Love your Spleen

by Mark Whalen

In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is the main organ of digestion.  The spleen works very closely with the Stomach (of course) in digesting our food.  The Spleen's main function is the Transformation and Transportation of food while the Stomach's key function is the Rottening and Ripening of food. The Stomach is mainly responsible for the churning of food to get it ready to move into the intestines. In Western medicine, the Spleen has nothing to do with digestion and is mostly an organ of immunity.

So, is Chinese Medicine crazy, wrong or both?  Actually it's neither.

In a classic text of Chinese Medicine, known as the 'Classic of Difficulties, the Spleen is mentioned as being surrounded by 1/2 pound of fatty tissue. Anatomically speaking, this 1/2 pound of fatty tissue is the Pancreas. It seems that the Pancreas and Spleen were considered the same organ. canstockphoto7733708

If we consider the Spleen and Pancreas as one organ, then the idea of the "Spleen" being the main organ of digestion makes sense. The Pancreas plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into nutrients for the body's cells. Sound familiar?  The Pancreas transforms (breaks down) food into nutrients and transports nutrients (from the food) into the cells.

(Quick sciencey side note:The Pancreas accomplishes this by releasing enzymes required to digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  It also releases the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream.  These hormones help to regulate blood sugar levels.)

Digestive Health 

As the main organ of digestion, the Spleen also has other key functions that relate to the distribution of nutrients in the body.  The Spleen is a main driver of physical energy and also mental energy via the distribution of nutrients to the cells and glucose to the brain.  A healthy diet is the key to a healthy life and a happy Spleen.

In Chinese medicine, foods are assigned qualities and temperatures.  The Spleen 'likes' warm and dry foods and is negatively affected by cold, damp, raw foods.  Examples of cold, damp, raw include fruits/vegetables, salads, ice cream, yogurts, milk, ice-cold drinks.

I am not suggesting you should never eat salads, fruits or vegetables. I eat them every day.    Fruits and vegetables are the best foods for us.  The key is to understand if they are negatively impacting you.  How do you know if you're Spleen is impacted?  You don't.  I do.  I share.

Symptoms of Spleen disharmony:

Loose stools

Abdominal distention/bloating


Weakness/heavyness of the limbs


Mental Sluggishness  

Lack of appetite


Easily Bruised

Weight Gain

Excess menstrual bleeding

Loss of taste

Sallow Complexion

If you've got any of these, there's a chance your Spleen is the source.

One way to counteract the cold/raw foods is to add warmth to them.  If you're going to eat a salad, have a cup of warm water or hot tea to go along with it.  You could also have a soup/salad combo.  Avoid raw vegetables and steam them.  A few short minutes of being steamed will still provide you with all the nutrients and the steaming makes them easier to digest.

Other factors that influence the health of the Spleen

  • excessive mental thought- over prolonged periods
  • eating at irregular intervals
  • not eating enough calories
  • excessive eating
  • lack of protein

Basic rule of thumb, if you have digestive problems, your Spleen is impacted.  Dietary food recommendations would be made based on your presenting symptoms and chinese medical diagnosis.

For those interested, I've included the chart below to compare the Spleen functions vs the Spleen/Pancreas to further illustrate the overlap.  I've always found the overlap between the ancient theory and western science to be fascinating and still makes me wonder how this medicine was fully developed.

Spleen Spleen/Pancreas
Transformation and transportation of food Pancreas secretes enzymes and hormones to break down food and distribute it to cells
Controls the muscles and four limbs SP is a major driver of physical energy-Again relates to the distribution of nutrients to the cells
Controls the blood - holds it in the vessels Spleen recycles old red blood cells.. Stores wbc and platelets
Houses thought -critical in our capacity to concentrate, study, focus Pancreas function of glucose distribution. Glucose is the major fuel of the brain.. With issues in glucose uptake, thought can become cloudy, depressed, fatigued
Prime organ of immunity detects viruses, bacteria, and works w/ lymph notes to create lymphocytes to defend against invaders. sp is largest organ of lymphatic system

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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