If you’re familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you’re undoubtedly acquainted with one of its foundational theories that intricately weaves the connections between our human condition and the natural world within the framework of the five elements: Water, Fire, Wood, Metal and Earth. The Five Elements Theory interlaces diverse facets of existence into a harmonious tapestry, with each element corresponding to distinct organs, emotions, tastes, colours, and even seasons, among other aspects. But wait –seasons? Aren’t there only four? Not according to TCM. In fact, as we enter the last week of August and embrace the lingering warmth of September, preparing to settle into the rhythms of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, we officially step into the Late Summer season. This season is often referred to as the “Indian Summer” in the West. While it might not be an official season in the Western calendrical divisions, this phase embodies the transitional qualities of the Chinese Late Summer, intimately tied to the Earth element.

A word of caution: TCM is a medicinal system with over five millennia of evolution, influenced by numerous masters with diverse schools of thought waxing and waning over time. Some TCM practitioners speak of a Late Summer season, while others believe in the existence of four core seasons, each punctuated by a transitional period at its conclusion, linked to the Earth element. In my view, both perspectives are compatible. For the practical intent of this article, I lean into the Late Summer season perspective I learned while delving into Chinese Reflexology, keeping in mind that the same principles guiding a healthy transition into autumn can be seamlessly extended to any seasonal shift.

From the vantage point of Chinese reflexology – a pragmatic system dedicated to promoting well-being – the spotlight falls on internal organs and meridians influenced by the manipulation of reflexology points. So, which organs take centre stage during late summer in TCM? Here’s a hint: they play a pivotal role in digestion. The Spleen, a Yin organ, and its yang counterpart, the Stomach. While the stomach’s role in digestion is obvious, whether viewed through the lens of Western medicine or TCM, the spleen’s significance might elude those grounded solely in Western medical paradigms. Yet, in TCM, robust digestive health depends on a well-functioning and healthy spleen.

Given TCM’s emphasis on the primacy of Yin organs over their Yang counterparts, I embark on this journey through the “Late Summer” season by dedicating this article to the Spleen.

The Spleen in Western Medicine vs TCM

As mentioned earlier, Western and Chinese medical systems diverge significantly in their perspectives on this enigmatic organ. However, this doesn’t imply that they are mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite – they complement each other and share many underlying principles, albeit expressed differently.

In Western medicine, the spleen is considered the largest organ of the lymphatic system, primarily contributing to immune system support. Among its functions are the production of antibodies, the storage of white blood cells, and the filtration of old red blood cells.

Interestingly, within Western medical literature, the spleen doesn’t hold as prominent a status as other organs such as the lungs, heart, stomach, liver, intestines, or even its neighbouring organ, the pancreas. Granted, one can survive without a spleen, unlike the case with other vital organs. Nonetheless, the spleen’s role in maintaining overall health is somewhat undervalued in Western medical perspectives.

Notably, Chinese Medicine texts don’t explicitly mention the pancreas, but an intriguing description of the spleen in one such text reveals that “[the Spleen] has ½ pound of fatty tissues surrounding it.” These fatty tissues bear a striking resemblance to the pancreas. It becomes evident then that, when we discuss the Spleen in TCM, we are essentially talking about a spleen-pancreas functional system. From this perspective, the Western and TCM viewpoints on the Spleen are more harmonious than they may initially seem. Consequently, in TCM, the Spleen’s organ energy system encompasses the pancreas and its pivotal role in both digestion and sugar regulation.

Functions of the Spleen and Symptoms of Disharmony

The Spleen as the Conductor of Digestion.

The main function of the spleen from a TCM perspective is the transformation and transportation of food and fluids. The spleen extracts energy from the food and fluids ingested and then digested by the stomach, absorbs the nourishment and separates the usable from the unusable part of food. Once food is transformed, the spleen sends this energy (food-qi) through the body, transporting the nutrients to all the tissues.

In essence, it could be stated that the Stomach digests and the Spleen nourishes.

