According to Eastern traditions, your spleen and stomach are the two most important digestive organs in your body and vital to your gut. If they aren’t doing well, then issues with digestion might arise. As a result, you’ll often feel fatigued and have unhealthy skin. An unhealthy gut doesn’t only spell trouble for your digestion or fitness, but it can also result in canker sores and other kinds of ulcers. This is just one reason it’s important to take care of your gut.
Spleen-Stomach theory is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories. The spleen here is not the same as the spleen in anatomy. According to TCM, the spleen plays critical or significant roles in the digestive system, autonomic nervous system, immune system, hemopoiesis, muscle metabolism, as well as hepatic, water, and salt metabolism.
The spleen plays a critical function in the digestive system, as it is responsible for the processing of food. Once digested, food is then turned into nutrients by the stomach and the spleen. Afterwards, the nutrients enable the heart and lungs to generate qi (i.e. vital energy) from the nutrients, and also convert the nutrients into blood.
In TCM the spleen manages the blood. As it has hematopoietic functions, it controls the level of blood cells (including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). Therefore, it manages all the blood within blood vessels and hollow organs throughout the body. Furthermore, as the spleen contains white blood cells, it can help the immune system fight off invading bacteria and germs and remove old or damaged red blood cells from the body.
As the spleen can help produce and transport blood cells, it supplies oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, while removing waste products and damaged blood cells from the body. If the spleen is diseased, or without sufficient oxygen or nutrients, the muscles will eventually atrophy.
According to TCM theories, the spleen also governs people’s thoughts. Like muscles, the brain also depends on the nutrients, oxygen, qi, and blood supplied by the spleen. It is only with adequate qi and blood and normal functioning of the spleen that brain activities can take place properly.
Given the spleen’s aforementioned important roles in the human body, an unhealthy spleen can result in menstruation irregularities, strokes, and other unwanted conditions. The spleen is vital for your health, as it regulates your blood, it takes care of waste, produces white blood cells, and stores blood. Blood carries essential nutrients all over your body through capillaries. The spleen is in charge of your blood, meaning that it is responsible for maintaining a steady circulation. If the spleen is malfunctioning, then conditions like nosebleeds, hematuria, strokes, and stomach bleeding may develop as a result.
To take care of your spleen, you first need to know how to eat. A healthy spleen and a fit stomach means you’re likely to stay healthy and live longer. It is said that a lot of people don’t know how to eat, and this is in fact no joke.
Let’s first talk about healthy food. A lot of people say that eating lots of greens and whole grains without eating much meat is considered healthy. According to Dr. Joe Zhou, director of the Nine Life Land Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic in New Zealand, this isn’t the whole picture. One of his patients adopted such a diet, and he ended up with stomach ulcers.
Confucius once said that “food can never be too intricate,” meaning that the more properly refined and well prepared the food is, the better. Rice bran, a byproduct of refining brown rice into white rice, is an excellent source of vitamins, but it needs to be cooked into a porridge to make digestion easier for your stomach and spleen.
Some people also say that drinking lots of water is healthy, but keep in mind that everything needs to be done in moderation. Dr. Zhou had a patient who drank so much water that his feet became swollen. Others also say that it’s beneficial to eat three meals a day, or to eat a lot of micro-meals throughout the day, or to limit the period of time in which to take meals. However, this is up to your own judgment. Let’s first look at three vegetables that are amazing for your spleen, and therefore your gut.
3 Vegetables That Nourish the Spleen
- Yams for eliminating fatigue and vitalizing your spleen and stomach
Although yams aren’t often found in households across North America, they are a popular item in Eastern and African gastronomy. Yams are roots that resemble a thinner sweet potato in shape; their flesh is tender, white, and a little sticky. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The yams we are referring to here are also sometimes called Chinese yams.
Yams are not only extremely beneficial for your spleen and stomach, but they can also supplement your kidneys, dissolve excess mucus, and are good for your skin and hair. If you have stomach or spleen problems and often feel fatigued or have digestion issues, then yams are the perfect food items for you. For teenagers, eating yams can also help them grow taller.
Yams can also lower your blood sugar levels. A dish you can try is a light stew made from yams and ribs. Ribs contain a lot of gelatin and calcium, and combined with yams, they make a stew that it’s beneficial to your spleen. Next time you make a soup with potatoes, try substituting some with yams for a healthy twist.
