Worry and Gut Health

By Fausta Tamburino L.Ac

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the Stomach and Spleen organ systems work together to perform their main purpose of taking in and processing food, and converting the nutrients derived from that food into qi and blood. 

 The Stomach and Spleen have an internal and external relationship, which means that the Stomach is more external in the sense that it receives and begins the initial process of breaking food down into its constituent parts. In Chinese medicine, this is referred to classically as “rotting and ripening.” The Spleen, on the other hand, is more internal in the sense that it takes care of the process of transforming and transporting those nutrients to the Lung and Heart in order to turn the converted nutrients into qi and blood. The Stomach is a yang organ, the Spleen is a yin organ, and the two coexist and help each other function. When this yin and yang relationship is functioning well, these organs are in harmony and digestive health is optimal. When there is disharmony, different types of issues may arise. 

One of the most common issues with the Spleen is called Spleen Qi deficiency. When this happens the process of transportation and transformation is hindered. Signs of this may include  loose bowel movements, specifically with undigested food. Additionally, in order for the Spleen organ to function optimally, the Spleen organ prefers a small amount of sweet flavors, but can get excessive and out of control in our modern diet. If we ingest too much sweet foods, or if these foods are coming from unhealthy sources, the Spleen will produce dampness in the body. Dampness will then manifest into symptoms including lethargy and fatigue, brain fog, an overall heavy feeling, weight gain, and nausea. 

Another interesting symptom of Spleen Qi deficiency is anxiety and worry. Worry and anxiety have a circular relationship to the Spleen where if the Spleen is not functioning optimally, we may experience worry and anxiety, and if we are worried and anxious, our Spleen may not function optimally. This is an example of the type of circular relationship where in Chinese medicine every organ is associated with an emotion. Many of us may be familiar with the experience of having diarrhea or loose bowel movements during times of heightened stress and anxiety.

In order to find balance, one can receive acupuncture treatments, as well as herbal medicines to help restore digestive harmony. Additionally, the use of mind calming practices can be very helpful, as well as exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise. Supplementation with various substances such as probiotics can also support digestive health, but will vary from person to person. Be sure to check with your acting physician before adding any new supplements to your routine. Healthy food choices are vital as well. The most common foods to cause Spleen Qi deficiency are fried foods, overly sugary and sweet foods, alcohol, and too many cold or raw foods. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of Spleen Qi deficiency, this may be a good time to re-evaluate the foods you are eating and to incorporate mostly warm and bland foods for the time being to restore balance in your system. Stick to foods that are whole, non-processed with simple preparations such as cooked vegetables, lightly sweetened foods, healthy proteins and soups with little to no grease. It also helps to be mindful when eating, to chew thoroughly with a relaxed mind, and to focus on enjoying your meal.