The Spleen-Pancreas System – An Eastern Perspective

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Spleen-Pancreas system (also commonly just referred to as the Spleen) encompasses all the other organs of digestion, including the stomach and small & large intestine.

Eastern medical theory describes the Spleen as being like the Earth – just as the earth provides food for our nourishment, so the digestive system produces the energy and nourishment needed by the rest of our bodies. Because of this, it plays a central role in our overall health – if we have a strong and healthy Spleen system, we usually have a greater ability to recover from sickness. This effect can easily be seen in serious cases such as the late stages of cancer – once the person’s appetite and digestion deteriorates, the rest of their health often rapidly follows.

According to Eastern medicine, the Spleen is also important in controlling how fluids are distributed throughout the body. Symptoms such as abdominal bloating, fluid retention, edema, and heaviness of the body are all signs of an imbalance in the Spleen system and its inability to properly regulate the fluids.

Other conditions such as phlegm and mucous buildup in the respiratory system are also viewed as being related to the Spleen. The person’s digestive system, along with their diet, is commonly seen as an important factor in all of these conditions, and some people may notice that certain foods such as dairy products or other items tend to worsen their condition.

Finally, in Traditional Oriental Medicine, the Spleen controls our mental ability to think and concentrate. Common examples showing this connection include students who notice an increase in their appetite and particular food cravings while studying hard for exams, or someone suffering brain-fog due to low blood-sugar levels. With an imbalance in the Spleen system, people often experience things such as difficulty to focus, feeling foggy-headed (especially after meals), and a tendency to over-think & over worry.

Hopefully, this brief introduction to the Spleen-Pancreas system gives a better understanding of how Traditional Oriental Medicine views the body and how a healthy digestive system is a foundation for our overall wellbeing.

Some conditions often related to the Spleen

  • nausea
  • colic
  • irritable bowel
  • fatigue
  • bloating
  • water retention
  • over thinking
  • anxiety
  • worry

Tips for keeping the Spleen-Pancreas (Digestion) healthy

  1. Nourishing foods – try to avoid overly processed & sugary foods, as they tend to weaken the digestive system. In addition, animal products, especially dairy, tends to produce mucous which further weakens the digestion. Instead, whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, oats, and rice provide a slow release of energy & nourishment for the body. Other excellent foods to include in the diet are root vegetables such as squash, turnips, and yams.
  2. Slow down & chew well – thoroughly chewing our food releases enzymes which assist in proper digestion. Take your time when eating meals. Eating on-the-run puts a tremendous strain on the digestive system and should be avoided.
  3. Warm it up – consuming ice-cold drinks and excessive cold raw foods puts additional strain on the digestive system, as energy is used up to heat it to body temperature. In Eastern medicine, the Spleen prefers warmth, so warm drinks and lightly steamed vegetables are helpful, especially for those with weak digestion.