By Anna Strong
This paper’s purpose is to introduce to you a pattern common in traditional Chinese medical diagnosis; this pattern is called Spleen Qi vacuity. The Spleen organ and channel in Chinese medicine has to do with more than the spleen as it is described in Western medicine. In Western medicine, the spleen is responsible primarily for immune function and the recycling of old red blood cells. In Chinese medicine, however, the Spleen is associated with the Earth element and is placed at the center of all the cardinal directions of the compass. It is akin to the center of the body and, like the earth, its job is to cull beneficial nutrients and fluid from the food and drink, and move these beneficial nutrients to where they can be most properly disassembled and reassembled to nourish the body. The turbid matter must descend and leave the body, while the nutritious matter must ascend and travel to where it is most needed. In addition, the Spleen is also responsible for containment of the blood within the vessels and preventing the prolapse of organs.
To provide you with a clinical picture of Spleen Qi vacuity from this perspective, if a patient were to present with the following signs, then the Chinese medical practitioner would be inclined to include a diagnosis of Spleen Qi vacuity: lack of appetite, abdominal distention after eating, fatigue, weakness of the limbs, yellowish complexion, and loose stools. Often, Spleen Qi vacuity leads to what is called dampness, which is fundamentally a problem of poor fluid circulation. The fluid pools and collects, leading the person to feel heavy in the head and limbs, experience nausea, or, have a sense of accumulation in the body, especially in the area above the navel.
If you are wondering what the Chinese medical practitioner looks for when your tongue is examined, there are two characteristics of the tongue that can indicate Spleen Qi vacuity: paleness and swelling, with indentations on the sides called, “teeth marks”. A thicker white coat on top of the tongue indicates dampness.
Consider the following metaphor: in function, the Spleen is like a busy mailroom in a large downtown office building. The mail (aka food and drink) comes in from the outside, and the workers must sort through it, discarding the junk mail as waste, and delivering important documents to the correct businesses above. A properly functioning mailroom will do this task with expedience, no junk mail will collect, and all the businesses will receive the necessary documents in a timely matter. However, let’s say a few of the workers are out sick. The functionality of the mailroom will decrease with similar consequences as to what happens when the Spleen Qi becomes weak: there will be an accumulation of unwanted material, and a delay and lack of beneficial items delivered to the proper places.
How can the Spleen Qi be made and kept strong? The most important thing one can do is eat nutritious foods that are easy to digest. This means a variety of cooked vegetables, warm grains, and lean meats or other proteins. Avoid consuming an abundance of cold, raw, heavily processed, sugared, or oily foods; these will make your Spleen have to work harder. Secondly, it is said that too much worrying or, over-thinking, injures the Spleen. Receiving acupuncture regularly is highly recommended; in addition to strengthening the Spleen Qi directly, one will receive the added benefit of a calm mind free of worry.