Spleen Health and Function: 60 Ways to Support a Healthy Spleen
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.
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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:
- 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:
- Avoid cold drinks and ice in your beverages
- Honor and express your emotions, especially sadness
- Be mindful about your schedule and related stressors
- Be careful when taking on new projects
- Chew your food slowly and thoroughly
- Eat warm, veggie-abundant soups and broths
- Take breaks
- Pause activities and thinking often
- Try acupuncture and acupressure
- Laugh to open the heart, and release tension and toxins
- Pray to inspire hopefulness and positivity
- Meditate to reduce worry, anxiety, or overthinking
- Seek ways to “get over yourself” and reduce negative attitudes
- Fake happiness until you embody aspects of happiness
- 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:
- Winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin
- Legumes like garbanzo beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils, black beans, and peas
- Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Seaweed and kelp
- Green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea, chai tea
- Walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
- Aloe vera gel and juice
- Ginger, pepper, cardamom, onions, garlic, cinnamon, clove, fennel, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, and nutmeg
- Instead of heavy sweets, try these less aggressive sweeteners to your diet: cooked fruits, rice syrup, barley malt, molasses, and stewed cherries
- Add a little protein to every meal
- 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
- Processed foods and refined flour
- Refined sugar
- Peanuts and products like peanut butter
- Winter melon
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
- Frequent infections
- Bloating and gas
- Weak limbs
- Little desire to speak
- Prolonged headache
- 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:
- Astragalus (黄芪)
- Ginseng (人参)
- Codonopsis (丹参)
- Chinese Yam (Huai Shan)
- White Atractylodes ( 白术)
- 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:
- Holy Basil
- Gotu Kola
- 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.
Eastern vs. Western Medicine: the Showdown
If you have only scoffed at Eastern medicine before, such as acupuncture and holistic treatments, this infographic may cause you to think again. Traditional Chinese medicine, also referred to as TCM, is the broad chunk of what’s considered Eastern medicine. TCM is a broad range of alternative chinese medicine practices sharing common concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (Tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy.
What makes Eastern medicine so different than Western is that instead of prescribing a “one size fits all” for all patients with certain symptoms, Eastern medicine looks at the needs of each individual and unique body and acts accordingly. In essence, it’s a short-term versus long-term action plan.
Here are 6 lessons one student of TCM learned by watching the doctors and seeing their expertise. She shares her story:
- Listen—Really Listen.
The first TCM practitioner I shadowed explained to me that to practice TCM is to “listen with your whole body”. Pay attention and use every sense you have, he said. I watched this doctor as he diagnosed a woman with new-onset cervical cancer and severe anemia the moment she walked into his exam room, and within two minutes, without blood tests or CTs, sent her to be admitted to a (Western) medical service. I’ve seen expert clinicians make remarkable diagnoses, but this was something else!
“How could you know what you had and that she needed to be admitted?” I asked.
“I smelled the cervical cancer,” he said. “I looked and saw the anemia. I heard her speak and I knew she could not care for herself at home.” (I followed her records in the hospital; he was right on all accounts.)
- Focus on the Diagnosis
I watched another TCM doctor patiently explain to a young woman with long-standing abdominal pain why painkillers were not the answer.
“Why should we treat you for something if we don’t know what it is?” he said. “Let’s find out the diagnosis first.” What an important lesson for us—to always begin with the diagnosis.
- Treat the Whole Person
“A big difference between our two practices,” said one TCM doctor, “is that Western medicine treats people as organs. Eastern holistic medicine treats people as a whole.” Indeed, I watched her inquire about family, diet, and life stressors. She counseled on issues of family planning, food safety, and managing debt. She even helped patients who needed advice on caring for the their elderly parents and choosing schools for their child. This is truly “whole person” care!
- Health Is Not Just About Disease, But Also About Wellness
There is a term in Chinese that does not have its exact equivalent in English. The closest translation is probably “tune-up to remain in balance,” but it doesn’t do the term justice, because it refers to maintaining and promoting wellness. Many choose to see a TCM doctor not because they are ill, but because they want to be well. They believe TCM helps them keep in balance. It’s an important lesson for doctors and patients alike to address wellness and prevention.
- Medicine Is a Life-Long Practice
Western medicine reveres the newest as the best; in contrast, patients revere old TCM doctors for their knowledge and experience. Practicing doctors do not rest on their laurels.
“This is a practice that has taken thousands of years to develop,” I was told. “That’s why you must keep learning throughout your life, and even then you will only learn just a small fraction.” Western medicine should be no different: not only are there new medical advances all the time, doctors need to continually improve their skills in the art of medicine.
- Evidence Is in the Eyes of the Beholder
Evidence-based medicine was my mantra in Western medical training, so I was highly skeptical of the anecdotes I heard. But then I met so many patients who said that they were able to get relief from Eastern remedies while Western treatments failed them. Could there be a placebo effect? Sure. Is research important? Of course. But research is done on populations, and our treatment is of individuals. It has taken me a while to accept that I may not always be able to explain why—but that the care should be for the individual patient, not a population of patients.
“In a way, there is more evidence for our type of medicine than for yours,” a TCM teacher told me. “We have four thousand years of experience—that must count for something!”
Fascinated? Here’s more information on Eastern versus Western medicine for you to feast your eyes on: