Keep Your Spleen Function Healthy to Avoid Any Bad Surprises. Here’s How

The spleen might be considered a non-vital organ, but it plays multiple supporting roles in the body and could determine your well-being!

A happy woman in an orange t-shirt touching her stomach with her hands

We don’t talk about our spleen and its function enough, much less care for it. There may be a reason behind this. We pay the utmost attention to our heart, lungs, and brain because we simply cannot live without them. On the contrary, the spleen is deemed non-vital. 

But it’s about time we take our spleen more seriously. Our spleen makes up our immune system, which needs to be stronger and healthier than ever, now that we currently live in this virus-ridden world.

Not only does it support our immunity, but our spleen is also one of the main organs that determine our overall health and wellness, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Read more as we delve deeper into the spleen function and learn about ways to take care of it!

The Anatomy and Function of the Spleen

The spleen is found in the upper left side of our abdomen. More specifically, it’s located next to our stomach and behind our left ribs. It is the size of a human’s fist and resembles either a shoe or a very large coffee bean. 

Some of the spleen functions are: 

  1. Filtering pathogens and antigens out of our blood 
  2. Removing old and damaged red blood cells  
  3. Fighting germs and infections  
  4. Controlling the level of blood cells (white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets) 

Because of its functions, our spleen is an integral part of the immune system. Even so, it’s not considered a vital organ, meaning an average human could be completely spleen-less and would still survive. 

Some people are born without a spleen, while others have to have it removed because it’s either ruptured or enlarged. A swollen or enlarged spleen is caused by several factors, one of which is malaria, which is commonly found in tropical countries like Malaysia.

A splenectomy, or an operation to take out the spleen, may be needed when these problems occur. Once it’s removed, the liver would take over the functions of the spleen.

Spleen Function According to TCM

Despite its status as a non-vital organ, the spleen plays a huge role in TCM. The spleen is known as the source of the “acquired constitution” because it produces qi. Qi is the very energy that substantiates life. 

Previously, we’ve talked about the spleen’s place in the immune system. TCM, in the meanwhile, sees the spleen as the organ responsible for digestion and assimilation processes inside our body.

Together with our stomach, our spleen transforms the food we eat into nutrients. The spleen then transports it upward to the heart and lungs, where it would later be distributed throughout the body. This ascending function is one of the features of the spleen qi.  

In contrast, stomach qi has a descending feature. It works downward to discharge undigested food out of the body. Both the ascending and descending motions of the spleen qi and stomach qi complement each other to complete the digestion process.

Spleen Qi Deficiency

A female employee sitting in front of a computer while holding her stomach with a painful expression
When your spleen doesn’t function properly, it can cause bloating and other digestive problems.

What happens when your spleen isn’t working properly?

Fatigue

Because the spleen delivers nutrients to the body, a deficiency in spleen qi would cause a lack of nourishments. This, in turn, would make a person feel tired. 

Other symptoms of spleen qi deficit include loss of appetite, bloating, loose stools, breathlessness, a yellowish complexion, and “teeth marks” on the edges of the tongue.

Dampness

When the spleen fails to transform body fluids and carry them to be transported throughout the body, they will accumulate and create dampness.

Some of the symptoms are bloating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, heaviness in the limbs, a thick greasy tongue coating, loose stools (when dampness occurs in the intestines), and vaginal discharge with a foul odour (dampness in the female genital area).

Bleeding Disorders

As mentioned above, our spleen also deals with our blood. Therefore, a weak spleen qi could cause bleeding problems such as bruises, bloody stools or urine, and purple spots under the skin.

How to Take Care of Your Spleen

A woman holding a pastry with a happy smile on her face
Eating in moderation keeps your spleen happy

Here are some of the things you can do to keep your spleen in good shape:

Avoid Too Much Raw, Cold & Spicy Foods

Too much of these foods are dangerous to the spleen and has the potential to create dampness. Certain foods like processed foods, alcohol, sugars and dairy products can cause dampness in the spleen to accumulate further.

In addition, it is said that too much intake of cold drinks could damage the spleen and disturb the digestion process. As the body needs to warm our food before it gets digested, cold drinks would delay this process.

Eat Well

This is probably the most obvious way to take care of your spleen and maintain a healthy digestive system. Eating well means not overeating and chewing properly. It also means avoiding distractions at mealtimes. We’re already used to watching television, playing with our phones, and even working while eating. Although it’s hard, try to focus only on what’s on your plate to improve your digestion and the passage of food in the body.

Consume Spleen-Nourishing Herbs

TCM believes the herbs that help to improve spleen functions are white atractylodes, astragalus, ginseng, codonopsis, Chinese yam, and liquorice.  

Other herbs, like poria, barley seeds, and hyacinth beans, can help to reduce dampness. 

Whether as part of the immunity or digestive system, it’s clear to see now that your spleen function is much more significant than you might think. Taking care of it as you would a vital organ is the key to our overall health and wellness.

This is an adaptation of an article, “TCM: Understanding the Role of the Spleen”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. National Health Service. 2017. Spleen problems and spleen removal. [Accessed 2 September 2021] 
  2. Medscape. 2014. Spleen Anatomy [Accessed 2 September 2021] 
  3. AccessSurgery. 2020. Chapter 29: Spleen [Accessed 2 September 2021] 

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