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Eating for Spleen Qi Deficiency

Acupuncture and herbs are wonderful for treating many conditions, but there's a lot you can do to help yourself through diet and lifestyle choices. Chinese medicine has a sophisticated understanding of the energetics of food, and understanding this can help you take better care of yourself. These articles are intended to give some 'quick and dirty' tips and recipes for an assortment of CM diagnoses. To learn more in depth, we recommend Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford. A short guide to Chinese food energetics is Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett.

- by Gryphon Corpus

What is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

What, for that matter, is Spleen Qi? It's helpful to understand that when Chinese Medicine (CM) practitioners talk about the Spleen, or the Heart, or any other organ, we don't necessarily mean the actual, physical organ. We're referring to a set of functions and relationships - physical, mental, spiritual - some of which overlap with the Western medical understanding of the organ's function, but many of which don't. And when ancient Chinese doctors wrote about the spleen as an organ, they were probably referring more to the pancreas. I'll capitalise the name when I mean it in its CM sense, and leave it lower case when I mean the organ. And Qi? That's a word you hear a lot in CM and people often translate it as energy, but that's not quite right. The concept of Qi kind of overlaps with energy, but it's also about functions and relationships. In the case of Spleen Qi, you can think of it as the Spleen's ability to do its job. So Spleen Qi Deficiency just means that the Spleen isn't operating at full capacity. 

The functions of the Spleen have to do with transformation of what we take in from the outside world from Other into Me. The Stomach takes in and processes food, the Spleen transforms it into the substance of your body. The senses take in information, the Spleen transforms it into integrated understanding. The Spleen is also partly responsible for moving fluids and nutrition around in our bodies, getting things where they need to go. So when Spleen Qi is deficient, you are likely to feel undernourished and tired. Over time, you will probably develop Blood Deficiency. You might also find you have trouble comprehending things you learn, or get brain fog. Additionally, swelling of the legs is common. 

In providing our nourishment, the Spleen also controls our muscles, the health of the flesh. When the Spleen Qi is low, we tend to be weak and the muscles grow soft. Spleen Qi has an upward movement, so deficiency can mean a heavy feeling and even organ prolapse. 

Symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency include:

tiredness (especially after meals, and possibly chronic fatigue)

swelling of the legs and ankles


difficulty concentrating/brain fog

organ prolapse

spider veins

easy bruising

loss of appetite

abdominal distention

loose stools

craving sweets

What causes Spleen Qi Deficiency?

Poor diet and mental strain are the biggest culprits. The Spleen works best when you feed it warm, not-too-damp foods. A diet consisting of a lot of cold, raw food or lots of dairy is hard on the Spleen. Eating too much, too little, or insufficient protein can also weaken it. The Spleen likes regularity, so eating at about the same times each day is helpful. 

Because the energetics of taking in food and transforming it and of taking in information and transforming it are essentially the same, doing both simultaneously is hard on the Spleen. In other words, studying while eating or working while eating is not a good idea. The Spleen does best when you're in a calm emotional state, maybe having a pleasant conversation while you eat, or sitting on the porch watching the birds, nothing emotionally strenuous. Think about how your stomach feels when you get upset. That's not the time to feed it! 

The other trouble-maker for your Spleen is mental strain, such as computer work, studying, and chronic worry. Talk to anyone who has just finished a rigorous academic program and they're likely to be tired, foggy-brained, and craving sugar! 

How to take care of your Spleen

As discussed above, to give your Spleen some love 

- Don't eat when you're upset

- Avoid doing anything with your brain while you eat, or for half an hour afterwards

- Eat at regular times

- Have your main meal at breakfast, ideally between 7 and 11 am. That's when the Stomach and Spleen do their best work.

- Avoid eating after 7 pm

- Avoid raw and cold foods. I know everyone says salad is super healthy and you should eat it ten times a day, but trust me, it's not what your Spleen wants. A salad every couple days in the summer is fine, but avoid it in winter and maybe eat it only rarely even in summer if you're experiencing a lot of the symptoms listed above. 

- Avoid damp foods, such as dairy and bananas. Those smoothies you love? Cold, raw, damp. Ditch them, your Spleen will thank you.

- Reduce your sugar intake as much as possible. If you can do it, cut out all refined sugar.

- Stop worrying! Okay, I know that's really hard. Maybe see your acupuncturist for help :-)

- Getting regular acupuncture and the right herbal formula are wonderful supports for your Spleen.

Foods to support your Spleen:

Aduki beans












Daikon radish


Green Tea

Jasmine Tea

Kidney beans






Mustard leaf










If your symptoms include edema (swelling), also try these:

Black soybeans

Broad beans







Mung beans






Water Chestnuts

Spleen Qi Deficiency can also result in phlegm. If your sinuses or chest feel congested, try adding some of these:


Apple peel (organic! Conventional apples are covered in toxins.)

Black pepper


Lemon peel


Mustard seed


Orange peel




Shiitake mushrooms






Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, by Giovanni Maciocia

Helping Ourselves, by Daverick Leggett

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