Best Chinese Medicine Basics: The Spleen System
Chinese medicine views the organs not as separate entities, but as connected physical, chemical, and energetic networks. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the Chinese medicine concept of the Spleen system and how we can use herbal medicine to boost digestive health.
(Note: we will capitalize “Spleen” when discussing the Chinese medicine Spleen system to differentiate from the general organ of the spleen.)
The Spleen: Overview & Associations
The main functions of the Spleen system in Chinese medicine are to capture the energy from food and transform it into energy for the body (qi) and to maintain the body’s physical form.
Emotions: worry, anxiety, overthinking
Sense Organ: Mouth
Paired Organ: Stomach
Western Associations: digestive system, lymphatic system, spleen, pancreas
Other Associations: muscles and tissue, tongue
Common Conditions: nausea, bloating, fatigue, muscle weakness, easy bruising, anxiety, depression, lethargy, anemia, amenorrhea, edema.
The Spleen Organ System
In Western medicine, we think of the Spleen as mostly an immune organ. But in Chinese medicine, it does much more than eliminate pathogens and dead cells from the blood. In fact, some of the most important functions in the body are attributed to the Spleen!
The Spleen’s main function is to create qi, or usable energy, from the food that the Stomach digests and the air we breathe through the Lungs. This qi is used to power every action of every cell in the body. When the Spleen is weakened, it is common to notice poor digestion and fatigue or lethargy.
Another important function of the Spleen is to maintain the body’s form. A healthy Spleen system ensures that the muscles are firm, the skin is supple, and blood and fluids are maintained within their vessels. Without healthy Spleen energy, things like blood, fluids, and even our emotions flow downward. We may experience sagging, weak muscles, swelling, easy bruising, and low energy.
Like all other organs, the Spleen is associated with mental and emotional traits as well as physical ones. Anxiety, confusion, and incessant worrying is the main emotion of the Spleen. When we struggle with these issues (and other symptoms that come along with them), we use Chinese herbs and treatments that boost the Spleen’s energy and power.
The Spleen Channel (Spleen Meridian)
Each organ in Chinese medicine is associated with an energetic channel where qi travels along the body, closer to the surface of the skin. These channels create a web of connections and are how acupuncturists “tap” into the body’s energetic system to stimulate change.
The Spleen Channel begins at the tip of the inside of the big toe. From here, it moves along the inner foot, up the inner leg to the groin, hip, and lower abdomen. Here it moves internally to connect with the reproductive organs, then surfaces again to move up along the side of the abdomen. It once again dives in to connect with the Spleen and Stomach organs, the Heart, and the tongue. It then surfaces at the bottom of the rib cage to move up along the side of the chest and end on the side of the rib cage, slightly below the armpit.
The Spleen Channel is a good example of how the energetic channels of the body can influence our internal organs. We can use this channel to address a wide range of conditions, such as reproductive issues, indigestion, nausea, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and more.
Our Best Chinese Medicine Favorites for Spleen Health
Because the Spleen is so integral in maintaining the body’s function and overall health, many herbal formulas work to address underlying Spleen issues and boost Spleen qi or energy. Here are a few of the most popular Chinese herbal formulas for the Spleen:
Si Jun Zi Tang is likely the most common and simply qi-boosting formula in Chinese herbal medicine. It is a blend of four key herbs that work to improve the function of the Spleen so that it can make more qi for the body to use. This formula is great for anyone who feels they need more energy to power through their day naturally, especially if you tend to have slow digestion or bloating.
Si Jun Zi Tang is also the basis for two related formulas: Liu Jun Zi Wan (or Six Gentlemen) is a formula that has added herbs to help if nausea and vomiting are also presenting; and Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Wan (Six Gentlemen Plus), which has herbs which also help to regulate bloating and nausea when food stagnation is an additional part of the diagnosis.
Gui Pi Wan means “restore the Spleen pills” and that’s just what this classic formula does! Gui Pi Wan is used to supplement the Spleen to revive it from overwork, stress, and overthinking. This formula is often used to improve chronic fatigue, sleep issues, menstrual irregularities, and anxiety.
One of the most common symptoms of a weak Spleen system is chronic digestive trouble. Issues like diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, and undigested food in the stool (along with feelings of fatigue and lethargy) can be signs that the Spleen is overwhelmed. When this happens, not only does the body lose energy, but the entire digestive tract gets bogged down. Shen Ling Bai Zhu Pian uses aromatic and tonic herbs to boost the Spleen’s qi while clearing out the digestive tract and encouraging a healthy, regular digestion.
Best Chinese Medicine Supplements for Spleen Health
Ready to better support your Spleen and feel naturally energetic? Shop our full collection of Chinese herbal formulas for better health today!