How fatigue is linked to the Spleen

So far in my series “Decoding the Mysterious Language of TCM”, I have talked about concepts such as Qi, Blood, Essence, and Yin-Yang to build the foundation for talking about how Chinese Medicine views our organ systems. What is particularly fascinating when viewing organs from a TCM perspective is that each organ is partnered in a Yin-Yang relationship to another, and that each has functions that go beyond what we think of when we consider the organ from a western perspective. So without further ado, I present to you:

The Spleen and it’s functions:

Transformation & Transportation: The Spleen is central in the process of making Qi and Blood. Together with the Stomach, it extracts nutrients from the food we eat and separates the usable from the unusable. With the aid of the lungs, this ‘food Qi’ is transformed into Qi, while the heart helps transform ‘food-Qi’ into Blood. This process is called ‘transformation & transportation’ and if this function is healthy, then our digestive systems work well, we have a healthy appetite, regular bowel movements and normal absorption. When there is weakness in this process, there will be poor appetite, bloating and loose stools.

Controls ascending of Qi: In general the task of the Spleen is to raise clear Qi, such as when directing ‘food-Qi’ upwards to the lungs and heart so that Qi and Blood can be produced. Another aspect of this function is that the Spleen is responsible for keeping all of our organs supported and in their proper place. When this function is weak, prolapse can result.

Controls Blood: Not only does the Spleen play a central role in making Blood, but it is also responsible for ‘holding’ Blood inside the blood vessels. This is another aspect of it’s ascending nature and without this function there is hemorrhage, especially from the bladder, intestines or uterus.

Controls the muscles and limbs: The ‘food-Qi’ and Qi made by the Spleen are sent to the muscles and limbs. If the Spleen is weak, insufficient Qi reaches the muscles and limbs and there is weakness and in severe cases even atrophy. “The state of the Spleen is one of the most important factors determining the amount of physical energy a person has. Tiredness is a common complaintand in these cases the Spleen must always be tonified.” (Maciocia, Foundations of Chinese Medicine, p. 147)

Houses the Intellect: The Spleen is responsible for our ability to think clearly, study, memorize, focus and generate ideas. If the Spleen is strong, a person will be able to concentrate, their thinking will be clear and they will remain alert and engaged. When the Spleen is weak, thinking might be sluggish, memory poor and concentrating will be difficult. Conversely, it should be noted that excessive studying and prolonged periods of mental work will weaken the Spleen.

Its Emotion: In TCM, each organ is affected by an emotion, which in the case of the Spleen is pensiveness. It is similar to worry, but there is more pronounced brooding especially over past events. It also consists of over-thinking and getting trapped in a repetitive cycle of thoughts. In that sense pensiveness could be thought of as a negative expression of the Intellect’s ability to focus and concentrate. This type of ruminating will weaken the Spleen and thereby have an impact on healthy digestion.

A great number of people work in high stress environments that require long hours of mental work, and which often lead to a lot of worry and brooding. No wonder then that so many feel exhausted and worn out. Strengthening the Spleen with acupuncture is a wonderful way to boost energy levels. Also, learning what foods support or weaken the Spleen can go a long way in increasing vitality, and I will share a few food suggestions in my next blog. Stay posted…