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A Warm Spleen is a Happy Spleen

During the cold winter months, I find myself speaking more often to clients about the simple dietary techniques offered by ancient Chinese medicinal principles. To a great extent they can help us recreate and maintain our vitality by providing both the materials and the inner environment essential to the optimal production of blood and qi.

The recommendation for a cold climate is to eat cooked foods such as soups, stews and porridges. Digestion is a transformation or cooking process dependent upon heat. Therefore, when we ingest warm foods, we are supporting a warm environment and allowing the process to take place with little effort. In Chinese physiology, digestion is a function of the spleen, which belongs to the earth element. Earth is created by the fire element, therefore earth and the entire digestive process is dependent upon fire. If the metabolic fires are either lacking or burning too hot, digestion will be compromised. When we eat cooked foods, and when we chew them well, the spleen can easily transform, and extract essential nutrients. The purest, clearest “essences” are then free to ascend to the heart and lungs where blood and qi are produced. Impurities settle downward and are further transformed and utilized, or excreted as waste.

Raw, cold foods and drinks especially in a raw, cold climate can impair the spleen’s ability to transform. Its metabolic fires can become dampened and the burden of undigested food and fluids accumulates as “dampness”. The increasingly deficient spleen is now less able to deal with increased accumulation. The essences are obstructed from their ascension upward and the fluids stagnate and become turbid. We can become slow and heavy. Our digestion impaired, we retain water and put on weight. We become fatigued and our bodies ache. The clarity of our thoughts diminishes and we worry or obsess. Since our bodies are basically made of fluid, any system can be affected by the presence of dampness.

A “warm spleen” diet can significantly enhance our body’s ability to stave off or treat dampness. There are many ways to approach diet. I offer the following general tips as possibilities. Soups and stews are ideal. Porridges are the perfect breakfast. Nutrients are far more available to us in lightly steamed or stir fried vegetables than raw. Because they are precooked our bodies are more able to fully digest them. The same is true of warmed or cooked fruits. Try to avoid anything chilled including beverages, and chew all food thoroughly for easier digestion. Food is energy and certain foods are energetically cold and/or damp. Interestingly, many of these parallel the big “food allergy” foods familiar to western dietary thinking. Common examples are wheat, corn, soy, dairy and sugar.

Although elimination of some of these foods may be beneficial on a number of different levels, reducing your intake may be a more manageable undertaking and can still bring with it great rewards. Regardless of the extent to which you choose to apply these ideas, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Awareness alone can provide the basis to an enhanced quality of life. Keep warm and be well.

October 2003


Winter...It's not just for breakfast anymore, has nothing to do with food, but is an interesting read.

Tending the Human Landscape is an overview of Dave's diagnostic process and treatment approach.