Spleen Functions

Woman Lips
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  • Your Spleen function in Chinese medicine is very different from its function in Western medicine
  • It is much more like a ‘housekeeper’ for your body
  • It supplies the building blocks for Blood, which renews and repairs your body
  • When it fails, systems stop working properly, with the build-up of debri

When your Spleen function goes wrong, you’ll know, because your body will get behind with its housekeeping jobs. As you’ll see, these start with your digestion but go on to include your Blood and your muscles, your ability to think and your energy.

Since your energy is involved, that means your immune system too.

So, in Chinese medicine, your Spleen function is in its own way as important as that of your Liver .

Main Spleen Functions

For the time being, please just forget everything you know about the spleen organ which lies under your lower left ribs at the front.

In Western medicine its function is to purify your blood by filtering out old or damaged red blood cells and microbes, and to produce the white blood cells that act as guardians of your system.

Chinese medicine is based on a completely different attitude to health and disease.

Still largely based on ideas probably 3000 years old, its diagnoses seem a million miles from modern medicine.

Nevertheless, these concepts are in regular practical use worldwide in major hospitals and by practitioners of Chinese medicine including acupuncturists.

1. Spleen Transforms and Transports

Traditionally it is said to ‘transform and transport’. It takes what comes from the Stomach, turns (transforms) it into Blood, fluids and Energy (‘Qi‘), and moves (transports) these round the body.

So its functions include what your intestines do in Western medicine: absorbing nutrients from the food passing through and turning them into the basic building blocks for blood.

Once the blood has picked up Qi from the Lungs and life from the Heart it becomes Blood (capital B). This is now the stuff that the Spleen uses to maintain health throughout the body, feeding and nourishing, sorting and clearing.

It also has the job of removing unwanted matter from wherever it finds it and transforming it back into usable Blood or passing it to the Kidneys to excrete.

When this function fails you see:

  • poor digestion
  • lack of energy
  • loose stools
  • weak blood, leading to what Western medicine recognises as symptoms of anaemia
  • inability to lose weight
  • inability to gain weight
  • old matter not moving on. Specifically this occurs more as you grow old, when your skin heals itself more slowly and leaves behind scars that a younger Spleen might have cleared.
  • the build up of what in Chinese medicine is called Damp
  • accumulation of catarrh
  • the accumulation of Phlegm (although on its own a weak Spleen does not produce Phlegm).


2. Spleen Houses the Intellect

This means how we process information and think things through – working with its partner, the Stomach.

It is not how we decide what we do with our lives, or how we reach decisions and assert ourselves; it is not our memory.

Over-thinking is a problem for it, and can make it malfunction.

Many students and office-workers, counsellors,  philosophers, academics and homoeopaths – and others whose job involves mainly the intellect – suffer from over-thinking.

3. Spleen Controls Blood, Muscles and Limbs

With a healthy Spleen function and good Blood you have:

  • good mental powers of thought
  • well-nourished skin
  • excellent eyesight
  • strong nails
  • good powers of recuperation
  • attractive musculature
  • strong limbs
  • a heartbeat that is well regulated
  • skin that heals fast
  • good colour


Consequently, you recover from shock quickly and you sleep well and feel great in the morning.

Conversely, if it fails to control Blood, you get bleeding which can occur from deficiency, as in menstrual bleeding that goes on and on, or wounds that don’t heal, or when combined with Heat, heavy bleeding.

4. Manages or controls the raising or ascending of Qi.

Mainly this means being able to send clear Qi up to the head so that you can think clearly and quickly, can absorb information and be able to think things through properly.

However, being able to raise or ascend Qi also means that things don’t fall out of place. Where this function fails you see:

  • varicose veins
  • protruding or prolapsing organs
  • distension and bloating
  • poor muscle tone
  • inner organs that fall down, out of place
  • a fullness or lump-like sensation, where – for instance in the throat – you may feel as if it is closing
  • a possible cause of miscarriage – click this link for more

5. Opens into the Mouth

Here, it controls saliva, and manifests on the lips.  Full, healthy lips suggest it is healthy.  People who chew or pick at their lips often betray the beginnings of Spleen Qi stagnation.

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Syndromes of Spleen Disease

Syndromes are the names given to patterns of illness as recognised in Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine if practised the traditional way doesn’t treat diseases as explained in Western medicine.


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Instead, it diagnoses them in terms of, for example:


All this can seem overwhelming to someone demanding which acupuncture points to use for obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart attack, as I was asked yesterday (March 2014.) But I explained how under all his Western-defined problems there was just one main syndrome. For this there were definite recommended points. So he calmed down a bit.

Factors Affecting Spleen Function


Do not think of a pink elephant: over-thinking damages your Spleen function
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Factors include:

  • Over-thinking, pensiveness, worry, anxiety: obsession: that includes not being able to stop thinking about something like the pink elephant in the picture!
  • Diet, including the wrong foods and eating them wrongly
  • External causes of disease such as Damp
  • The state of the Liver energy, particularly Qi Stagnation


What about Spleen Function pathology?

This depends on whether the condition is full or empty and to a lesser extent on the factors causing it. In general, it includes:

  • Low energy
  • Poor digestion
  • Distension, often of part or the whole of the abdomen
  • Obesity
  • Poor complexion: dull-yellow 
  • Low spirits, often depressed, though not necessarily because of anything very obvious


More specifically, see the pages for each of the its syndromes.

Spleen Syndromes

The recognised syndromes that affect it are:






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2 Responses

  1. Reading your book “Yuck!”. I’m still only in chapter one. so just trying to understand . I think that I predominately have “sticky white frothy phlegm”. Of course I have been diagnosed with chronic Bronchitis so then get infection often causing other colours. I do not have many other symptoms but the persistent cough, and clearing, which has totally stressed me out. My vital signs are always good when I have a episode but the doctors who are understanding just do the same things , x-rays, lung tests, antibiotics, steroids, inhalers, gets better for a while then right back at it. I’m so drained and tired of it all. My lungs are always clear its in my throat. Any help is appreciated.

    1. You probably have Damp phlegm, may be Cold phlegm too (see later in the book). In Chinese medicine an underlying cause is Spleen deficiency though there may be other causes too, such as Qi stagnation (you mention stress) or Lung qi deficiency. The book and this website have plenty of advice on what to eat and what to avoid eating (for example see the page on Damp Foods).

      However, if your bronchitis is chronic, diet alone is unlikely to ‘cure’ you: you will almost certainly need treatment for a while – acupuncture and herbs for example – plus advice on the best exercise and other lifestyle issues.

      One further point. Antibiotics are usually ‘cold’ in nature, which may further weaken your Spleen energy. Read the page on ‘Suppression’ for more on this: also our page on antibiotics.

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