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Snap Your Spleen Back into Shape! Part 2

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In my last blog post we explored patterns of disharmony for the Spleen, which are so prevalent at this time of year. Here, I'll discuss remedies for those patterns.

campfire_potSPLEEN DIET

There are many great treatments and herbs for strengthening the Spleen, but it all starts with what we eat since the Spleen and Stomach Organs are directly in charge of breaking down and metabolizing food and drink. This metabolic kitchen is like a pot of soup bubbling about 98-99 degrees on the stove. In TCM the pot of soup is the Spleen, the burner under the pot is the Stomach, and the pilot light of the stove is the Kidneys. Foods that digest easily in this soup pot are thoroughly cooked and warm in temperature.

When added to the soup pot, raw foods, cold foods eaten directly out of the refrigerator or freezer and cold energied-foods all stop the soup from bubbling and slow the digestive process until they warm up to match the body’s temperature. If digestion is strong, this occurs fairly quickly, but over time the body has to turn up the burner under the pot to counteract the coolness obstructing digestion.

When the metabolic Stomach burner suddenly "turns up" symptoms may arise such as forehead headaches (like the ice cream "brain freeze"), gum infections, bleeding gums, increased appetite, dry lips, mouth sores and/or bad breath. If the intake of cold foods continues, it also dampens the pilot light in the Kidneys, making it difficult to stay lit. This is similar to putting wet wood on a fire – it creates smoke (Stomach Heat) and burns low, providing little heat (Deficient Spleen Qi).

Eventually, the burner can’t be turned up any further. Digestion becomes sluggish until ultimately, food is not fully broken down and passes through the stools undigested, like wet wood dampening the fire so in time it goes out altogether (Deficient Kidney Yang).

When digestion gets this Cold, other symptoms manifest such as gas, bloating, sleepiness after eating, anemia, fatigue, weakness, lowered immunity, poor appetite, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual bleeding), loose stools or diarrhea, frequent copious urination, lowered sex drive, achy lower back and knees and a variety of other complaints. Although these symptoms can occur at any time of year, they are generally aggravated in late summer (due to the excessive intake of cooling summer foods), or winter (the coldest season and Kidney time of year).

On the other hand, excessive amounts of hot foods, either from a high temperature or heating energy, such as greasy or oily foods or the excessive intake of hot spices (chili), cause the soup pot to suddenly boil and splatter. This causes too much Heat in the body, leading to headaches, hypertension, irritability, restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, hyperacidity, hyperactivity, and thirst, among numerous other diseases. Thus, you need the correct energied fuel to maintain healthy digestion and stoked fires.

 

SPLEEN STRENGTHENING FOODS

SPLEEN WEAKENING FOODS

Protein (all proteins, especially beef)

Insufficient protein and nutrition

Cooked foods

Excessive intake of raw foods, including salads

Warm/room temperature drinks

Refrigerated foods and drinks

Root vegetables

Iced drinks

Winter squash

Frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicles

Rice, quinoa, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, millet; peanuts; tofu

Excessive intake of flour products (breads, pasta, chips, cookies, crackers, pastries, etc.)

Spices (garlic, cumin, ginger, black pepper, etc.)

Excessive hot, spicy foods (such as hot salsa)

Soups

Excessive intake of vegetable juices

Congees

Excessive intake of potatoes

Peach, apple, mango, papaya, loquat; cook fruit with spices

Excessive intake of fruit and fruit juices

Beets, cabbage, carrot, yam, sweet potato, potato, string beans, peas, winter squash, lotus root

Excessive intake of supplements

Small amounts of whole sugar, especially malt

Sugar

 

Along with eating Spleen-strengthening foods and eliminating Spleen-weakening foods, be sure to add spices to your meals. Note, I said spices and NOT spicy (like chilis) as the latter causes Stomach Heat. Spices are generally carminatives that aid digestion as well as flavor food. Examples are: ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, fennel, garlic, cumin, and coriander. As well, be sure to drink all fluids at room temperature, or even better, warm, and eat mostly cooked foods at room temperature or preferably, warm.

SPLEEN THERAPY

One of the very best therapies to strengthen the Spleen is to do moxibustion. This therapy is a method of burning herbs, usually dried and aged mugwort, on or above the skin to stimulate Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warm areas of Coldness. As well, doing moxa on certain points can strengthen digestion and improve Spleen and Stomach energy. Here’s where to do moxa for this above the skin:

  • Over the midline of the abdomen between the navel and public bone
  • On a point located one hand-width below the knee cap and one inch out from the tibia (shin bone) – this point is called Stomach 36, or "three mile" meaning that if you’re too exhausted to walk further, when you stimulate this point you can walk another three miles. As well, this point stimulates gastric secretions and improves digestion, as tiny cameras in the stomach have shown when this point was stimulated.
  • One hand-width up from the wrist in the center between the tendons. This point is called Pericardium 6.

To use the moxa stick, either hold it still and move when heat tolerance is reached, returning after a few seconds and repeating the process, or move stick in circular fashion until warm. Continue until the area or point is warm and red, about 10-15 minutes. Put the stick out in raw rice, or place in a jar and screw the lid on tight.

SPLEEN HERBS

Qi tonics are generally sweet in flavor and warm in energy. Qi tonics may slightly stagnate the Qi, which is why Qi-building formulas usually include herbs that regulate or move the Qi along with herbs that dispel Dampness. I wish I could give you western Spleen Qi tonics, but they don’t really exist in western herbalism. You could use adaptogens, but they are not strong Qi tonics.