Another Chinese porridge made of yam roots, lotus seeds, and millets is extremely good for your spleen and quite easy to make. Just mix yams, millets, lotus seeds, and a dozen jujubes together to slow cook. The Chinese yams contain the essence of the earth, and they are beneficial for the spleen; the millets are one of the best grains you can buy and are very soothing for the spleen; lotus seeds are aquaculture at its finest, as they don’t only strengthen the spleen, but also nourish the kidneys; and jujubes, resembling dates, replenish your internal energy.
In addition, yams are also great for your kidneys and make you feel energized.
- Pumpkins for stomach problems
Pumpkins contain nutrients that are great for your stomach and spleen. They can also increase your appetite and help with stomach pain. If you have stomach problems, you can try including pumpkins in your diet, as this will help. Pumpkins contain pectin, which strengthens your stomach membrane, and prevents stomach infections and gastric ulcers.
Many people under a lot of stress experience stomach aches, in part because they don’t have a fixed eating schedule. In this case, Dr. Zhou recommends having porridge made with diced pumpkins once or twice a week to help improve their stomachs.
Pumpkin leaves and seeds are also very nutritious. Dr. Zhou once visited a friend in North Carolina, where he had a little pumpkin farm going on. It was late spring, and the pumpkin leaves were growing beautifully. His friend used some pumpkin leaves to made a delicious stir-fry, which positively surprised Dr. Zhou. Pumpkins are also rich in zinc, which is also beneficial for the prostate.
- Sweet potatoes for strengthening and detoxing the body, and reducing blood pressure
Eating sweet potatoes regularly will help alleviate gut problems, as they contain nutrients that supplement your spleen, revitalize your stomach, and help with your bowel movements. If elderly people start to lose their appetite, you can cook them a bowl of porridge with diced sweet potatoes, which will help with their gut health.
Eating sweet potatoes also helps with detoxifying your body and lowering blood pressure. Due to its high content in complex starches, sweet potatoes tend to have less of an effect on your blood sugar, but this depends on the individual.
8 More Tips to Keep Your Spleen and Stomach Healthy
An unhealthy spleen can spell trouble. To reduce spleen problems, which are often caused by inflammation, it’s helpful to eat “yin” foods such as watermelon in the summer. They can reduce the heat in the body. Other things to include in your summer diet are things like lotus roots and lotus tea.
Here are more tips on how to keep your spleen and stomach healthy.
- Eat warm food. Don’t eat cold food. According to the Eastern theory of the five elements, grains belong to the category of wood, and only after they go through fire do they belong to earth. Things from the category earth are good for the spleen and the gut. Vegetables are considered “yin,” meaning that they tend to be “cool” and should be cooked before eating. Fruits should be eaten in the afternoon or the evening, because the “yang” (i.e. warm or sunny) energy in your body dominates then and can balance out the “yin” energy of the fruits.
- Eat slowly and chew well before swallowing. There are digestive enzymes released in the mouth when you chew that help tremendously with digestion.
- Don’t stuff yourself. It’s unhealthy to do so as it will disrupt your stomach. “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
- Eat at regular intervals. Don’t wait until you’re starving, because then you might overeat, which leads to weight gain.
- Choose the food you want to eat. This means shopping for the healthy food that you like.
- But don’t be a picky eater. A balanced diet is equally important. If you’re a vegetarian, it’s important to remember that you need to have sufficient protein.
- Assess how you feel after eating. Don’t just blindly trust tips online, as health is individual. Try food items out for yourself and make your own judgment. Do you feel comfortable after eating them? Can you sleep well? Do you have energy after you wake up? Are your bowel movements still healthy? If you’ve answered yes to all four of these questions, then you’ve found something healthy.
- Taking a break after eating. It’s very easy: just take a breather after meals to make sure your stomach has enough time to digest. Don’t hustle around right after eating; just relax, it’s good for your stomach.
Acupuncture Point Massage
Two acupuncture points also have an effect on your spleen.
The first one is Zusanli point (ST-36), which is located four finger-breadths directly below the knee on the outer side of the leg. Massaging this point can tonify the body.
The other is Yinlingquan point (SP-9), and massaging it can strengthen the spleen and remove fat. It is located on the medial side of the shank and in the depression at the interior border of the medial epicondyle of the tibia.