Understanding Chinese Medicine: Tips for a Happy Spleen

According to Chinese philosophy (and according to our own calendar!), even when the calendar says mid-September, we are not quite into the Fall season yet. We are in a period called Late Summer. This “5th season” is a very important one in Chinese Medicine. It is a key time to begin gradually transitioning our bodies from the heat and outward yang energy of summer to the cooling, inward yin energy of Winter.

The organ associated with Late Summer is the Spleen organ. In my 11 years of practicing Chinese Medicine, I would have to say the Spleen is probably the most commonly abused energetic system in our culture (with Liver being a close 2nd!). Our Spleen energy is damaged by all things American-excess, irregular eating, overeating, eating while working, over thinking, and sugar. When our Spleen is taxed, one major symptom is that our bodies produce excess mucus. We all know where that leaves us as Fall and Winter creep in: worsening allergy and sinus issues, head colds, coughs…achoo!

Another common symptom of a taxed Spleen is digestive trouble, such as bloating, gassiness, and bowel troubles. We can work on strengthening our various organ systems at any time, but the most powerful time to nourish an organ system is in its associated season. So for all of you who know your Spleen qi could use a boost, now is the time! Here are some tips:

1. Warm cooked foods. The Spleen (or Lungs for Fall or Kidneys for Winter) is not a fan of too much cold raw food. We are still enjoying the bounty of summer-delicious fruits and raw green salads. Make a strong effort to transition your diet over to the late summer and fall harvest. Ignore the watermelon that the grocery store is still trying to tempt you with and bake or simmer those apples and pears instead. Sautee up the kale and other greens. Reach for those lovely dark orange squashes and sweet potatoes. It’s a great time of year to break out the crock pot and simmer up some soup!

2. Limit the sweets. The Spleen is nourished by a mild sweet flavor and damaged by extreme sweetness. Cravings for sweets is a common sign of a Spleen that is out of balance. Stay away from sugary foods and include plenty of naturally sweet veggies in your diet: long cooked onions, carrots, parsnips, squash, and sweet potatoes will all help nourish your Spleen with the right amount of sweetness.

3. Set aside time to eat. That seems like a silly thing to say. But we live in a culture of skipping breakfast, eating lunch at our desk or on the run and eating dinner late, in front of the television, or on the way to soccer practice. As often as possible set aside time to sit down and eat. Nothing else, just eat. Imagine that! Not multitasking. Just eat, chew, swallow. Your Spleen will be so happy.

4. I’m going to throw in my yearly Fall tip for your Lung qi. You might hear it again later into Fall, but it deserves repeating! The evenings and mornings are getting cool and many of us are still in our summer wardrobe. As we approach cold and flu season, keep the back of your neck and upper back covered and protected from the wind. There are acupuncture points back there that are considered gateways for the wind to enter when it has the opportunity. If our wei qi (part of our immune system in Chinese Medicine) is a bit weakened, you are much more likely to catch a cold if that area of your body gets chilled. It’s not too early to break out a nice soft scarf!

5. Get an acupuncture treatment. I’m sure you were expecting this tip, but it’s true: nothing can strengthen your Spleen, and prepare your body and your immune system for Fall like an acupuncture treatment can. 🙂