Spleen Health and Function: 60 Ways to Support a Healthy Spleen

Ancient Chinese traditional herbal medicine book

Your beautiful, useful, little spleen is a vital organ found under the ribcage, in the upper left part of your abdomen. According to Western Medicine, your spleen is the largest organ in the lymphatic system, making spleen health crucial. It is sister to your tonsils, adenoids, and thymus. Helpful to your digestion and immune system, your spleen is like a youth hostel for the different aspects of your blood.

Your lymphatic system is a compilation of tissues and organs that rid your body of waste, toxins, and other non-beneficial materials. Your “lymph” is a powerful fluid that contains white blood cells, the little warriors that fight infections. According to Western Medicine, the spleen keeps your bodily fluids in balance, yet it is possible to live without it. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers similar ideas, yet expands upon these premises. 

There are many similarities between the attributes of Western Medicine and TCM perspectives. Rather than distill each as a separate pathway to spleen vitality, I’ve combined most of their similarities and offer suggestions on dietary and behavioral changes in support of your spleen’s health.

In all things related to your health, seek forward-thinking doctors, D.O.s, and naturopathic practitioners to advance your health and well-being. 

Introduction to TCM

What Is the Spleen’s Function?

As a filter for blood, and a hunter of harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, the spleen is vital to your health and immune system. While the spleen stores platelets (thrombocyte) and white blood cells, it also recycles your old and tired red blood cells. TCM dives a little deeper into the value and functions of the spleen, thereby giving us a broader, more specific, and more relatable picture.

How to Strengthen Your Spleen?

In TCM, your spleen does not have the same definition that you’ll find in Western medicine, although both schools of thought appear to be more aligned than opposed. If we extrapolate from both methodologies, the spleen seems to be at least a vital partner to the stomach, and does the following:

Location of the spleen

Location of the spleen

  • Digests information and environmental stimulus
  • Assists in the digestion of food and converting it to energy
  • Controls the blood
  • Controls the muscles and the four limbs
  • Influences transformation and transportation
  • Connects with the lips and mouth
  • Associates with enthusiasm, sadness, and worry
  • Participates in digestive processes
  • Houses the spirit and intellect
  • Influences emotions
  • Affects our minds and houses our thinking processes
  • Controls our increasing energy (Qi)
  • Provides warmth and vitality

In a society overloaded with messages and stimuli, our spleens tend to suffer. But through right-action, we can nurture our spleens into abundant health.

The spleen is akin to the Earth element and loves Summer through early Fall. Its Ayurvedic dosha is Kapha, which tends to be slow, conscious, thoughtful, careful, and grounded. When we allow ourselves to adopt some of these Kapha attributes during the Summer and Fall, we feed, heal, and nurture our spleens. To increase enthusiasm and positivity, consider researching Pitta Aggravated diets. 

Sadly, given how overworked our minds, bodies, and lives are, most spleens are not always in balance. In TCM, the condition is called, “Spleen Qi Deficiency,” and it’s characterized by sadness, loose stools, fatigue, confusion, feelings of being overwhelmed, decreased vitality, weakened immunity, poor digestion, and feelings of defeat.  

But wait, there’s more! You can protect your spleen’s health with just a few simple changes in diet and behavior. You’ll find 60 total ways to support your spleen within this article. Try these on for size:

  1. Avoid cold drinks and ice in your beverages
  2. Honor and express your emotions, especially sadness
  3. Be mindful about your schedule and related stressors
  4. Be careful when taking on new projects
  5. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly
  6. Eat warm, veggie-abundant soups and broths
  7. Take breaks
  8. Pause activities and thinking often
  9. Try acupuncture and acupressure
  10. Laugh to open the heart, and release tension and toxins
  11. Pray to inspire hopefulness and positivity
  12. Meditate to reduce worry, anxiety, or overthinking
  13. Seek ways to “get over yourself” and reduce negative attitudes
  14. Fake happiness until you embody aspects of happiness
  15. Cuddle your loved-ones often

Foods That Support Your Spleen

Whether coming from Western Medicine or TCM, everybody seems to agree: Eating five small meals per day is healthier than eating three large meals, and adding spleen-friendly foods to your diet can turn your spleen into a heroic warrior.

