Khulan Enkhtaivan

Khulan Enkhtaivan

Holistic Nutritionist / co-founder of Amu Nutrition


Spleen Qi deficiency: America’s Hidden Problem

Introduction: The prevalence of chronic lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, asthma, coeliac disease, gastritis, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and cardiovascular disorders is rising at an unprecedented pace. In most of the cases, the above- mentioned disorders have been linked with spleen qi deficiency at some stage. The disorders of qi deficiency are more common in individuals with middle age or older people. Qi deficiency has also been linked with aging.

The concept of qi in traditional Chinese medicine: Qi has been described as one of three main components needed for the proper physiological function of the body and it circulates in the body all time. As per the Chinese concept of wellbeing, qi is considered the life-force whose proper flow in the system ensures the proper and effective functioning of all the organs. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the disorders mentioned above possibly originate due to a deficiency of spleen qi and represent a spleen qi disharmony at some stage of the disorder.

Causes of qi deficiency: Spleen prefers a dry environment for proper functioning. Thus, dampness, eating cold or raw foods can lead to qi deficiency. Moreover, involving in rigorous activities and working for long hours without taking proper rest and relaxation can also cause qi deficiency in the body. Living a life full of stress quickly drains qi from your body and make you prone to develop disorders linked with qi deficiency.

Role of the spleen in the body: Spleen in combination with stomach carries out the crucial process of food digestion and nutrient assimilation. Spleen is linked with the transformation and transport of essential nutrients such as amino acids, lipids, glucose, minerals, and cations-anions. According to TCM, the absorbed nutrients are required for the formation of blood and qi in the body. Blood and qi are essential forces for life and provide a vital force that nourishes all the body organs.

Spleen qi disharmony or deficiency indicates that spleen lacks the vital life force needed to carry out the physiological functions. Since, the spleen also regulates thoughts, normal brain activity, and muscle mass in the body, any deficiency in spleen qi adversely affects the physical and emotional wellbeing of an individual. Spleen qi deficiency can cause depression and even Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of spleen qi deficiency: Spleen qi deficiency affects several organs and systems in the body. However, the symptoms of spleen qi deficiency mainly manifest as digestive system abnormalities. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • One of the main features of spleen qi deficiency is persistent fatigue which increases after an intensive workout, muscle loss, and asthenia.
  • Appetite loss or a feeling of fullness after a meal.
  • Irregular bowel movements and loose stools.
  • Pale tongue accompanied with a white coating on top.
  • Weak pulse and shortness of breath.
  • Weak immunity and frequent infections such as a common cold.

Spleen Qi deficiency and cold food: Before we embark on the concept of cold food and try to establish a relationship between the cold food and spleen qi deficiency, we must first understand the role of heat in food digestion. Food must be heated in the body before spleen extracts the qi from the digested food. In cases where the spleen is already low in energy (qi deficiency) eating cold or raw food can further deplete the body energy and creates a problem in proper digestion of food. Another source of cold foods is cool drinks and juices directly taken from the refrigerator. In Chinese cuisine, very few foods are eaten raw and cooking or fermenting them is a very common practice. Therefore, individuals with spleen qi deficiency must avoid cold foods, an include cooked vegetables and easily digestible food items in the diet.

Foods to avoid: Some of the food items such as raw citrus fruits, raw salad, sweet foods, ice-cream, cool juice, beer, and other cool beverages must be avoided in case you are diagnosed with spleen qi deficiency.

Foods to eat: As a thumb rule, 50% of the total calories can come from cereals or legumes, 30% from vegetables, 15% from meat, and rest 5% from dairy products. In TCM, it is always preferred to consume whole and unprocessed foods and warm, cooked food is generally considered the most suitable for all people. Individuals with spleen qi deficiency can incorporate the following food items in their diet: cooked cereals, potatoes, green tea, carrots, squash, soups, green beans, onions, chicken beef, turkey, white fish, and certain spices like fresh ginger, sesame seeds, cinnamon, garlic, and black pepper. Eat several small meals instead of a single full meal.

Exercise: Individuals with spleen qi deficiency must make regular exercise part of their routine life. A 30-45 minutes exercise regimen is recommended. One can also try breathing exercise such as tai chi. However, exercise should be just enough to make you feel energize and must not cause fatigue after the exercise.  

Concluding remark: Qi is a vital force and required for survival of life. Spleen-Stomach qi is crucial for digestion of ingested food and pulling of qi from the digested food. However, due to stressful lifestyles and unhealthy dietary habits, the spleen qi depletes leading to a severe disruption in body homeostasis. Several lifestyle associated disorders such as obesity, intestinal disorders, asthma, and diabetes have been linked with spleen qi deficiency. According to TCM, consumption of cold food items such as salad, juices, beer, and other beverages is not advisable due to the fact that the body needs to heat the ingested cold food for the extraction of qi from the food. This process of heating the food further depletes the qi from the body. In TCM, it is advisable that individuals with qi deficiency must include dry, cooked, fermented food items to avoid qi deficiency. Warm and hot food removes coldness from spleen and stomach and invigorates these two organs. A regular exercise schedule for 30-45 minutes is also beneficial in replenishing the lost qi. However, one must consult a TCM practitioner before initiating any particular food items because proper diagnosis is required before beginning any special dietary plan.

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[1]. Wu XN. Current concept of Spleen-Stomach theory and Spleen deficiency syndrome in TCM. World J Gastroenterol. 1998;4(1):2-6.

[2]. Zhang et al. Symptom characteristics and prevalence of qi deficiency syndrome in people of varied health status and ages: A multicenter cross-sectional study. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences Volume 2, Issue 3, July 2015, Pages 173-182.

[3]. Lio et al. Qi deficiency is associated with depression in chronic hemodialysis patients. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 30 (2017) 102–106.

[4]. Wu et al. Food therapy and medical diet therapy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Clinical Nutrition Experimental Volume 18, April 2018, Pages 1-5.

[5]. Chua et al. Occurrence of spleen qi deficiency as defined by Chinese medicine in Parkinson`s disease. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences (2017) 4, 24e30.




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