This article was originally printed in The Pulse of Oriental Medicine in 2002. It was been edited and revised in 2017.
Before we discuss how to revive the Spleen with diet, it is important to understand the causes and effects of Spleen qi vacuity dampness. One function of the spleen is the assimilation of nutrients from food in the stomach to form qi, blood and body fluids. Therefore the spleen main function is its governance of transformation and transportation (referred to as T&T throughout this article) of grain and water into essence which is distributed to other organ systems in the form of Qi and Blood. Thus it is vital to keep the spleen healthy because it is the source for qi and blood production for your entire body.
An important saying in Chinese medicine states,
“The spleen hates cold and the spleen hates dampness.”
So we must do what we can to keep the spleen warm and free of dampness. Spleen vacuity occurs when the process of transformation and transportation malfunctions, thus causing dampness to gather and stagnate instead of transforming which further weakens T&T. Then a vicious cycle begins.
Since other organ systems depend on receiving qi and blood from the spleen, they will become weakened when a patient suffers from chronic or long term spleen qi vacuity.
Spleen qi may become vacuous due to one or a combination of the following factors:
Over work in general and/or working at a desk all day.
Too much worrying, stress, anxiety
Over-thinking and obsessive thought patterns
Unhealthy dietary habits
Lack of exercise
Childbirth, child rearing
For example, students who work in addition to going to school or college, need to find time to study and may, quite naturally, worry about exams. In other cases, some patients have fatiguing chronic illness like cancer and fibromyalgia. Dancers and actors worry or even obsess about their weight despite the fact that many of them are underweight. Over weight patients worry and obsess about their weight for health or aesthetic reasons and feel a ridiculous amount societal and self-induced pressure to lose weight.
Many of my patients (over weight or not) are mentally obsessed with their weight and thus are constantly over-thinking about counting calories and sticking to hard to follow diets with point systems, blocks, deprivation diets or set meal plans of foods they don’t even enjoy eating.
And no matter who the person is that is dieting, whether skinny or overweight, many feel guilt instead of pleasure when indulging in a food they like but which isn’t in the meal plan. This feeling of guilt fits into the worry category.
Patients who do not exercise do not invigorate the Yang warming aspect of the body’s qi. Chinese medicine asserts that too much sitting or lying down creates qi vacuity. So for those who work at a desk all day, Spleen qi damage is imminent.
Many people damage the spleen qi by eating too many cold foods. Cold foods are literally cold from refrigeration or frozen, like ice, are foods that are cold in nature (see the list below) and include cold beverages and salad and last nights left over cold pizza (yeah, we’ve all been there).
Other detriments include our society’s over eating of wheat as our main source of grain, and too much beer drinking. Both are cool and dampness producing. Not to mention our over consumption of dairy. Imagine all the Spleen qi vacuity amongst college students between all that studying, beer and pizza!
The treatment principle for spleen qi vacuity dampness is to fortify the spleen and disinhibit the dampness.
Yang tonics will help to warm the spleen and to motivate the energy for the T&T cycle. They maintain and improve our ability to generate warmth and stimulate our system.
Yang tonics include:
|Seed Cinnamon||Dried Ginger||Savoy|
|Clove||Lobster||Star Anise Thyme|
|Fennel Seed||Pistachio Raspberry|
Qi circulation is stimulated by the sweet and pungent flavors. The spleen likes the sweet taste and pungent flavors circulate the qi.
Qi circulating foods include:
|Cardamon||Jasmine Tea||Tangerine Peel|
|Clove Coriander||Peppermint Tea|
Cold conditions are improved by warming foods. In chronic cases, warm and sweet/pungent foods are used to warm us steadily. In acute cases of pathogenic invasion, warm or hot foods are combined with stronger pungent flavors to drive out the Cold.
Warming foods include:
|Cherry||Mustard Leaf||Sweet Potato|
Dampness results from the body’s failure to transform fluids.
Dampness is treated by avoiding dampening foods, strengthening the body, including bitter foods and foods which counteract Dampness.
Foods to reduce dampness include:
|Aduki Bean Alfalfa||Green Tea||Parsley|
|Cranberry||Marjoram||Turnip Umeboshi Plum|
Some foods will exacerbate the tendency towards Dampness and need to be reduced by people with damp conditions. Avoid or significantly reduce consumption of these foods:
Dairy Products, especially dampening are reduced fat and low fat dairy, as well as (sheep and goat products are less dampening)
Wheat and highly refined Gluten-free flours
Sugar and sweeteners
Greasy, fried and oily foods
Iced or cooled beverages
Uncooked raw vegetables and salads, juices
Antibiotics, while not a food, are very damaging to the Spleen qi and should only be used when absolutely necessary.
Phlegm refers to a condition of dampness where moisture is retained as Phlegm or Mucus.
Phlegm-resolving foods include:
|Apple Peel||Mushroom (button)||Seaweed|
|Clam||Mustard Leaf||Shiitake Mushroom|
|Lemon Peel||Orange Peel||Walnut|
Take these recommendations to your kitchen and cook some delicious meals for yourself to be well and stay healthy.
Chinese dietary therapy is a necessary component to healing this qi disharmony. I urge my readers to continue to take the herbs and acupuncture treatments that your practitioner recommends and incorporate the above information about diet into your therapy.