Spleen aficionados suggest these foods for improving your spleen’s health:

  1. Winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin
  2. Legumes like garbanzo beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils, black beans, and peas
  3. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
  4. Seaweed and kelp
  5. Green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea, chai tea
  6. Walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
  7. Aloe vera gel and juice
  8. Grapes
  9. Pomegranates
  10. Ginger, pepper, cardamom, onions, garlic, cinnamon, clove, fennel, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, and nutmeg
  11. Instead of heavy sweets, try these less aggressive sweeteners to your diet: cooked fruits, rice syrup, barley malt, molasses, and stewed cherries
  12. Add a little protein to every meal
  13. Add a little bit of organic beef or bison to your weekly diet

Foods to Avoid Consuming for a Healthy Spleen

While many of these removal suggestions are helpful to your overall health, it is particularly beneficial for your spleen to limit:

  • Cold, raw, and frozen foods
  • Ice in your drinks
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Processed foods and refined flour
  • Refined sugar
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Peanuts and products like peanut butter
  • Cucumber
  • Winter melon
  • Grapefruit
  • Lettuce
  • Bananas 
  • Avocados
Depiction of the lymphatic system

Depiction of the lymphatic system

How Do You Check Your Spleen?

Your doctor and your Ayurvedic and TCM practitioners will check to see if your spleen is enlarged during your next physical exam. By gently pressing on your upper left abdomen, your practitioner can learn a lot about your spleen. Your doctor might also suggest imaging and blood tests to help identify the causes of your enlarged or inflamed spleen.

Ayurvedic practitioners will check the pulse of the spleen, along with the pulses of other vital and symbiotic organs. As one of Earth’s oldest medical sciences, including Ayurvedic methodologies, can provide a wealth of information. The more informed we are, the better decisions we’ll make, especially when trying to improve our physical health and emotional well-being.  

Each of Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic disciplines will help you nurture your spleen back to a blissful state. 

Causes of Weak Spleen and Problematic Symptoms

According to Western science, many conditions can cause an enlarged spleen. These include a variety of infections, Parasites, Anemia, Leukemia, Hepatitis, Jaundice, Malaria, Liver disease, and some Cancers. Some of the symptoms of a weak spleen might include:

  • Pain in the upper left abdomen
  • Pain or discomfort in the left shoulder
  • Feeling full without eating
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Bloating and gas
  • Weak limbs
  • Little desire to speak
  • Prolonged headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tired eyes

Spleen Herbs and Supplements

The company Standard Process has several products that help the immune system. They also sell excellent products directed at the spleen, most notably, “Spleen Desiccated.” These types of products are finding their ways into western medical research and are showing encouraging outcomes when compared to pharmaceuticals and other types of supplements. Consider researching bovine and porcine concentrated, desiccated spleen extracts to improve the health of your spleen.

Other supplements include products directed at the adrenals, thymus, Qi, and reducing stress. Consider that when the liver is overburdened, the spleen is under excess pressure to perform. You’ll find that liver supplements and trace minerals might also be beneficial to your spleen.

Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us that the following herbs can be helpful to your spleen:

  1. Astragalus (黄芪)
  2. Ginseng (人参)
  3. Codonopsis (丹参)
  4. Chinese Yam (Huai Shan)
  5. White Atractylodes ( 白术)
  6. Licorice (甘草)

 

Naturopathic doctors might also encourage you to incorporate herbs such as Dandelion, New Jersey Tea, Barberry, and Iris into your health strategy.

While every instance of a weak spleen might require an individual regiment, the Ayurvedic supplements that might support your spleen, include:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Turmeric
  • Holy Basil
  • Gotu Kola
  • Shilajit
  • Brahmi
  • Trikatu
  • Triphala
  • Sandalwood
  • Cordyceps
  • Cloves Bud
  • Amla Fruit

Each of us has a unique set of emotions, environmental influences, and karmic attributes that filter through our spirits and physical bodies. When seeking improvements to our health and well-being, it’s beneficial to do lots of research and invite the counsel of medical, healing, and spiritual professionals. 

While TCM, Western Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine each offer unique perspectives, the best solution is the one that works for you. Research each of the pathways outlined here to find the solution that brings you the most vitality and vibrancy. You might find that a combination of these methodologies to be your most successful pathway to an empowered spleen and abundant health.



