What in the world is the Spleen?
In the Western world, I bet that most people don’t even know that we have a spleen, much less know what its function is. I know that I never knew until a few years ago!
In Chinese medicine, the spleen plays a very important role in health. It was only until recently that I realized WHY it is so important!
What is the Spleen?
The spleen is the largest organ of the lymphatic system. It’s main function is to filter blood in order to remove bacteria and other disease organisms. It also helps to remove old red blood cells and platelets. A majority of the body’s platelets are stored in the spleen. This organ is not considered vital to life, which is probably why Western medicine doesn’t talk about it. If we were to lose our spleen, the liver would just take over it’s jobs (as if if the liver doesn’t have enough to do!).
According to Chinese medicine, Qi is the life force that flows through all things. When qi is is balanced, everything is great and flows easily. But when it is blocked, health declines. This is especially true for the spleen since it is part of the lymphatic system. You’ll know from my previous post on lymph health that we need movement to keep the lymph flowing. It doesn’t have it’s own pump- we have to move to keep it going.
Spleen qi technically refers to the whole digestive system as well as the lymphatic system. When qi is “blocked”, the spleen gets what is called dampness. The spleen prefers a dry environment but this gets disturbed from living in a damp climate or eating a diet full of raw, cold foods (yet another reason why we should be eating a balanced diet!)
Symptoms of a damp spleen: (source)
- Weakness, lethargy
- Pale, bright face
- Shallow breathing
- Low, soft voice
- Little desire to speak
- Poor appetite
- Prolonged headache
- Loose stools
- Tired eyes
- Dislike cold greasy foods
- Headache after exertion
- Symptoms are worse in the morning
- Abdominal discomfort which feels better when pressure is applied
- Bloating and gas
- Weak limbs
All of that sounds an awful lot like a sluggish lymph! Conditions associated with a sluggish lymph/spleen are edema, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, hair loss, iron deficiency, irregular periods, and infertility.
Foods and herbs that help the spleen are warm foods, beef, soups, warming spices like ginger, red root, black pepper, and cumin, plus ginseng and astragalus.