One of the most common things I see in practice is a problem with digestion.
This often isn’t the reason people have come for acupuncture but it often crops up during the initial consultation. Most people will have some level of Spleen Qi Deficiency (I’ll have told many of you this!) because we live in a culture that promotes it – we eat in front of the TV, we are constantly on mobile devices, constantly multitasking.
Chinese Medicine is not just a medical system developed over thousands of years, it teaches the art of living a healthy, balanced life. Important aspects of this lifestyle are living in harmony with the natural world, changing lifestyle habits according to the seasons, and striving for balance with our emotions, between work and play, as well as between physical, mental and spiritual activities.
The Spleen is a very important organ in Chinese Medicine.
A lot of people think of the Spleen the way it is seen in Western medicine, which is, as part of the immune system, responsible for the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) as well as the removal of old red blood cells. The Spleen (a Yin organ) in Chinese Medicine is paired with the Stomach (a Yang organ), and both are the main organs of digestion for the body. The difference is that they not only digest food and drink, they are also responsible for processing stimulus and information – everything that comes into the body through our sense organs. This makes this pair of organs very important indeed.
So, in Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is the central organ of digestion.
At the physiological level this is the means by which we meet our nutritional needs. Digestion is the process of converting food into useable substances and sending them to where they are needed. This process is called “transformation and transportation.” In a western sense this involves digestive enzymes, hormones and the blood and lymph systems.
At the mental level the Spleen is involved in the process of thinking. It governs our ability to study and concentrate and to process information. It is not by coincidence that we have phrases such as “this book is hard to digest,” “ I need time to chew this over,” “Food for thought” – connecting the physiological and mental roles. The emotion associated with the Spleen is Worry. This works in two ways. Excessive worry can damage the Spleen Qi/energy: a deficient Spleen can weaken the mind and our capacity to think and focus, leaving us susceptible to worry.
So, what can we do? Once you we aware of the symptoms and causes of Spleen Deficiency we can start to take the burden off . Some lifestyle habits and nutritional changes can help to improve things too.
Things that can damage Spleen Qi include:
- Cold, raw food
- Ice cold drinks
- Too much refined sugar
Recognising the symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency:
- Feelings of heaviness
- General tiredness
- Afternoon “slump”
- Tendency to feel congested
- Bloating after eating
- Problems digesting food (IBS)
- Tendency to ferment food (gurgling)
- Tiredness after eating
- Loose stools
- Appetite low or erratic
- Poor concentration
- A swollen tongue with toothmarks on the edges
A person will probably not have all of these symptoms but you will probably be familiar with more than a few if you tend towards Spleen Qi Deficiency!
Spleen Qi is very easily improved with diet.
The kind of food that most nourishes the Spleen is often that we would use to recuperate after illness – soups, stews, easily digestible.
Foods that nourish the Spleen need to be well cooked and well chewed to aid digestion. They are naturally sweet (this doesn’t mean sugar) and warm in nature – root vegetables, sweet potatoes, squashes, warm spices for example.
If possible use organic foods, meat and dairy particularly. Also use full fat dairy products.
Avoid cold and raw as much as possible (allow salads etc. from the fridge to come to room temperature at least)
Foods to include:
- Squash, sweet potato, root vegetables
- Rice, oats
- Lentil, chickpeas, chestnuts
- Chicken, ham, mackerel, beef, lamb
- Dates, figs, cherries, molasses
- Broad beans, string beans
- Cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, fennel, star anise, cloves
- Liquorice tea, jasmine tea
- Use good stocks from vegetables &/or bones as the basis of soups and stews
Things to avoid:
- Sugar – refined and juices, smoothies
- Dairy – try soya or almond milk on cereal and in cooking
- Wheat (try spelt, rye, soda bread)
- Irregular eating
- Processed food
- And the big no no – AVOID COLD & RAW FOOD
As always, try and make a list of meals that you’d like, then a list of the ingredients you need. There’s nothing worse that a trolley full of food that doesn’t even make one meal!!
- Stew (from stock) containing sweet potato and pearl barley
- Butternut squash soup
- Split pea soup,
- Sunday roast – yum!
- Roast vegetables
- Potato salad
- Coconut milk – mild curries, Thai curries, coconut rice
- Date and walnut flapjack – molasses not syrup
- Apple and chestnut tart