Do not use Qi tonics during the acute stages of colds/flu/fever as they can push the pathogen deeper into the body, like locking a thief in the house. As Qi tonics can also cause colic in breast-feeding infants, use caution if nursing.

The very best way to take herbs for the Spleen is to cook with them. Add Spleen Qi tonic herbs to grains, soups, breakfast cereals and stews. Use the tea as stocks or in sauces. Be sure to remove the fibrous parts and pits from the dates but eat the rest of the herbs with the foods.

 

Spleen Qi tonics: Astragalus (huang qi), ginseng (ren shen), codonopsis (dang shen), Chinese wild yam (shan yao), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao), jujube dates (da zao)

Combine with:

  • Damp-dispelling herbs like elecampane/pinellia, fu ling
  • Qi movers such as citrus, saussurea
  • Aromatic Damp-dispelling herbs like agastache, cloves, cardamom
  • Spleen Yang tonics like dried ginger or psoralae

 

SPLEEN FORMULAS

The most common Spleen tonic formulas include:

Spleen Qi Tonics:

Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang): (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), poria (fu ling), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao). This is the classic formula to tonify the Spleen. It treats fatigue, poor appetite, watery diarrhea, poor muscle strength and tone, and sluggish digestion.

Six Gentlemen (Liu Jun Zi Tang): add citrus and pinellia to above four herbs. This formula also clears accumulation of Phelgm and Dampness with such symptoms as acid regurgitation, chest fullness, cough with thin white sputum, and vomiting.

Ginseng and Astragalus Combination (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang): astragalus (huang qi), licorice (gan cao), ginseng (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), Angelica sinensis (dang gui), cimicifuga (sheng ma), bupleurum (chai hu), citrus (chen pi), jujube dates (da zao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang). This formula treats low energy, shortness of breath, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, low appetite, loose stools, irritability, intolerance of cold and prolapse of organs. It is said to be the best way to strengthen the Kidneys through the Spleen.

Spleen Dampness:

Wei Ling Tang: alisma (ze xie), poria (fu ling), polyporus (zhu ling), cinnamon twig (gui zhi), white atactrylodes (bai zhu), black atractylodes (cang zhu), magnolia bark (hou po), citrus peel (chen pi), licorice (gan cao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang), jujube date (da zao). This formula clears Spleen Dampness with symptoms of abdominal fullness, sensation of heaviness in the head and body, edema of the face and eyes, poor appetite, and watery diarrhea. As well, you could add herbs like cardamom or cloves to your normal Qi-building formula.

Spleen Yang Tonics:

Ginseng and Ginger Combination (Li Zhong Wan): ginseng (ren shen), white atracylodes (bai zhu), dry ginger (gan jiang), baked licorice (zhi gan cao). This formula warms the Spleen and Stomach treating symptoms of lack of appetite, no thirst, abdominal fulless that likes pressure, vomiting, and loose stools or diarrhea.

Food Stagnation:

See my blog posted in June, 2013.

 

5 comments

  • Comment Link Jaybie Friday, 18 August 2017 14:11 posted by Jaybie

    Thank you so much for posting this information! I have been having issues with Spleen Qi deficiency for years, and this is very helpful insight for why it's happening based on the foods I eat and what I can do to improve it at home. I tried the moxa techniques and points you listed here, and they helped right away with that painful, stuck feeling in my stomach. Thanks again!

  • Comment Link treo Saturday, 24 September 2016 15:39 posted by treo

    I'm curious where you found that peanuts, and soy are good for the spleen. I've found information that contradicts that information. can you confirm where the information came from? Thanks in advance. Treo

  • Comment Link Orchid Girl Saturday, 20 August 2016 03:48 posted by Orchid Girl

    Lesley Tierra,

    This information is a pearl for me. I was diagnosed with "mononucleosis" a few years ago. And I learned that with this condition you are more susceptible to a rapture of the spleen. Even though I don't have this condition anymore. In occasions, I do feel some pains in my L- lower rib cage. I'm corcen about this because I just started a few months back a job as a CNA/HHA and I have to do physical job to move patients around. I will be taking your suggestions to strengthen my spleen and will look more information. About this to strengthen it. If you have any more useful information please share it with me as I will highly appreciate it.
    Thank you!

    Orchid Girl

  • Comment Link Jonno Monday, 01 September 2014 22:30 posted by Jonno

    Well Jacek, the reason they don't exist in western herbalism is because the western spleen is a real organ that has other issues to deal with than hypothetical digestion etc. Chinese medicine only makes sense as as a closed system, and it is a coherent but rationalist system of thought, rather like the Bacon's spider, the chinese practitioner spins an elaborate web out of their own substance. All efforts to translate it into western paradigms are doomed by the procrustean epistemology that is its foundation and apparently self fulfilling purpose.

  • Comment Link Jacek Tuesday, 19 November 2013 16:02 posted by Jacek

    I have the impression that western herbalism doesn't lack specific Spleen Qi tonics, as you suggested in your post. I think such herbs as Acorus, Angelica archangelica, Avena, Artemisia absinthium, Gentiana, Centaurium, Rosmarinus, Ruta, Trigonella or Turnera could be good examples of Spleen and general Qi/Blood tonics. Not all of them have sweet property, some are bitter digestive tonics, building Qi and Blood through improving digestive efficiency.

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