Spleen Functions

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 the Spleen zang is in its own way as important as your Liver zang.

Hair worry

ID 30796403

© Sanjay Deva


Main Functions

For the time being, please just forget everything you know about the spleen organ that 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 3000 years old, its diagnoses seem a million miles from modern medicine.

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

1. 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.

(Picky, technical stuff. Actually, in case you are a student of Chinese medicine reading this, that's wrong: your Spleen Energy organ does not actually make Blood, but it provides some of what is needed by your Heart Energy organ to make Blood.)

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. 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 and homoeopaths - and others whose job involves mainly the intellect - suffer from over-thinking.

3. Controls Blood, Muscles and Limbs

With a healthy Spleen 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

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.

Syndromes of 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.

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

  • the interplay of Yin and Yang
  • the relationship between Qi and Blood
  • the actions or deficiencies of the 12 Zangfu organs
  • the 5 Elements

All of which 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.)

Factors Affecting It

Factors include:

  • Over-thinking, pensiveness, worry, anxiety: obsession: that includes not being able to stop thinking about something like the pink elephant on the right!
  • 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 its pathology?

These depend on whether the condition is full or empty and to a lesser extent on the factors causing it. In general, they include:

  • 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:



Click to return from Spleen to Home page.


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