The 5 Elements of Chinese Medicine – Earth
This is the final segment of the 5 Elements series – Earth. Unlike the other 4 elements of Chinese medicine (Wood, Fire, Metal and Water), the Earth element does not have its own unique season. However, it is associated with Late Summer, and also the last 2 weeks of each of the other seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter).
All of the other 4 elements/seasons revolve around Earth. The two main organs associated with the Earth element are the Spleen and Stomach. In Western medicine, the spleen is seen as part of the immune system. It stores white blood cells and platelets, recycles old blood cells, and plays a role in fighting off bacteria. The spleen is sometimes removed if it is damaged in an accident, or if it is diseased. You can live without a spleen, but this would leave your body much more vulnerable to infection. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen is also closely associated with Blood – it stores Blood, makes Blood, and holds the Blood where it belongs – that is, within the blood vessels. If the Spleen is too weak, there may be problems with easy bruising or bleeding.
In Chinese medicine, the Spleen and Stomach are associated with the digestive system. In the body, the digestive system can be thought of as the center of all other systems, since whatever you put into your body is converted into the raw materials and energy that all other systems require in order to function. The function of the Stomach is to “rot and ripen” the food you ingest. It then sends the refined materials to the Spleen, which transforms it into its usable form and transports all of the food nutrients to wherever they are needed. A weak Spleen will also cause a person to be prone to having too much “dampness” in the body. This is internal dampness, which may manifest as poor appetite, fatigue, being overweight, edema (fluid accumulation under the skin). Dampness can also affect other organs, such as the Lungs and Large Intestine, leading to accumulation of mucus in the lungs or loose stools. Or, dampness can be less visible, causing such symptoms as dizziness, nausea, and even mental illness.
Once dampness sets in, it can be difficult to get rid of, so it is very important to take care of your Spleen. For most people, we tend to eat too much sugar, refined carbohydrates, and greasy food. These foods create a huge burden on the Spleen, making it weak and unable to function properly. This leads to excess dampness. If you are overweight, that is a sign that you have too much dampness. Foods that are easy to digest, such as soups and steamed vegetables, are beneficial for the Spleen. The Spleen also likes warmth, so if you tend to have a lot of cold or raw foods, you are damaging your Spleen.
Another function of the Spleen is that it controls and nourishes the muscles and limbs. If the Spleen is too weak, the muscles will also be weak and easily fatigued. The Spleen is also associated with overthinking and worry, so relax, take it easy, and your Spleen will be much happier!