Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Eki Wari on February 17, 2022

What Is Spleen Function And How To Keep It Healthy

Spleen function is a bit of a gray area for some people. Learn why proper spleen health is more important now than ever before!

Spleen function min scaled

Spleen function isn’t something many Americans are very familiar with. It tends to take a back seat to other more talked about organs, like our heart, lungs, and brain.

However, the spleen makes up an important part of our immune system. Proper functioning of the spleen is more important now than ever, due to the pandemic.

It’s also one of the primary organs that determine our overall health and wellness from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective. Read on to learn more about spleen function and how to keep it healthy.

Spleen Function, Explained

Maintaining proper spleen function can help reduce the risk of infections.

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 out of our blood 
  2. Removing old and damaged red blood cells  
  3. Fighting 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. 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.

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 some of the functions of the spleen. However, there are many functions of the spleen that the liver cannot take over. People without spleens are at risk for specific kinds of infections due to the loss of immune functions that are particular to 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

What happens when your spleen function is off? According to TCM, the following may occur:

Fatigue

Because the spleen delivers nutrients to the body, a deficiency in spleen qi would cause a lack of nourishment. 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 odor (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 Improve Spleen Function

Avoiding unhealthy food can help you boost spleen function and stay healthy.

Here are some things you can do to support proper spleen function:

Limit Raw, Cold and 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 larger intakes 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 a Healthy Diet

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 Herbs That Boost Spleen Function

TCM believes the herbs that help to improve spleen functions are white atractylodes, astragalus, ginseng, codonopsis, cordyceps, Chinese yam, and licorice. Other herbs, like poria, barley seeds, and hyacinth beans, can help to reduce dampness. 

Meanwhile, taking a supplement containing the Lingzhi cracked spores can help boost the immune system, replenish qi and blood, and fortify the spleen and stomach.

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 on 14 February 2022]
  2. Medscape. 2014. Spleen Anatomy. [Accessed 14 February 2022]
  3. AccessSurgery. 2020. Chapter 29: Spleen. [Accessed 14 February 2022]

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