Spleen Qi Deficiency
Spleen Qi Deficiency and Herbs
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spleen is paired with the Stomach and is related to food and fluid assimilation in the body and the transformation of these substances into usable nutrients and substances. The Spleen function in this context is very different from the way that the spleen organ is viewed in western medicine. Spleen Qi Deficiency is associated with Internal Dampness, weight gain, digestive issues, and the emotions related to the Earth Element including an apathetic view-point or worrisome personality.
Spleen Function with TCM
Controls the raising of Qi
Controls-contains the Blood
Transforms and transports foods and fluids
What Causes Spleen Qi Imbalances?
Typically, Spleen damage (TCM) occurs with poor lifestyle habits including an improper diet, too much exposure to a damp environment or damp weather, or a genetic pre-disposition to Spleen imbalances. Medications such as steroids and prolonged use of antibiotics can also damage the Spleen (TCM) and lead to Internal Dampness. Many of us were over-prescribed antibiotics as children, damaging are sensitive and underdeveloped digestive systems; this set the stage for chronic allergies, sinusitis, fungal infections, and digestive issues in our adult years.
It is not necessary to have all of the indications of Spleen Qi Deficiency, but a multitude of symptoms would begin to suggest a pattern of Spleen Qi Deficiency
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Patterns of Spleen Disharmony
Main Indications of Spleen Qi Deficiency with Spleen Qi Deficiency and Internal Dampness
- Poor appetite
- Digestive issues
- Eating disorders
- Loose stools
- Undigested food in stool
- Dull stomach pain
- Easy sweating without exertion
- Gas and abdominal distension
- Dampness internally
- Diabetes and hypoglycemia
- Scallops on the edges of the tongue
- Craving sweets
- Tiredness or weakness
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Weak muscles
- Uterine bleeding
- Varicose veins
- Dull achy pain in muscles
- Chronic bleeding
- Easy bruising
- Obsessive worry or “obsessing”
- Lack of empathy
Causes of Spleen Qi Deficiency
Diet-An excessive consumption of cold and raw foods, including excessive juicing, can damage the Spleen’s function of transformation and transportation leading to Spleen-Qi Deficiency. Eating too little (dieting) or eating a protein-deficient diet can also cause Spleen Deficiency; therefore, eating too much or eating too little can both lead to Spleen Qi Deficiency.
Emotional strain-Over-thinking and worry may weaken the Spleen and lead to Spleen-Qi deficiency. Alternately, Spleen Qi Deficiency will have symptoms of overthinking.
Climate-Prolonged exposure to dampness, such as a humid climate, can weaken the Spleen and lead to Spleen-Qi deficiency.
Chronic disease-Any long-term chronic disease will tend to weaken the Spleen and lead to Spleen-Qi Deficiency. This is the reason why Dampness and Phlegm are a frequent consequence of chronic diseases, as Spleen-Qi is weakened and this leads to the formation of Dampness or Phlegm. This is very important to keep in mind, as those who have been struggling with any type of illness will likely have Spleen Qi Deficiency; in order to regain wellness, the Spleen Qi Deficiency will first have to be addressed. This is due to 3 important issues: Qi Deficiency, Rebellious Qi (Qi traveling in the wrong direction), and Dampness-Phlegm.
The pattern of Spleen Qi deficiency is central to all other Spleen dis-harmonies, as all other Spleen Deficiency patterns are a variation of it. If Spleen Qi Deficiency is not properly treated, it can lead to more serious patterns of imbalance. Spleen Qi Deficiency is the precursor to all Spleen imbalances and the symptoms above would be included. Therefore you will have the above symptoms at the onset of all of the following patterns.
SPLEEN YANG DEFICIENCY
- Feeling cold, cold limbs
- Slight abdominal distension after eating which becomes more pronounced as the condition worsens
- Pale complexion
- Weakness of the limbs
- Loose stools to watery stools, nausea and vomiting,
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain that can be sharp at times
- Pale tongue with a white coating
- Tendency to obesity
Causes of Spleen Yang Deficiency
While similar to Spleen-Qi Deficiency, this pattern is often exacerbated by exposure to a cold and damp environment. This pattern is the same as Spleen-Qi Deficiency with the addition of Cold symptoms, such as a feeling of cold and cold limbs due to the failure of Spleen-Yang to warm the body. The edema is due to the impairment of the Spleen’s function in transforming and transporting fluids; when fluids cannot be transformed, they may accumulate under the skin giving rise to edema. Spleen-Yang Deficiency is common with the formation of Internal Dampness, Phlegm or both. Without warming Yang tonic herbs or moxa therapy, Cold is very difficult to alleviate.
Spleen Qi Sinking
The energy of the Spleen is ascending, lifting, and holding. Spleen Qi Sinking occurs with chronic Spleen Qi Deficiency and has the same indications of Spleen Qi Deficiency symptoms plus the following:
- Bearing-down sensation in the abdomen
- Prolapse of organs stomach, uterus, and/or urinary bladder
- Frequency and urgency of urination
- Pale tongue
Additionally, Spleen Qi Sinking can have the following symptoms divided into groups of causes:
- Qi Deficiency-weariness, shortness of breath, frequent colds and viral infections, sweating without excursions, tired limbs, weak knees, unable to talk for long periods and cannot project voice, poor digestion.
