|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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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)
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.
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.
See my blog posted in June, 2013.