Six Ways to Improve Your Digestion: Focus on the Spleen

Woman looking at the sun in a field

So, you go to an acupuncturist and you really enjoy the experience. You feel relaxed, your energy increases, your digestive system feels better, and your stress level comes down. But why does your acupuncturist always talk about your Spleen? You have never heard your doctor mention it. Don’t a lot of people get their spleens surgically removed?

From the western medical perspective, the spleen is part of the immune system. It produces white blood cells and filters the blood the remove damaged or abnormal red blood cells. It also stores red blood cells. The spleen is, in fact, surgically removed when it ruptures. Although spleen removal is not considered a life-threatening issue, it does weaken the immune system.

From the Chinese medical perspective, the Spleen is considered one of the most important organs. I can best explain the function of the Spleen with metaphors, so if you are a visual person, this can really make a lot of sense. For the rest of you, hang in there and try to tap into your imagination.

The Spleen and Stomach are the two primary organs of digestion. The Stomach is like the sous-chef, accepting the food as it comes into the kitchen and chopping it , organizing it and making it ready for the soup that the Spleen is responsible for cooking. The Spleen is like a bubbling cauldron. As it begins to cook the food sent over (metaphorically–speaking) by the Stomach, steam arises from that bubbling cauldron. The steam is the Qi, or the fuel, that all the other organs in the body need in order to function properly.

If you were making a soup and your pot was beginning to boil and steam was starting to rise, then you poured a pitcher of ice water into it, it would certainly halt the process of cooking. It would halt the process of breaking down the food, and extracting the nutrients. The steam would not arise and therefore the function of the rest of the organs would begin to decline.
This is what can happen when drinking ice cold drinks with meals or when eating cold foods like ice cream or frozen fruit smoothies. Salads and raw vegetables, although they may not come straight out of a cold fridge, are considered cold in their energetic properties. The digestive system works best when it is kept warm by food and drink. We all want our organs to function optimally, right? Well, there are a few things you can do to avoid this scenario of pouring ice water into a boiling soup. Here they are:

  1. Drink room temperature or warm water with your meals or all the time.
  2. Eat soup! It’s the perfect food, according to Chinese nutritional theory. It is warm, cooked, has vegetables in it and is already in the most easily digestible form.
  3. Lightly steam your veggies (even the ones you put on top of a salad). Steaming starts the breakdown of cellulose or plant structure. It gives your digestive system a little head start. If you have any weakness in your digestive system (and most of us do), it can be hard for the body to break down purely raw vegetables. However, you don’t want to cook them so much that you lose all the nutrients. Find the balance by steaming your veggies (and even fruits like apples and pears) for a few minutes.
  4. Decrease your raw fruit and veggie intake in the winter. Increase your raw fruits and veggie intake in the summer. If you are going to make a fruit smoothie, use un-frozen fruits or defrost them first. Then add some fresh ginger since ginger is warming and will balance the cool properties of the fruit.
  5. Eat more frequent, but smaller and easier-to-digest meals.
  6. Follow a daily routine in regards to eating, exercising, and sleeping. The spleen loves consistency and will function more optimally with a regular routine. Eating your meals at about the same time each day, exercising during the same time of day, and going to bed and waking up around the same time each day will also contribute to a healthy Spleen.

The Spleen is the organ responsible for the creation of Qi, or your body’s vital energy. If you want to increase your Qi and live a life full of vitality and energy, respect your Spleen by adopting some of the suggestions above. They are easy and simple and will nourish you on many levels.