TCM lesson of the week: the spleen, your energy generator (part 1)

| May 11, 2011

Dr. Li (1180 to 1251 B.C.) is considered the first physician in Chinese history to create the theory of the prominence of the spleen and its companion organ, the stomach. His wisdom can be reduced to one succinct sentence: “All human health problems are initially caused by a spleen/stomach dysfunction.”

Why did he say that? Because proper functioning of the digestive system depends on the spleen which—with its partner, the stomach—is the body’s main source of Qi after birth. Remember what I have told you about your checking account or Acquired Qi, the account from which the body’s daily Qi expenditures should be drawn? You might say that your stomach and spleen are the main caretakers of that account.

Your stomach receives food and liquid and “rots and ripens” them, as TCM theory puts it. Your spleen then transforms this mixture into a refined essence called “gu” Qi. This food essence forms the foundation of your Qi and blood. Thus, the daily fuel and nourishment for your whole body depends on the spleen and stomach enjoying a healthy cooperative partnership. This is a lifetime linkage that you must keep strong to live a long life with vibrant health. If their function is weak, or if eating habits become poor—or both, as is often the case—the body will not be properly nourished. Then you can suffer from both deficient Qi and deficient blood. Also, according to TCM, if these organs are not functioning properly, you will definitely gain weight.

Look at the spleen’s circle. You can see that:

  • The spleen’s partner organ is the stomach.
  • Its element is earth.
  • Its season is late summer. It’s especially good to eat healing foods for the spleen during this time of the year.
  • The spleen’s direction is middle.
  • The opening gate to the outside of the body is the mouth.
  • The tissue it controls is the muscle.
  • The emotions that can affect the spleen are overthinking, worry, and anxiety.
  • Its environmental factor is dampness.
  • The color related to spleen energy is yellow.
  • The taste that goes directly to the spleen is sweet.

From the TCM perspective, here are some of the most common signs that indicate your spleen and stomach are not functioning properly:

  1. Sleeping problems, such as insomnia
  2. Bruising easily
  3. Allergies
  4. Cellulite
  5. High cholesterol
  6. Digestive problems
  7. Lack of appetite
  8. Fatigue
  9. Muscle problems
  10. Menstrual bleeding problems, such as spotting
  11. Migraine headaches
  12. Anemia
  13. Cold and/or sweaty hands and feet
  14. Worry! Worry! Worry!

Why do these problems occur? It is the nature of spleen Qi to move upward: it sends food essence up to the lung for distribution and holds your body’s organs and tissues in place. A weak spleen cannot perform these functions. Spleen problems tend to be ones of deficiency—the spleen seldom suffers from problems of excess. When your spleen Qi is so weak that it collapses instead of rises, certain organs can collapse as well, especially the stomach, intestines, uterus, and rectum. Other symptoms of weak, sinking Qi are diarrhea, fatigue, and blurred vision.

Your spleen has another important job. Besides transporting food essence, it also ferries fluids throughout the body. A weak spleen does not have the power to properly regulate all the fluids in your body. This is not good, since weak spleen function can lead to excessive dampness. We’ll look at ways to recognize whether or not you have excess dampness. This is the organ that especially dislikes any kind of dampness because this environmental factor interferes with its work of transforming and transporting your nutritive essence. Poor spleen function can cause a range of digestive problems, including lack of appetite, poor digestion, loose stool or diarrhea, and abdominal distension. It can also cause you to retain water and gain weight.

Excess weight, of course, is probably the reason you’re reading this book. So if you have trouble losing weight, the problem may be your spleen. Try this simple test to determine whether your spleen is not functioning well and your body is suffering from excess dampness. Look at your tongue. If it is fat, with a thick white coating, this is a signal that your body is unable to rid itself of excess water. Regular diet or weight loss programs and products as well as exercise cannot fix this internal root cause of excess weight. In fact, many overweight people don’t understand that they are further damaging their spleen’s ability to function by trying to diet in the first place. They are just weakening themselves further by denying themselves adequate and good nutrition. In fact, any diet that goes against the nature of any organ’s function will ultimately cause more health problems later. You may lose weight in the short term, but you will upset your entire body’s delicate balance in the long run.

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Category: Week 4

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