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This is an updated and combined repost of three articles I wrote for the blog Lymenaide, originally posted on in January and February 2010. If you have Lyme Disease, or have a love one with Lyme, I highly recommend Lymenaide! Started by Ashley Von Tol and featuring three other contributing writers (myself included) it is an amazing source of information for all things related to Lyme Disease.
This is a long one friends, so get a cup of tea and start reading!
Supporting the Spleen with Chinese Nutrition Therapy
Adapted from three articles originally posted 1/22/10, 1/29/10, and 2/2/10 on Lymenaide
Since starting antibiotics a few weeks ago, I’ve noticed that my anxiety seems to have gotten worse. Not panic attack worse – that’s not my modus operandi – but I certainly notice myself ruminating a lot more than usual, and more soggy in the brain department. I know that Herxing can do this. But this mental stagnation, combined with my recent insomnia and appetite changes led me to believe I am suffering a little spleen disharmony too. When I told all of this to my acupuncturist, she nodded understandingly. “Antibiotics supress the spleen,” she told me. “Disharmony in the spleen is linked to anxiety and worry, so if you’re suppressing the spleen, all those issues are just going to get worse.”
Ah ha! It was like a lightbulb turned on my head. It all made sense!
For a few years I’ve been digging into the world of Chinese nutrition therapy; it was one of the first things I turned to when my symptoms got really bad in 2008. My long-time general interest in Chinese medicine turned into a growing obsession, and I started taking classes to get my master's degree in Acupuncture and Oriental medicine. However, health problems with Lyme forced me to put that all on hold - it's too hard while healing from Lyme to leave a well paying job with health insurance to starting living on loans and be insanely busy. I decided I needed to heal myself before I could learn how to heal others.
Pathway of the spleen meridian. Image source: www.soulfood4health.com/ meridians.html
Understanding the Spleen
Unless you’re familiar with the basic ideas of Chinese medicine, you’re probably wondering what the spleen, an organ that receives little to no attention in Western medicine, has to do with anything, especially anxiety. Here’s a little primer and very brief, rather rudimentary introduction.
There are five primary organ networks that form the basis of traditional Chinese physiology. Each primary (yin) organ has a pairing (yang) organ, as follows: Spleen/Pancreas (Stomach), the Heart (Small Intestine), the Liver (Gallbladder), the Lung (Large Intestine), and the Kidney (Bladder). Each organ network is associated with a phase, which encompasses a stage of transformation through life, time, and space, and is associated with a certain element. While each organ plays an important role in the transformation and utilization of qi (roughly translated as vital life energy) in the body, the spleen is kind of the ring leader of the circus.
I like the way that Harriet Beinfeld phrases the role of the spleen in her book Between Heaven and Earth:
Like Mother Earth, the Spleen is the constant provider, the hearth around which the body gathers to renew itself.
Not surprisingly, the spleen is associated with the Earth element. It likes to be warm, is nourished by sweet flavors, and needs regularity. The spleen-stomach is responsible for starting the process of digestion, the process by which our bodies our nourished. You know the phrase “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” An unhappy spleen is like an unhappy mother; everyone and everything are affected. The results of spleen disharmony are wide and varied. Ever wonder why anxiety or worry upsets your digestion? Disharmony in the spleen-stomach is why; the flow of qi is severely compromised. Even general spleen qi deficiency will compromise digestion, leading to improper assimilation of nutrients, irregular stools, and nausea, abdominal cramping, and discomfort. A deficient spleen may leave one feeling fatigued and exhausted. It affects our ability to deal with stress and manage pressures, and will often lead to physical and mental stagnation and compulsive behavior. Blood sugar levels and metabolism may be affected. Spleen deficiency can also lead to dampness, which can be described as yeast, bacterial, viral, or mucous imbalances (yes, like Candida albicans!).