My Acupuncturist Says I Have Spleen Qi Deficiency. What Does That Mean?
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), health and disease are talked about using very different terms from what we are used to in the west. Rather than giving conditions a name such as ‘migraines’ or ‘back pain’ depending on the primary symptom, multiple symptoms are grouped together to form what is known as a TCM syndrome.
TCM syndromes are patterns of illness which affect the entire body and mind. So, although migraines and back pain can be symptoms of a TCM syndrome, the exact diagnosis will vary from person to person depending on any other problems they may have.
TCM syndromes are named according to which organs and substances are being affected, and whether your body is in a state of excess or deficiency. Today we will look at one of the most common syndromes in the modern world - Spleen qi deficiency.
The Spleen in Chinese Medicine
While in western medicine the Spleen is classed as part of the immune system, its functions in TCM are very different. The TCM Spleen system also includes the pancreas and it is primarily responsible for digestion.
The Spleen is known as the ‘transformer and transporter’ meaning that it extracts the nutrients from food and sends them to wherever they are needed in the body. Because of this, it plays a major role in the formation of vital substances such as qi and blood. It is also responsible for nourishing the muscles and strengthening the limbs.
The Spleen also has a ‘holding’ function, meaning that it keeps blood in the vessels and holds the organs in position. On a mental level, the Spleen is responsible for thinking, learning, and memory. It helps you to process facts and information in much the same way that it processes food on a physical level.
To summarize, the most important functions of the Spleen include:
• Digesting food and fluids
• Forming qi and blood
• Holding blood and organs in place
• Thinking, learning, and memory
Not only does the Spleen have a crucial role in forming qi using the nutrients from food, but it also needs a lot of qi to carry out its many functions. Let’s take a look at what happens when Spleen qi becomes deficient.
Symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency
When the Spleen does not have enough qi to carry out its functions properly, a variety of symptoms can occur throughout the body.
The most common symptoms of Spleen qi deficiency include:
• Bloating after eating
• Dull skin
• Weak limbs
• Loose stools
In some cases, Spleen qi deficiency can combine with excessive dampness to cause:
• Heavy limbs
• A stuffy feeling in the chest
• Muddled or ‘foggy’ thinking
If these symptoms sound familiar, it is probably because almost everyone who eats a typical American diet or has a hectic lifestyle suffers from Spleen qi deficiency to some degree. Read on to find out why.
Causes of Spleen Qi Deficiency
One the reasons why Spleen qi deficiency is so common is that it is directly related to diet. Nowadays, the vast majority of people eat diets which are high in fat, sugar, and processed foods, while severely lacking in nutrition. Even those of us who try to eat well have to admit that there is a lot of room for improvement!
The Spleen is also unable to perform its digestive functions efficiently when we eat on the go or while staring at a computer screen. Seeing, smelling, and tasting food are all important stages of the digestive process as they kick start the production of saliva and digestive enzymes. When we do not give our food our full attention, we are skipping this stage and making the Spleen work harder to do its job.
Another common culprit of Spleen qi deficiency is too much cold or raw food in the diet. Again, these foods make the Spleen work harder and prevent it from digesting as efficiently as it should. Other issues include eating at irregular times or late at night, and eating too little or too much in one go.
Spleen qi deficiency can also be caused by mental overwork which is extremely common in our modern world. Worst of all is eating while studying or doing mentally taxing work, or returning to work too soon after a meal.
Finally, Spleen qi deficiency can be a result of any other chronic illness. When the body is weak in general, the Spleen will become weak too. This can have a knock-on effect on the other organs causing a vicious cycle of deficiency throughout the body.
How to Prevent Spleen Qi Deficiency
The best way to take care of your Spleen is by taking care of your diet. Eat meals based on complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and plenty of fresh veggies. If you need a snack between meals, choose a healthy option such as fruit or a small handful of nuts.
The Spleen is said to benefit from sweet foods, but this doesn’t mean you should pig out on cookies and cake. Nutritious whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur wheat, or quinoa are all classed as sweet foods in TCM, as are vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots. You should aim to get the bulk of your energy from these healthy carbohydrates and keep candy and baked goods as an occasional treat.
While you don’t need to cut out salads completely, it is best if the majority of your food is cooked. This is especially true in the winter months when your body needs all the help it can get to stay warm. Avoid cold drinks as much as possible, aiming to drink them at least at room temperature and not straight from the fridge.
Finally, sit down and take time out to enjoy your meals. Pay attention to every bite, chew well, and savor the tastes and textures in your mouth. This will not only help your Spleen to function at its best, but may also give you a new appreciation for your food!