- Clear Yang unable to ascend-Dizziness, blurry vision, poor hearing, tinnitus, poor memory, fuzzy thinking, pale or dark-yellow face.
- Qi Sinking-Bearing-down sensation in the abdomen, sagging distention in the lower abdomen (or sagging feeling in anus), frequent desire to defecate, chronic loose stools, frequency and urgency of urination, uterine bleeding, organ prolapse (stomach, uterus, urinary bladder).
SPLEEN FAILING TO CONTROL BLOOD
This is a result of chronic Spleen Qi Deficiency with the same indications on the onset, progressing to the inability of the Spleen to hold Blood in the vessels and control Blood resulting in bleeding from various sources such as under the skin, in the stools or urine, or from the uterus. This bleeding is Deficient in nature as opposed to the bleeding from Heat in the blood which is of an excess nature (ie. most severe stage of febrile disease such as hemorrhagic fever). Indications would include Spleen Qi Deficiency symptoms plus the possible following signs:
- Excessive uterine bleeding
- Subcutaneous hemorrhage or bruising
- Blood spots under the skin
- Blood in the urine or stool
SPLEEN BLOOD DEFICIENCY
Spleen deficiency constitutes the root with Heart Deficiency as secondary manifestations. The primary injury is to the Spleen, which is the organ that generates Blood, and Heart Blood is vital for proper Heart function. In addition to the Spleen Qi Deficiency indications, Spleen Blood Deficiency can present with these additional symptoms:
- Shen disturbances, emotional imbalance, depression
- Spleen not controlling Blood symptoms
- Dull pale complexion
- Scanty periods or amenorrhea
- Insomnia and sleep problems
- Joint pain due to Blood not nourishing the tendons
- Pale, thin, and slightly dry tongue
- Slow healing wounds
- Dry skin and hair
- Night sweats, hot flashes (Blood is Yin in nature)
- Tendency towards a thin body in some cases
Spleen Blood Deficiency can also be explained by the Generation Cycle of the Five Elements theory and the relationship between Fire (Heart) and Earth (Spleen) which is one of mother and child. When the child is deficient, the mother will in turn become drained. There is actually no such thing as “Spleen-Blood” since the Spleen does not relate to Blood in the same way as the Heart and Liver; the Heart governs Blood, and the Liver stores Blood, therefore we can refer to “Heart-Blood” and “Liver-Blood”. However, Food Qi (Gu Qi) produced by the Spleen is the precursor of Blood as Gu Qi is transformed into Blood in tandem with Lungs and Heart.
SPLEEN-LIVER BLOOD DEFICIENCY
This pattern of imbalance combines symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency, Blood Deficiency, and Liver Qi imbalances.
- Numbness of limbs
- Blurred vision
- Diminished night vision
- Pale lips
- Gynecological problems and infertility
- Brittle nails with ridges
- Pale tongue body, especially on the sides
In Chinese medicine, all of the Earthly qualities are also present in our bodies; thus the saying that the body is a microcosm of the universal macrocosm. It makes perfect sense that our body would follow the same universal laws that govern everything around us.
Common Causes of Dampness
- Spleen Qi Deficiency
- Environmental influences such as a humid climate or a great deal of rain or snow which damages the Spleen
- Poor diet with fried foods, too many raw foods (juicing), or an over-consumption of food in general
- External pathogenic invasion of Cold-Damp
In the body, Dampness is pathogenic; although Blood is wet, it is not part of pathogenic Dampness. Damp conditions are only diagnosed when the body stops managing fluids correctly as a certain amount of phlegm is necessary in the body. Dampness typically has an element of Spleen Qi Deficiency, but can also be related to Kidney Deficiencies and Lung Deficiencies.
Dampness tends to accumulate and sink. Excessive pathogenic fluid that blocks the free flow of Qi and Blood; the fluid becomes more viscous and sticky as conditions become more chronic and the fluids consolidate, becoming coagulated; they are then referred to as Phlegm. Chronic Damp conditions are tenacious and can take a very long time to clear up; think of sticky viscous phlegm lodged in your tissue and organs.
There is a type of Dampness that is considered excessive such as the Damp Phlegm of respiratory congestion. We are familiar with pathogenic Dampness affecting the Lungs-Sinuses, but Internal Dampness can develop in joints, muscle tissue, and the vessels; arthritis, rheumatism, and many types of paralysis are associated with Turbid Dampness according to TCM. Yeast overgrowth will almost exclusively occur in the presence of pathogenic Dampness as it requires a Damp environment to proliferate.
