Solid Earth -- Healthy Digestion Equals Health
Everything starts in the gut! In Chinese Medicine, digestion is ruled by the earth element, and the spleen and stomach handle not only digesting food, but the “transportation and transformation” of resources. They are implemental in the creation of Qi and blood, which are the “fuel” our bodies run on. In addition, recent research has connected the health of the gut not only to digestion, but the health of our immune systems and even our mental health A strong earth element is truly the foundation you need for good overall health.
In acupuncture, spleen deficiency is very common. In fact, it is one of the main imbalances I treat on a daily basis. I think this is because modern lifestyle choices deeply tax the spleen. For instance, worry depletes the spleen, as does excessive mental activity like studying. Not getting enough rest is a big factor. And our eating habits are not great -- eating at your desk, in front of the TV, or on the run, and eating refined sugar, carbs, dairy and alcohol all contribute to spleen deficiency.
One of the most common symptoms of an earth imbalance is fatigue. The two telltale signs that you have a spleen imbalance are: the infamous 3 PM slump that has you grabbing an extra cup of coffee midday, and not feeling rested when you wake up in the morning.
Other symptoms include;
Loose stools/constipation Dizziness
Cravings for Sweets
Bloating and gas (and all digestive disorders)
Weak immune system
Here are my suggestions to support your Spleen:
1. Get Acupuncture -- Acupuncture is one of the best ways to support the Spleen and build Qi. It is important to differentiate because so many factors are involved -- this is truly one of those situations where 5 people can come in with a spleen deficiency and 5 different treatments would be necessary! The Lung, Kidney, or Liver are often involved, as well as the Stomach, Large Intestine and Small Intestine. Acupuncture can tonify the spleen, resolve damp, build Yang and Qi, and re-establish communication with the other organ systems. Along with herbal support, results can be seen in as few as 3-4 treatments.
2. Get 8 Hours of Sleep -- I know I keep saying this! But I will continue until it sinks in! If your spleen is depleted, it needs rest. 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis is sometimes all the medicine you need. And not just quantity, but quality! Give yourself an hour before bedtime with no electronic devices and check your bedroom for sources of artificial light (alarm clocks count!)
3. Adjust Your Diet -- One of the easiest ways to support your earth element is to support your digestion. Try not to eat late at night, or at your desk. Avoid cold raw foods (salads, juices) and processed sugars, carbs and dairy. Add in warm, healthy, cooked, easy to digest foods -- cooked veggies, healthy grains, soups, and stews are all excellent spleen support. And! for breakfast, consider congee.
Many people tune out at the word congee (I used to be one of them). But I recently purchased an Insta-pot and it changed everything. I just put the ingredients in and turn it on and 30 minutes later I have perfect congee. But you do not need an Insta-pot. You can make it on the stove top as well, it just takes a bit longer with a bit more stirring!
Congee is the perfect spleen food as it is warming, hydrating and super easy to digest. In Chinese, the character for Qi is literally a picture of rice cooking. So, rice is a great way to build Qi. This time of year, as it turns cold it is very important to start the day with something warm. And because it is so easily digested, congee is also a great option for anyone who is sick or recovering from an illness.
Here is my recipe for easy Insta-pot Congee!
● 1 rice cup (180 mL) white rice (long-grain is fine, though I prefer a short-grain rice, like sushi or arborio rice, which is starchier and makes a thicker, creamier congee. Avoid using brown rice, as it is not starchy enough.)
● 6 rice cups (1,080 mL) water or broth
● 2" (5 cm) knob of ginger, peeled and sliced or julienned (I usually leave them in big slices, so people can pick them out, or you can julienne if you don't mind eating it)
● Salt and white pepper, to taste
●Chinese pickled vegetables
●Chopped green onions and/or cilantro
●Fried garlic and/or shallots
●Leftover vegetables or meat
1. Place the rice into the inner sleeve of the Instant Pot. Rinse, changing the water a few times, until the water starts to run clear.
2. Add water or broth (it should come up to the 6 cups mark in the Instant Pot), and toss in ginger.
3. Close the Instant Pot, ensuring that the lid is set to "Sealing". Press "Manual"- the time should automatically set at 30 minutes. Allow to naturally release (I have tried quick releasing before, and if you do it too soon, the congee does bubble out of the spout!)
4. Open the lid and stir the congee, which will slightly thicken. If you desire a thicker congee, set the Instant Pot to "Sauté" and push "Adjust" until the red light under "Less" turns on. This will bring the congee to a boil, so that you can simmer off some of the extra liquid.
5. Season with salt and white pepper, as desired, or leave it unseasoned so that people can season their own bowls and add desired toppings.
Chicken or Turkey Congee Variation:
Great way to use up leftover roast chicken or turkey - use chicken or turkey broth if available and add bony pieces (i.e. chicken carcass or turkey neck) in with the ginger before cooking and remove the bones when the cooking is finished. Stir cooked meat into the cooked congee.
Ground Beef Variation:
Use beef broth if available. Add frozen ground beef (about ½-1 lbs.) in with the ginger before cooking. When stirring the cooked congee, you will need to use your ladle or wooden spoon to break up the beef.
I like to make mine with bone broth, for an extra boost. And sometimes I add saffron to move blood (only if you have stagnation!) but add whatever works for you. You can make it sweet or savory and use it as a base for almost anything -- meat, eggs, veggies, fruit, herbs and spices -- really anything goes.