the tv or while talking.

- Try to keep meal times consistent and to not over eat

- Don't drink large amounts of liquids quickly