So how can we strengthen this Spleen/Stomach system and avoid the symptoms covered in part 1? In Chinese medicine we say that "hot, dry" foods injure the stomach, while "cold, damp" foods weaken the spleen. In terms of stomach health in this context, it is important to avoid very spicy foods, fried foods, coffee, alcohol, and vegetable oils heated to high temperatures. These can cause stomach heat, an overproduction of stomach acid, and give rise to symptoms like heartburn. In order to optimize the overall health of the spleen, one should avoid eating excessive amounts of cold or raw food. This includes strictly raw food diets, raw salads, cold or iced drinks, unfermented soy products, many dairy products, and - gasp! - ice cream. In order to digest cold or raw food, the body uses a great deal of yang energy to heat it before it can break it down into something usable by the body. This process seriously taxes the energy of the spleen, which in turn results in formation of "dampness" and phlegm in the body. As the dampness or phlegm accumulates, it generates heat (due to restricted energy flow - essentially, a friction reaction), which can lead to various inflammatory syndromes.
Most western medications such as prescription and over the counter drugs, antibiotics, and vaccinations are harmful to the Spleen. While critically life-saving in the face of acute infectious disease, they are often extremely cold energetically. If you have to take a western medication, it is advisable to work concomitantly with an acupuncturist or other holistic health practitioner to mitigate damage to your digestive system.
Overconsumption of sweets (hello, American diet!) also weakens the spleen and results in the production of excess phlegm. To a lesser extent, processed carbohydrates (think: foods from white flower) are cold in nature and, eaten in excess, can deplete the spleen.
Other factors that damage the spleen and stomach system include eating at irregular times (especially too close to bedtime), overeating, and eating too little or not eating enough protein. Excessive anxiety or worry, excessive use of the mind in the case of studying, and not getting enough rest also tax the spleen. Finally, any chronic disease tends to weaken the spleen.
Common Physical Symptoms of Spleen Weakness Include:
The energy of the Spleen is said to hold blood in its vessels. Some types of bleeding, such as excess uterine bleeding, as well as varicose veins and easy bruising, relate to Spleen weakness.
It can't be overemphasized that the Spleen is, in many ways, the foundation of the body's energy and health on a day-to-day basis. By "transforming and transporting" nutrients throughout the body, the Spleen ensures the integrity of each cell and organ. Weakness of the Spleen can lead to weakness of other organs. It is frequently an aspect of many, many conditions seen in the acupuncture clinic. There is increasing consensus, in eastern and western medicine, that digestive issues lie at the heart of many health concerns. Some that I've seen in my clinic recently include: eczema, psoriasis, autoimmune conditions, reproductive health, asthma, lowered immunity/frequent colds, chronic sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and mental/emotional health concerns. Of course, all of these conditions require specific treatment protocols based on individual presentation; however, in each case, improving the function of the Earth organs was an important element of treatment.
Michael A. Sassack is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago.