In Chinese Medicine, the spleen and stomach are the two main organs responsible for the quality of digestion. If these organs are weak, digestion is suboptimal and other health issues develop. The stomach accepts food into the body and begins to break it down. Good digestion is partially tied to fully chewing food; the stomach works best if it doesn’t have to break down large pieces of unchewed food. When the stomach is weak, it may not readily accept food into the body. People may experience acid reflux, belching, nausea, pain, or abdominal distention after eating.
While the Chinese Medicine view of the stomach is similar to the western medicine understanding, the concept of the spleen is functionally different from the western view. In Chinese Medicine, the spleen is responsible for separating apart the nutritious aspects in our food and beverages from the waste aspects of the consumed food and drink. The spleen then distributes the nutrients throughout the body, while moving the waste into the kidneys and intestines.
However, the spleen is a sensitive organ. Although some people naturally have stronger spleens than others, the spleen can be damaged by certain foods and behaviors. Sweet, greasy, spicy, and raw foods all weaken the spleen. Therefore, a diet of milkshakes, hamburgers, fries, and salads (yes, even salads!) can negatively impact digestion. Also, the spleen, like a family dog, likes regular mealtimes. If you eat your meals at wildly different times each day, or if you skip meals, your spleen will weaken. In addition, stress and worry can hurt the spleen and impact your digestion. Do you ever get a knotted feeling in your gut when you’re especially distressed? That’s your spleen. And have you ever noticed how stress or anxiety can impact your appetite? Again, your spleen.
When the spleen is damaged, all sorts of issues may develop—low energy, low appetite, weight gain, loose stools, gas, water retention, puffy or dark circles around the eyes, sallow skin, acne, sugar cravings, muscle pain—it’s a long list, but you get the idea.