The Spleen/Pancreas and the Stomach
*note: the Spleen in Chinese medicine is responsible for the tasks of both the pancreas and the spleen as we know them in Western science. Some think it was mistranslated as spleen, but the roles attributed to the ‘Spleen organ’ truly encompass both the pancreas’ and the spleen’s activities in our body. I choose to label it as spleen/pancreas to help with understanding its importance.
The spleen/pancreas and the stomach organ officials are considered the central pivot of health in Chinese medicine. They are arguably the most important pair in the body. One of their roles is to initiate the entire digestive process and to ensure that the rest of the digestive system will be able to properly absorb the nutrients from our food.
Without the proper absorption of nutrients from our food, we may not be able to make adequate amounts of neurotransmitters, hormones, and blood cells. The nutrients from our food fuels the production of all of these basic aspects of our daily life. It also relates to why this pair is called the earth pair, since the majority the nutrients in our food comes directly out of the earth.
The earth pair is best summarized as the archetypal mother figure. The ideal mother figure or mother-earth is surrounded with the bounty of harvest and gives from abundance. The keyword here is abundance. When an individual’s earth element shifts out of balance, they either give and give and give or they become takers. We all know or have been that person that cannot say no to anything asked of us. It runs the person ragged, sometimes skipping meals, sleeping less to make more hours in the day for productivity, but all the effort is going to others. Or the have the flip side where a friend or family members seems to be a master at getting us to do things for them, cook, lend them money, give them our lunch. Earth organs in health strikes an equal balance in giving and receiving. In health, earth gives generously when it does not diminish themselves and accepts help when they need it.
The earth elements also are responsible for establishing firm boundaries. These are different boundaries than the clear, cutting, metal boundaries that we discussed in our last post, An Overview of Acupuncture Meridians. Earth boundaries are more about respecting ourselves, telling others what we can and cannot offer, or the boundaries of tough love that a mother sometimes establish for her child.
The tissue structure that the earth pair govern is muscle. The stomach and spleen/pancreas in many ways relate to our sense of strength and stamina. Conditions that relate to generalized sense of muscle weakness, a heavy sensation in the large muscles of the body, or generalized muscle pain are often considered aspects of an earth meridian imbalance. Returning to the theme of digestion, we cannot have strong muscles nor stamina without the right absorption of nutrients from our food.
The stomach meridian also travels from just below the eye through the large muscles on the front of our body, down through our quads and across the top of our feet to the second toe. It relates to the action of seeing what we want and need straight ahead of us, and using those large leg muscles to move us forward towards our goal, grab it, and incorporate it into ourselves. At times, the inability to move forward in life can relate to an earth imbalance.
The emotion of the spleen/pancreas and stomach organs is worry. The cognitive pattern of the spleen/pancreas is analytic thought. Often spending too much of our day analyzing, studying, or trying to absorb or digest information, can lead to ruminating thoughts or worry. A common ailment associated with the earth pair is insomnia due to the inability to turn one’s mind off at night.
What are the signs of the earth pair out of balance?
When the earth pair are not adequately functioning– ie deficient, we tend to show symptoms such as:
- foggy thinking
- difficulty concentrating
- lessening or lack of an appetite
- changes in bowel movements (sticky bms, cow paddy shaped, loose, or bms with undigested food in them)
- flabby muscle tone
- easily bruising
- for women- heavy menstruation
- slow wound healing
- excessive worrying or ruminating in our heads
- sense of anxiety
- lack of motivation
- sense of heaviness in the body
- difficulty losing weight
- gas and bloating
Other symptoms can include:
- Ravenous appetite
- bleeding from your gums
- acid reflux/heart burn
- cramping after eating
- gas immediately after eating
What harms the earth organ pair?
The earth pair is harmed by inconsistent eating habits. These can include eating at different times each day, skipping meals – especially skipping breakfast, eating late at night, eating in a rush, eating drastically different amounts, overeating, and especially eating too much rich, greasy foods. It is also important to look at posture while eating. Are you eating hunched over on the couch while watching tv?
Other habits that injure the earth pair involve too much time studying, thinking, or analyzing subjects, or working too much. Since the earth organs govern our analytical thought process, spending too much time in our heads directly injures the organs just as much as overeating. Lack of exercise and relaxation time can contribute to imbalance in our digestive system as well.
Since the earth organ pair is the central pivot of health, it is important to protect them above all else. Without proper digestion, very little healing can take place when imbalances occur within other organ systems and tissue structures. If this post resonates with your current experience of health, consider looking at what changes can be made in your diet and lifestyle. You may also consider seeking out a local acupuncturists for further guidance.