Symptoms that Indicate Internal Dampness:
- Copious turbid, cloudy or sticky excretions and secretions
- Leucorrhea or heavy vaginal discharge
- Chronic sinusitis
- Aversion to drinking, even with thirst
- Trouble waking in morning
- Symptoms worsen with wet weather
- Sticky or watery bowel movement, or chronic diarrhea
- Some types of edema
- Feeling of heaviness in the body, especially in the Middle Jiao
Dampness rarely occurs all by itself; it combines with other pathogenic factors according to Chinese medicine including Cold, Heat, and Wind.
Cold tends to constrict and slow things down; Cold-Damp would be indicated by an aversion to the cold, a slowed metabolism, stiffness and soreness in the muscles and joints (osteo-arthritis), clear or white discharges and phlegm, quiet voice, thick white wet coated tongue, dull headaches, tiredness, and a desire for warm foods and drink. Prolonged Coldness would be associated with Yang Depletion.
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Much like a swamps’ water stagnates and becomes putrid, this pathogenic Dampness will transform in to Damp-Heat over time. Damp-Heat is indicated by redness, swelling, blisters, UTI's with burning pain, thick yellow/green phlegm, sticky yellow coat on tongue, rashes with redness and discharge, sores with puss, strong odors, and painful acne with redness and puss; herpes shingles are good examples as well as itchy, weepy psoriasis or eczema.
Internal Wind Damp Cold - Wind Damp Heat
Wind-Damp would produce symptoms as above but with erratic patterns, moving from one place to the next as in migrating arthritic pains, and appearing and disappearing as in rashes moving from place to place. Internal Wind is often created from Liver Fire Rising.
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Note: External Dampness associated with allergies or a cold that produce mucus is related, but different from Internal Dampness and is explained in this article: Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine.
OBSTRUCTION OF SPLEEN-LIVER-DAMP
This pattern of imbalance includes symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency, Internal Dampness, and Liver Qi Stagnation; this is the only pattern of imbalance that includes the Spleen that is excessive and not deficient; this is because Liver imbalances tend be excessive and can include:
- Feeling of distension and tenderness in rib area
- Frustration and irritability
- Thick, sticky, yellow tongue coating
How Spleen-Liver-Damp Develops:
- Spleen Qi Deficiency causes the Spleen to fail in its function of transformation and transportation of fluids and fluids accumulate into Dampness.
- Dampness obstructs the Qi-flow in the Middle Jiao interfering with the proper direction flow of Qi.
- The obstruction of Dampness may result in pathogenic Internal Heat. Also, constraints of Liver Qi can result in Heat.
- Dampness begins to interfere with the smooth flow of Liver Qi and the flow of bile (Liver Qi stagnates in the Middle Jiao and the Gall Bladder cannot secrete bile).
- Dampness and Heat in the Middle Burner may give rise to Phlegm (Phlegm is more viscous and more condensed as the Heat pulls out the moisture and condenses in to a thick-sticky substance).
Insulin Resistance, Diabetes, and Spleen Qi Deficiency
Insulin resistance is when glucose is rejected by cells as use as fuel, and then re-circulated to the liver to be stored as fat. The Spleen is pivotal in the ability of the body to utilize glucose for energy and building muscle and tissue on a cellular level. One can easily see how, in the face of insulin resistance, the body begins to store fat, regardless of diet; thus the cry of so many that they cannot lose weight regardless of how restrictive their diet is. The Spleen energetic organ system is the organ in charge of "transformation of foods" according to Chinese medicine, and thus improves the way you utilize food. The pancreas is part of the Spleen organ system in Chinese medical theory and works with the Kidney energetic system (which is related to endocrine functions) to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Food Therapy and Spleen Qi Deficiency
Food therapy and dietary recommendations with Spleen Deficiency
The Spleen is responsible for absorbing the nourishment from food and separating the usable nourishment from the unusable part of food. This forms Gu Qi (Food Qi) and is the basis of Qi of the entire body and Blood. Gu Qi ascends to the Lungs and combines with air to form Zong Qi or (Gathering Qi) of the Body. The Qi from the Lungs goes to the Heart and produces Blood.
Often, those with Spleen imbalances either have no appetite at all, or crave and over-eat sweet foods. Diet is important with Spleen imbalances, but an appropriate diet might not be what we associate with a healthy diet as raw foods, raw vegetables, cold salads, fruits and juices are to be avoided. Sweet foods would include processed and refined grains, white potatoes, sugars, and fried foods can also damage the Spleen function when over consumed, as can iced drinks. Learn more about Chinese Food Therapy.
There are actually sweet foods and herbs that help to repair the Spleen function (TCM) such as yams, carrots, winter squash, and beets; these hardy root vegetables should be baked or steamed. Legumes or beans, steamed vegetable, seeds, cooked greens, onion and garlic, mushrooms, and whole grains are also good choices to nourish the Spleen function. Eating a protein rich breakfast is crucial in maintaining Spleen health. Dairy products can exacerbate pathogenic Dampness for many people, but butter is okay for most.
The Spleen function allows us to assimilate foods consumed that evolve in to thought (likewise, over-studying can damage the Spleen). The Spleen function is pivotal in transforming Gui Qi, or food Qi, in to Blood, thus transporting nourishment to the Organ Systems.
For more information on Food Therapy, check out our blog!