Understanding this important function brings to light that any imbalance in the Spleen will always disrupt the digestive process and result in digestive symptoms. The most common messages of Spleen disharmony are:

  • poor appetite
  • bad digestion
  • slight abdominal distension after eating
  • loose stools

Other functions of the Spleen, all linked to the transformation and transportation of food an fluids, are:

  • Controlling the ascending of Qi
  • Controlling Blood, both to hold blood in the vessels and to make blood.
  • Controlling the muscles and the four limbs
  • Controling the raising of Qi
  • Housing the Intellect (Yi)

The disruption of these functions can manifest in a number of varied symptoms.

Other Messages of Spleen Disharmony

Tiredness and weak muscles in the limbs. Lack of energy. Finding difficult to get up in the morning,

In TCM it is said that the spleen ‘controls the muscles and the four limbs’. As discussed earlier, the spleen extracts energy from food and transports this refined energy throughout the body. This energy is directed to all muscles, specially the motor muscles, and in particular to the four limbs. When the spleen is weak, this energy cannot reach the muscles and will be deprived of nourishment. This will result in a feeling of weariness, tiredness and weakness, especially of the limbs. In extreme cases, it may even lead to muscle atrophy.

The health of the spleen is extremely important in how much physical energy we have. When a person is chronically tired, it is a sure sign of spleen deficiency. In this case, the person usually has a desire to lie down and finds difficult to get up in the morning.

Dampness, Phlegm, edema.

An important function of the spleen is the transformation and movement of fluids. When this is impaired, the fluids will not be transformed or transported properly and will accumulate in the form of Dampness or Phlegm. Furthermore, fluids that cannot be transformed can accumulate under the skin causing edema.

Mucus and phlegm are a sign of dampness in the body, which is frequently observed in chronic diseases. The accumulation of dampness over a long period of time due to spleen deficiency may cause obesity.

Heaviness and thick tongue coating

As well as the interior dampness caused by a weakened spleen being unable to transport and transform fluids, exterior dampness can invade the spleen and impair its functions. Exterior dampness in TCM refers not only to a damp climate but also to living in a damp environment, like a basement or house with dampness and mold on the walls, as well as habits where the body is damp.

Signs of exterior dampness attacking the spleen are lack of appetite, a feeling of heaviness, abdominal fullness, nausea and a thick sticky tongue coating.

Dull, sallow complexion

A dull, sallow complexion, is also indicative of deficient Spleen energy and Dampness. It could also indicate a Blood deficiency.

Headache, heaviness of the head.

When dampness prevents the energy of the spleen to ascend to the head, it can cause a feeling of heaviness and a dull headache.

Dizziness, blurred vision, numbness, scanty periods.

If not enough Blood is produced due to weakened spleen energy, there will be a lack of

blood in the liver causing dizziness, blurred vision, numbness or scanty periods.

Feeling cold and cold extremities

When the energy of the spleen is deficient, the nourishment from food cannot be transported to the limbs and they may feel cold and weak. Furthermore, Spleen Yang energy fails to warm the body and manifests as easily feeling cold.


It is said that Spleen-Qi ascends. One important function of this energy ascending is to lift the internal organs and keep them in their place. When spleen energy fails to ascend, internal organs like the uterus, stomach, kidney or bladder are prone to prolapse.


All these symptoms are due to the impairment of the Spleen function of controlling Blood. When Spleen-Qi is deficient, it cannot hold the blood in the vessels and bleeding appears from various sources, such as under the skin, in the stools or urine or from the uterus.

Increased frequency and urgency of urination

When the Spleen’s function of raising Qi is impaired, it is said that Qi ‘sinks’. The urgency and frequency of urination are the symptoms of this sinking of Qi unable to control urine.

Whether you are currently experiencing any symptoms of Spleen imbalance or belong to the rare category of individuals with strong Spleen-Qi, aligning with the energy of Late Summer can facilitate a seamless and healthful transition into Autumn. Take a look at the following posts designed to assist you in preserving or restoring harmony in your Spleen energetic system:

Diet in Late Summer

Emotions and the Spleen


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