Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's this 'Spleen' you keep talking about?

By Caroline Adams, L. Ac. 

Many of you have heard me talk a lot about your Spleen. When your MD starts talking about your Liver or Spleen, it’s usually a fairly serious conversation about a disease like hepatitis or Epstein-Barr. Acupuncturists, on the other hand talk about the functions of these organs regularly! There’s no reason to be alarmed, it’s all normal and good. Chinese medicine doesn’t look at these organs in the same way as Western medicine.
From the Western medical perspective, the Spleen filters and stores the blood. It contributes to the production of red and white blood cells and helps the body fight infection. In Chinese medicine, the organs of the body fulfill energetic roles. Each organ is assigned a number of interrelated processes. The Spleen is not just a fist-sized organ  tucked under the left side of your ribcage, it’s a conglomeration of specific activities needed to keep the body healthy and functional. 
The Spleen’s main job is taking the food that you eat and making it into Qi or vital energy for your body needs to run away from a tiger, solve an engineering problem or heal an injury. For Chinese medicine, the Spleen is the main organ of digestion in the body. This is usually where I explain that what your acupuncturist calls your Spleen really has very little to do with the physical organ “the spleen”. We’re not sure why the ancient Chinese understood it this way. One theory is that they understood the Spleen and Pancreas to be one organ. People sometimes have their Spleens removed and want to know if something horrible is going to happen from a Chinese medical perspective. I tell them the energy and processes of the Spleen are still there and functional even though the physical organ is missing. It may be weaker, but the “Qi” of the Spleen remains intact.  
When the Spleen is doing a good job you feel energized after you eat, you have no stomach or GI upset, and stools are formed. If you’re Spleen is underperforming, you may feel tired after eating, have gas and bloating, little appetite, and loose stools. Here’s an example: after I eat Thanksgiving dinner, I usually feel like curling up on the couch and taking a nap. My kids on the other hand, although grumpy and tired before a meal, become super-charged after eating! They are still young and their Spleens are in good shape; mine, not so much.
When the Spleen is underperforming it creates what we call “Dampness”. Dampness is what gives you “brain fog” after you eat lunch. You were planning on writing up that report right after lunch and now you can’t remember a thing you wanted to say. Sound familiar? If you’re prone to allergies and asthma, dampness can become mucus that ends up in your sinuses and bronchi. It can also make your muscles feel heavy as if it takes extra energy to lift them. In the GI tract, dampness causes gas, bloating, loose stools, and diarrhea. 
Over time, dampness congeals into “Phlegm”. Phlegm can manifest as adipose tissue (fat), persistent sticky nasal discharge, constant post-nasal drip, a feeling of “stuckness” in the throat, swellings in the skin and lumps.

As you can see, it's important to keep your Spleen in tip top shape to feel your best and have the energy you need for your day.

One of my main tasks as an acupuncturist is making sure your Spleen functions correctly. I use a variety of points on your lower legs to make sure that your food gets digested properly so it gets turned into energy that you can use to go to the gym, think big thoughts, and do what needs to be done. Almost everybody's Spleen is weak to one degree or another; it's a fact of life. Ways to support your Spleen are: 

1) Eating your biggest meal of the day in the morning and smallest in the evening.
3) Eating 3-5 meals throughout the day (ie not skipping meals)
4) Chew each bite thoroughly!
5) Stop eating before you're full
6) Avoid processed foods, sugar, wheat and dairy
7) Cook most or all of your food 
8) Do not eat and work at the same time
9) Have a nice leisurely walk after meals

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