Guide to Alternative Medicine Part 1: Traditional Chinese Medicine

ying yang symbol

“When health is absent Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be exerted, Wealth is useless and Reason is powerless.”
— Herophilies, 300 B.C.

Just a decade ago, if patients wanted to explore unconventional treatment options they were on their own. Traditional health professionals generally didn’t encourage alternative therapies or treatments, and discouraged departures from allopathic treatment models such as drugs and surgery.

As research validates the efficacy of non-traditional treatment models, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ayurvedic medicine, massage and chiropractic adjustment, naturopathy, diet, and natural supplementation — even homeopathy and sound therapy — new branches of medicine emerge.

Integrative, Functional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine

The “integrative” medical model developed during the early 1990s but was formalized when the National Institute of Health (NIH) created the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). This classification covered non-conventional treatment and research, and was the beginning of a slow recognition of alternative systems. Integrative models include consideration of a patient’s lifestyle, body, and mind, and how to promote well-being for the whole person rather than just diseases and their symptoms.

“Functional” medicine refers to holistic and alternative medical practices intended to  improve overall functions of the body’s systems and explores individual biochemistry, genetics, and environment to determine underlying causes of disease.

According to the NIH, “complementary” medicine coordinates non-mainstream practices with conventional treatments. This has driven acceptance of alternative therapies such as TCM, diet, and nutraceuticals, or supplements.

Alternative medicine is any practice that falls outside conventional systems and is not combined with traditional treatments. For example, if patients choose Ayurvedic medicine, dietary changes, and supplementation to treat their cancer and exclude conventional therapies, they have entered the realm of alternative medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

“Those who disobey the laws of Heaven and Earth have a lifetime of calamities while those who follow the laws remain free from dangerous illness.”

— Huangdi, The Yellow Emperor,  2698–2598 BCE

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) claims to be the third-oldest medical system, preceded only by Egyptian and Babylonian medicine. Theories of TCM are believed to be at least 3,000 to 4,000 years old — likely older, predating written language.

The foundations of TCM are meridian channels and acupuncture points that conduct the movement of chi, and the five-element model correspondences to these points and channels. This five-element system of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water also applies to seasons, colors, sounds, sense organs, personality types, Chinese astrology, feng shui, the I Ching, and countless other aspects of Chinese culture and life.

The Five-Element System in Chinese Medicine

Called the Wu Xing, this five-element system defines relationships between the elements and considers them to be in continual active cycles wherever they are found. Mother/child, or generating relationships, are: wood fuels fire, fire forms earth (think of volcanic flow and ash) earth produces metal, metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.), and water feeds wood.

Conversely, there are antagonistic (father/child) relationships: fire melts metal, metal penetrates wood (ax, saw), wood separates earth (tree roots break soil), earth absorbs and directs water (river banks), and water extinguishes fire.

Feng Shui destructive cycle, five elements

Chinese and Taoist doctors, called OMDs (oriental medicine doctors), see a patient through this lens of five-element relationships, along with yin and yang (passive and active) qualities. Organs are paired into male and female element families that include seasons, colors, compass directions, sense organs, emotions, and virtues. The female, or yin, organs are continually active — the Chinese say a woman’s work is never done — while male yang organs have periods of rest and activity. Element family qualities are:

    • Metal: Lung (yin), large intestine (yang); season: autumn; color: white; direction: west; sense organ: nose; emotion: grief. When balanced, grief becomes the virtue of integrity.
    • Water: Kidneys (yin), bladder (yang); season: winter; color: black; direction: north; sense organ: ears; emotion: fear. When balanced, fear becomes the virtues of poise, calm, and alert stillness.
    • Wood: Liver (yin), gall bladder (yang); season: spring; color: green; direction: east; sense organs: eyes; emotion: anger. When balanced, anger becomes the virtue of kindness.
    • Fire: Heart (yin), small intestine (yang); season: summer; color: red; direction: south; sense organ: tongue; emotion: rush/rudeness. When balanced, rushed rudeness becomes the virtues altruism and  joy.
    • Earth: Spleen (yin), stomach(yang); season: late summer; color: yellow; direction: center or middle; sense organ: mouth; emotion: worry and overthinking. When balanced, worry and obsession become the virtues of balance and equanimity.
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