The Spleen According To Chinese Medicine

The Spleen According To Chinese Medicine

Chinese: 脾      Pinyin:

Summary: The Spleen has an arguably much bigger role in Chinese Medicine than in Western medicine. It rules transformation and transportation of food Essences (nutrition), Qi, and Body Fluids and their distribution to other Zang Organs.

Classification: Zang Organ

Organ taste: Sweet

Pharmacopoeia: View herbs that target the Spleen

Patterns: View patterns of disharmony that affect the Spleen

The functions of the Spleen

The Spleen has an arguably much bigger role in Chinese Medicine than in Western medicine. Its role is seen as 'transforming and absorbing' food and drinks, extracting Grain Qi (Gu Qi) and food Essences out of them, and distributing them to other Zang Organs.

Along with the Heart, the Spleen also has the function of controlling Blood inside Blood vessels. As such if a patient has Blood in their urine or their stools, this is considered as a Spleen Deficiency.

Lastly the Spleen also 'governs' muscles and limbs. This is mainly due to its role in extracting nutrients out of what we eat or drink and transporting them to muscles and limbs to nourish them. If that role is not fulfilled properly, this will be seen in one's muscles and limbs because some of the muscles strength is lost.

The Spleen is said to 'open' to the lips and mouth. Concretely this means that a Spleen Deficiency can be seen from the observation of a patient's appetite or from the color and shape of the lips. Someone who lost their appetite or who cannot taste food anymore will probably be diagnosed with a Spleen Deficiency.

The functions of the Spleen

"It rules transformation and transportation of food Essences (nutrition) and Qi"

The partially digested food from the Stomach is transformed into Grain Qi (Gu Qi) by the Spleen. It then gets transported upwards to the Lungs where it is mixed with inhaled Clean Air. The mixture is called Gathering Qi (Zong Qi), which then gets transported to the Heart to make Blood.

The refined parts of food, called ‘Food Essences’ or nutrition in the Western terms, are transported by the Spleen to various parts of the body so that all the Organs, limbs, bones, hair, and tendons are nourished. Therefore, Spleen is considered to provide the material basis for the whole body. It functions as the root of Qi and Blood making. Therefore, in order to tonify Blood and Qi, we tonify the Spleen. 

If the Spleen transforms and transports food Essences and Qi properly, then digestion, appetite, absorption and bowel movements is normal. Otherwise, there may be poor appetite, indigestion, abdominal distention or pain, anorexia, lassitude, and loose stools.

"It rules transformation and transportation of Body Fluids"

Another function of the Spleen is to separate, transport, and transform water in the body. The fluids ingested are divided into usable (the pure) and unusable (the dirty) groups. The usable ones are 'raised' and distributed to the Lungs. The unusable ones are sent to the Small Intestines to be separated further.

This process happens at the same time as the Spleen transforms, transports, and distributes food Essences and Qi. They have an impact on each other. An imbalance in one will influence the other. If the Spleen's transforming function is poor, the Body Fluids can congeal to create Phlegm or cause edema. Therefore, whenever the body has Dampness or Phlegm, the Spleen may be one of the reasons and is treated with Spleen-targeting herbs.

"It controls raising of Qi"

The Spleen Qi has the tendency to ascend. Not only it transports Grain Qi up to the Lungs, but it also raises and holds the Organs in their places. If Spleen Qi is Deficient, chronic diarrhea can happen, together with prolapse of different Organs such as the Bladder, Stomach, Uterus, Kidneys and Anus.

The clear Yang is also said to be raised by the Spleen to the head. If the Spleen is in excessive Dampness, the clear Yang fails to ascend and it can lead to fuzzy thinking and heaviness of the head.

"It controls Blood"

The Spleen is the root of Blood in the body. The Spleen Qi is also said to keep the Blood flowing in vessels. When the Spleen Qi is weak, Blood can flee its pathways and this results in hemorrhages, vomiting of blood, stool blood, blood under the skin, heavy periods, abnormal uterine bleeding and potential chronic bleeding.

"It controls the muscles, flesh and limbs"

If the food Essences (nutrition) are properly transported by the Spleen throughout the body, the muscle tone is good, the muscles are strong and the limbs have the strength to move. If the Spleen doesn't function smoothly, the muscles become thin or weak, and the limbs get slack and the person feels tired.

"It opens to the mouth"

The Spleen has a connection with the mouth and lips because the food digestion process starts with the mouth. If the Spleen is strong, people have a good appetite and the mouth is able to distinguish the five tastes. On the other hand, if the Spleen is weak, it leads to poor appetite, the inability to distinguish tastes or a sticky, sweet taste in the mouth and pale, dry lips.

"It manifests in the lips"

Spleen-related condition, especially involving the Spleen Blood, can be judged by the lips' color and appearance. The lips are rosy and moist if the Spleen Qi and Spleen Blood are strong. The lips are pale if Spleen Blood is Deficient. The lips are dry if Spleen Yin is Deficient. If the Spleen has excessive Heat, the lips are likely to be red and dry and have a sweet taste.

"It controls saliva"

The Spleen controls the saliva secretion as it controls the mouth. Saliva’s function is to moisten the mouth and to aid digestion by mixing the food with Body Fluids to ease digestion.

"It houses the Intellect / Thought ( Yi - 意)"

Yi is translated as Thought or Idea. It is the intellectual function of the body which includes absorbing and remembering information, focusing, studying, thinking, and organizing ideas. If Spleen Qi is strong, it is easy to study, to think, and to concentrate. If not, thinking can be fuzzy, memorization can be weak, and concentration is poor.

"It is affected by worry"

The Spleen is affected by worry, brooding, obsession, sympathy, and nostalgia. Indulgence in or prolonged experience of any of the above emotions causes poor digestion, gas, bloating, ulcers, decreased appetite, and Stagnation of Qi.

Popular sayings about the Spleen

"The Spleen loathes Dampness"

The Spleen loathes Dampness. If the Spleen's ability to transform and transport Body Fluids fails to function properly, Dampness can accumulate and cause urinary problems, vaginal discharges, abdominal distension, and Phlegm. Excessive Dampness in the body can in turn also damage the Spleen function. Dampness notably causes problems to the rising of Spleen Qi, resulting in a dull headache, a feeling of heaviness in the head and fuzzy thoughts.

"The Spleen is the root of Post-Heaven Qi and Essence"

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen, together with the Stomach, is called the root of Post-Heaven Qi and Essence, as opposed to the Pre-Heaven Qi and Essence produced by Kidneys.

Post-Heaven Qi and Essence is acquired via food and drink and various forms of stimulation, such as exercise or study. While Pre-Heaven Qi and Essence is inherited from parents at the time of conception (it is in a way a Chinese Medicine version of DNA).