How the spleen affects your digestion and overall health 脾脏如何影响消化及总体健康

Updated: Feb 28

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The Spleen may be one of the lesser known organs in our body. However, in TCM, it actually plays a crucial role in our health. While in modern science, the spleen is more involved in regulating one’s immune system and blood, in TCM, it is said to have multiple major functions, some of which include digestion, water metabolism, control of blood, etc.

> Read: Why are organs in TCM described so differently

In this article, we focus on the 2 most important roles the spleen play in our body.

1. The spleen's role in digestion

The director of digestion

The spleen is important in our digestion as it is involved in almost all aspects of the digestive system in TCM.

It can be seen as the director of the digestive department as it stimulates the stomach and intestines to cause digestion and absorption. The spleen then transports the absorbed nutrients to other organs. These nutrients are eventually used to form Qi and Blood.

A weak spleen is a major cause of digestive problems

Since the spleen plays such a vast role in digestion, a large number of digestive issues can be associated with a weak spleen (also called insufficient spleen Qi). This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, loose stools, poor appetite, indigestion, weakness, fatigue etc. Sometimes, a weak spleen may also lead to more serious cases such as stomach ulcers etc.

2. How the spleen affects your overall health

The spleen forms Qi and Blood

As discussed above, the spleen turns food into nutrients which are then used to produce Qi and Blood. This is an essential process because Qi and Blood are the basic substances that nourish and run one’s entire body. Qi does more than simply provide “energy”, as it is also involved in many aspects of our health, such as basic functioning of organs, immune system, blood circulation etc. This function is so crucial to our bodies that in TCM texts, the spleen is often touted as “the root of survival after birth”.

Weak spleen ➙ insufficient Qi and Blood ➙ potentially many different ailments

A weak spleen may lead to many health complications

Since all organs require ample Qi and Blood to function well, a weak spleen that causes insufficient Qi and Blood can lead to many health complications in the long run. The symptoms of Qi and Blood deficiency may include insomnia, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, shortness of breath, weak immune system, menses problems, urinary incontinence, weakness in limbs etc., depending on which organ is affected. This is why many patients with ailments that seem unrelated to digestion may still be given herbs to strengthen the Spleen, so as to produce enough Qi and Blood to support the other organs.

3. How to protect the spleen

The spleen is easily damaged by a poor diet and poor eating habits. Apart from imbalanced nutrition, eating habits such as irregular eating times, skipping meals and over-eating can also harm the spleen.

Some ways to protect the spleen include:

  • Eat in moderation, avoid food that are excessively oily, sweet, etc.

  • Avoid cold drinks, as the spleen needs to be kept warm to function well

  • Eat on time whenever possible

  • Do not engage in other activities while eating (e.g. working)

  • Do not engage in physical activities right after eating (including taking a shower)

  • Maintain a positive outlook and do not worry or overthink, as excessive worrying or thinking can harm the spleen