“Qi” is often translated as “life force energy,” but the concept is much larger than that. The character for qi (seen on the left) shows vapor rising from a pot of rice. While qi can be vapor or steam that you can see, it can also be invisible to the naked eye, like most gases (for an interesting read on Qi as a gasotransmitter, check “The Science of Qi” by Andrew Miles, DOM & Xuelan Qiu, PhD). Qi is the driving force behind all physiologic activity, such as our metabolism. It gathers and brings life, it warms and protects us, and it moves the blood in our vessels. Healthy lungs and digestive organs are therefore crucial for the health of our entire organism, because we replenish our qi through eating and breathing.
The term “Spleen Qi” is basically code for “digestive system function.” The TCM diagnosis of spleen qi deficiency indicates a weakness in the body’s ability to efficiently extract the nutrients from our food and shuttle the nutrients where they are needed. One of my teachers called this extracting function “rotting and ripening.” Think of your stomach as a soup pot that collects the food and drink you consume. After the “ingredients” are gathered, you need sufficient fire burning under the pot to continue the rotting and ripening. Examples of this “fire” are digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCL) that are naturally released from the pancreas and stomach. The enzymes and HCL break down the food into smaller parts and the meal continues through to the small intestine and large intestine (I won’t go into all that here…)
So, after the rotting and ripening happens in the stomach (and small intestine), the Spleen “transforms and transports” the nutrient rich qi and blood throughout the body. If this function is disturbed due to weakness or eating incorrectly (like eating fast food in front of our work computer every day), you will get all sorts of digestive system troubles and eventually will experience fatigue and weakness from a lack of qi in the whole body. Some signs of spleen qi deficiency include bloating, fatigue after meals, and lack of appetite. You might also accumulate dampness and phlegm if fluid distribution becomes impaired. Signs of dampness include loose stools, diarrhea, swelling, bloating, weight gain, and excess mucus in your respiratory tract. Dampness is a breeding ground for certain microbes that don’t have our best interests in mind. Jock itch, yeast infections, and intestinal dysbiosis are examples.
It’s pretty easy to spot spleen qi deficiency using tongue diagnosis. Due to the excess fluid build up and dampness mentioned earlier, Spleen qi deficient tongues tend to be puffy and develop ridges along the edges called scallops. Here’s a link to a good picture. Check out your own tongue. Is it puffy or scalloped? If so, follow these diet guidelines, and make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
Foods that benefit the qi are easy to digest, warming, and sweet. Any of the foods below will benefit your qi, but they are also broken down into the organ systems for which they are particularly healing.
meat, chicken, fish
rice, oats, corn, rice congee (porridge)
nuts and seeds
Foods that are especially beneficial the spleen qi are often orange/yellow/brown/earthy colored and round (like the earth)
winter squash (butternut, acorn, kabocha), sweet potatoes, carrots
lentils, peas, garbanzo beans
Foods that specifically benefit the lung qi are often white/gray (the lung corresponds to metal)
Foods that specifically benefit the heart qi are often red (the heart corresponds to fire)
Foods that specifically benefit the kidney qi are often dark blue/black or kidney shaped (the kidney corresponds to water)
Foods that specifically help the liver qi are often green (the liver corresponds to wood)
leafy greens like lettuce, spring mix, kale, swiss chard, etc.
cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussel sprouts
Bitter foods drain dampness from the body (often are diuretic or promote bowel movements), and pungent foods dry dampness.
basmatic or jasmine rice
Avoid foods that are too dispersing, too cold, or difficult to digest.
stimulants like coffee, tobacco, and cannabis
refined grains like white bread, crackers, processed snack foods
processed foods with chemicals and preservatives added
foods your body has an immune reaction to, most commonly wheat, dairy, soy, or eggs (often times it is your favorite go-to food when stressed…)
icy cold beverages and food
excessive amounts of raw food (even just a light steam will make food easier to digest)
overeating in general