'Spleen Qi deficiency' is a term that acupuncturists throw around a lot. It's a common diagnosis in East Asian medicine, but one that most don't understand.
Part of this confusion, I think, stems from the opaque nature of the biomedical spleen. While we learn fairly early on that our lungs are important for breathing, or heart circulate blood, our stomach helps digest food, etc., many people would be hard-pressed to give a concise description of the spleen's function. A few years ago, some Harvard medical students even made an amusing video on this very topic.
In biomedicine, the spleen acts as a blood purifier and a resevoir for the immune system. It helps to filter out old or damaged blood vessels and microbial waste, and helps in the manufacturing of white blood cells that are neccesary to fight infection and produce new antibodies. It's actually too bad that the spleen doesn't get more air time in your average biology class, because it's role is both important and interesting.
In East Asian medicine, the Spleen is, well, very different. Part of the difficulty with translating a medicinal system from one language to another is that some of the terminology can only ever be imperfect (see also: "Qi").
The Spleen in East Asian medicine is actually one of the vital organs in digestion. After the Stomach starts to break down the food, the Spleen takes this combination of food and digestive enzymes and "separates the clear from the turbid", using the usable components to help manufacture the blood, and passing the rest onto the Small Intestine, where this process is continued. When I think about the East Asian Spleen, I think of it as being more a combination of the biomedical spleen and the pancreas, a gland that helps to secrete digestive enzymes, controls blood sugar levels, and secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream. This helps me keep in mind how vital its function is in digestion.
When the Spleen isn't functioning at full capacity, a person can be said to have "Spleen Qi Deficiency." Because the Spleen is so important in digestion, digestive complaints are one big indicator of Spleen Qi deficiency. Loose stools, cravings for sugary foods, abdominal bloating, flatulence, finding undigested food in the stools -- these are all possible indications of Spleen Qi deficiency.
The way thSat we process food is a cornerstone of our overall health. Because of this, coupled with the Spleen's importance in manufacturing and filtering the blood, fatigue, pale complexion, foggy-headedness, and a sensation of body heaviness or sluggishness can also be signs of Spleen Qi deficiency. There may also be more phlegm that manifests as a chronic runny nose, post-nasal drip, or frequently coughing up phlegm (with no other signs or feelings of infection).
Have you diagnosed yourself with Spleen Qi deficiency yet? Are you wondering how you can get your Spleen back up to scratch? Look no further! Here are a few things that you can do to bolster your Spleen Qi so that you can have more energy, better digestion, and an improved immune system:
1. Try acupuncture
Acupuncture and East Asian medicine have been observing signs of Spleen Qi deficiency for thousands of years. Acupuncture can be a great tool for benefiting digestion and improving energy. Book an appointment and ask your acupuncturist if your Spleen seems to be weak, and see what they recommend in order to help it function more smoothly.
2. Cook your foood
Not only is it cheaper and healthier to eat home-cooked meals, but it is also important that you physically cook your food. The Spleen hates things that are cold and damp -- it wants you to eat warm, nourishing foods that give it the best materials to work with. If you love eating salads, try wilting your greens with a little bone broth and lemon juice. If you are a smoothie junkie, try switching to some yummy, pureed soups.
Another trick that you can try to heat up your digestion is drinking a small amount of herbal tea before every meal. This helps to start the digestive juices flowing so that you are better able process your food completely.
3. Avoid dairy
Remember how the Spleen hates cold and damp foods? Nothing is more cold or damp than dairy from an East Asian nutrition perspective. While some people are able to tolerate dairy products, if you're finding yourself having low energy and loose stools, eliminate dairy for a while and see if that helps your symptoms.
4. Exercise regularly
Sometimes when you're feeling sluggish and run-down, exercise is actually the best solution to improve your energy. The tissue governed by the Spleen is muscle tissue -- using your muscles can help to activate your Spleen and improve your fatigue. If you're not used to exercising or working with an inflammatory condition such as autoimmune diesease, start out slowly with exercises such as Pilates, Gyrotonic, yoga, or walking.
5. Get out of your head
The pathological mindset associated with the Spleen is worrying. Over-worrying and over-thinking are signs that your Spleen is unable to process it existing situation; in that case, it will become increasingly difficult for you to process new experiences and information as they come to you. While in school, we all frequently joked about how tired our poor Spleens were from processing and digesting so much new information. While we said it in jest, it was very much rooted in the truth. If you find yourself ruminating on the past or worrying too much, this can deplete your Spleen. Find time for meditation or other forms of self care (adult coloring, anyone?) so that your mind can relax and rejuvenate itself so that your body can begin to truly heal.
Andrea Lane is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Pilates instructor in Portland, Oregon. Her practice particularly focuses on treating allergies, autoimmune disease, and women's health. She is passionate about maintaining good health through a whole-food diet, mindful movement, and meditation. When she is not practicing, she loves cooking, listening to podcasts, reading her way out from under the small mountain of books she's accumulated, and catering to her cat's every whim.