In the previous article, we discussed about the role of the spleen in digestion and producing Qi and Blood. On top of these 2 crucial roles, the spleen has several other significant functions, further underlining the importance of maintaining a healthy spleen. > Read: Why are organs in TCM described so differently
Involvement in water metabolism
Function: In TCM, water metabolism involves several organs, including the spleen, kidneys and lungs. The spleen processes and transports fluids taken in from the digestive tract.
Ailment: If the spleen is weak and the water metabolism function is affected, the fluids in the body cannot be processed or transported properly and eventually accumulate, thus producing “dampness”. This can lead to problems such as edema (swelling due to water retention), loose and watery stools, formation of phlegm etc.
Treatment: Treatment methods usually include strengthening the spleen (by replenishing spleen Qi) to promote its water processing function, and drying up the dampness. (See below for more information on herbs.)
Control of blood flow
Function: Another function of the spleen is to control the blood flow to keep our blood within the vessels. If the spleen is weak and loses control of the blood, abnormal bleeding can occur.
Ailment: Certain cases of heavy menses may be attributed to a weak spleen that fails to restrain the blood. Other forms of abnormal bleeding such as blood in urine, bleeding in digestive tract etc. may sometimes involve a weak spleen as well.
Diagnosis: One way to determine whether one’s bleeding is due to a weak spleen is to look at the colour of the blood. In general, pale looking blood often points to deficiency (possibly deficient spleen Qi), bright red blood usually signifies heat, and dark-coloured blood with clots often indicates poor blood flow. One should also look out for other signs of a weak spleen (e.g. tiredness, poor appetite, pale tongue, weak pulse etc.) for a more accurate diagnosis.
Prevent organ prolapse
Function: The spleen prevents prolapse of organs (sagging/slipping out of place). This is because by nature, the spleen’s Qi has a tendency to rise to distribute fluids and nutrients to the appropriate organs. This rising of the spleen Qi is believed to create a lifting effect which supports the organs.
Ailment: Many cases of organ prolapse, such as prolapse of the uterus, stomach, rectum etc. are attributed to a weak spleen (insufficient spleen Qi), which has a diminished rising function.
Treatment: A 2-pronged approach of strengthening the spleen and lifting the spleen Qi is usually employed to support the organs physically.
A common herbal formula used for such conditions is the “Middle Qi Tonifying Decoction” (补中益气汤 Bǔ Zhōng Yì Qì Tāng). This tonic can be purchased over the counter in tablet or pill form in many TCM stores in Singapore. It includes herbs such as Radix Astragali (黄芪 Huáng Qí) and Radix codonopsis / poor man’s ginseng (党参 Dǎng Shēn) to strengthen the spleen, as well as Rhizoma Cimicufugae (升麻 Shēng Má) and Radix Bupleuri (柴胡 Chái Hú) to help lift the Qi upwards.
Herbs that strengthen the spleen
Ginseng is well known for its Qi replenishing properties. It is very commonly used to replenish the Qi of the spleen to strengthen it. The different types of ginsengs, such as poor man’s ginseng (党参), American ginseng (西洋参), Korean ginseng (高丽参) etc., can have different properties or varying efficacies and may be used in different scenarios.
Astragalus root (黄芪 Huáng Qí)
Chinese Yam (山药 Shān Yào)
Chinese dates (大枣 Dà Zǎo)
Honey (蜂蜜 Fēng Mì)
Herbs that strengthen the spleen and dry up dampness:
Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (白术 Bái Zhú)
Poria (茯苓 Fú Líng)
Chinese barley (薏苡仁 Yì Yǐ Rén)