Home » Chinese medicine and you » The Splendid Spleen

The Splendid Spleen

In my last post I wrote about how digestion is viewed in Chinese medicine. Today I will delve a bit further into the spleen and how to keep it happy.

In order to discuss the spleen I must first say something about how organs are viewed in Chinese medicine. While there is quite a bit of overlap between western and Chinese medical anatomy and physiology, the ancient Chinese had a broader view of the internal organs. Not only do organs perform their physiological functions within the body, they also have specific elements associated with each one.

As I mentioned last time, the western role of the spleen is to filter out white blood cells. However, in Chinese anatomy and physiology, it is likely the most important organ in the body. Not only does it, along with the stomach, create all of our Qi and blood, it also works hard to spread water throughout the body. The elements associated with the spleen are the color yellow, the earth, and, if out of balance, we may become overly worried or obsessive.

What does this mean in modern/plain language? Take care of your spleen! Overthinking and overeating can damage the spleen. One of the cardinal sins that many of us engage in is to read while eating. The eastern wisdom is that if we engage our brains while we eat it diverts energy away from the spleen, thus slowing our digestion.  So, first things first, put down the book, the newspaper, and step away from the computer at mealtime. Next, take a look at the food that you are eating. Remember that the spleen needs to stay warm so that it can help the stomach break down the food. Therefore, salads and cold sandwiches, ice water, and excessive sweets all have a deleterious effect on the spleen. But enough of what not to eat. Here’s how you can eat to support your spleen: plenty of warm food and drinks!

More specifically, here are some common spleen-supportive foods and spices you might try incorporating into your daily diet:

barley, basil, carrot, chicken, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, green & red pepper, honey, licorice, nutmeg, peanuts, rice, squash, soybeans.

If this sounds complicated, I’ll make it simple: all you really need to do is balance out the foods that you eat. If you still want to eat a salad, make sure it’s not your main course. Have it as a side with some soup. Instead of putting ice in your water, drink it at room temperature or enjoy a warm cup of tea with your meal.

The most important thing, however, is to take a few moments to enjoy the food that you are eating. It is, after all, the fuel that will propel you through your day.

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