Chances are you only think about your immune system once you are sick. Perhaps you try to prepare for cold and flu season by taking Vitamin C supplements? Maybe you try echinacea tea once you already have the sniffles? But it’s a pretty sure bet that you didn’t think about how your immune system & spleen are involved in keeping you healthy.
Let’s be honest, most people do not even know what the spleen is or what it does. Your immune system works like an army. It unites 5 organs (the skin, the gut, the spleen, and the thymus and bone marrow, in the lymph system) that act as an army and an entire defense system.
This army has one mission: protect the body from any sort of unwanted invader. Even though it’s a bit more complex than that, that’s pretty much how it works. Your immune system defense working together to protect against germs that make you sick. If your army is healthy, it will keep your body healthy.
Your Spleen Functions To Identify Invaders
In my last blog, I reviewed the first line of the body’s immune defense, the skin. As the largest organ in the army of defense, it’s got an important role – acting as an external barrier keeping germs from getting inside your body.
However, there are several organs that protect you from getting sick too. The spleen is the largest organ in the lymph system. So I will shed some light on the spleen and its importance in immune defense and wellness.
Hopefully, you use this information to support your spleen so it works to keep you germ-free.
How Does The Spleen Keep Us Healthy?
The spleen is an organ that is about the size of your fist. It is located towards the upper side of your stomach just under the rib cage and right above the kidney. When an invader manages to get past the skin’s barrier, the spleen identifies the foreign attacker and jumps into action.
The spleen produces:
- white blood cells that ingest germs such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses and also destroy abnormal or damaged red blood cells; and
- antibodies that are Y-shaped proteins that destroy germs that make you sick.
The Spleen & Traditional Chinese Medicine
While there isn’t much talk about the spleen in western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers the spleen an important organ. TCM realizes the role of the spleen in providing mental energy, its work with the gut in the digestion process and the production of blood and body fluids, “qi” (chi).
Recently, we are understanding how gut bacteria can help or hurt your immune system. So we may be able to learn from TCM, the connection between the spleen and the gut and how they promote good health.
Avoid These 6 Spleen Weakening Situations
What 6 environmental factors might hurt the spleen and then weaken your immune system? Simply put, they are not so different than the general health recommendations.
- Excess stress.
- Cold food & cold weather.
- Drinking too much caffeine and alcohol.
- Consuming processed foods containing salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners/colors and vegetable oil.
- Eating common allergy provoking foods like soy, gluten, and dairy products.
- Overindulging with sugar & carbohydrate.
Does Sugar Interfere With Spleen Function?
The Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article that talks about the effect carbohydrates and sugars can have on the spleen.
Participants ate 100 grams of carbs from glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice. Blood was drawn, exposed to Staphylococcus epidermidis (a bacteria causing infection) and compared to white blood cells (WBC) during a fast before eating these sugars.
Compared to white blood cell function before ingesting sugar, WBC immune function and its ability to destroy the bacteria was significantly decreased within an hour and lasted for up to 5 hours after eating sugar.
On the other hand, starch did not have the same detrimental effect on white blood cells like sugar. And, fasting significantly increased WBC function.
Foods That Support The Spleen
It seems eating six small meals throughout the day is healthier for the spleen but if you do better eating less frequently, do not change your eating regimen. What can you eat for spleen health?
- Maitake mushrooms are beneficial for the spleen. These medicinal mushrooms have large amounts of beta-glucan. Beta-glucans can increase the number of immune cells that stimulate the immune response of the spleen.
- Adding protein to your diet is spleen beneficial too. Protein aids in the production of antibodies and interferons. Interferons are proteins in the immune system that are created in response to an infection; try chicken, turkey, lamb, and fish. Salmon, halibut, and sardines are good options.
- Choose warm foods like soups, cooked veggies, stew, chili, curry, and green tea.
- Raw goat’s milk (steamed or cooked) and organic butter also help strengthen the spleen.
Essential Oils Support the Immune System & The Spleen
Essential oils support the spleen. They help reduce water retention and swelling, improve circulation, reduce pain, and fight off infections. These oils contribute to helping the immune system and support the spleen :
The best way to use essential oils (EO) is to dilute them with a carrier oil. Coconut oil, avocado oil, or sweet almond oil are all good choices. If they are not diluted, they can cause skin irritation when used topically.
Spice Up The Spleen
Herbs and spices used in cooking will help improve the immune system function. Here are some of them and how they benefit your immune system and your spleen.
- Ginger – boosts circulation, aids digestion, and fights off colds and fevers.
- Black Pepper – warms the stomach and the spleen.
- Chili Pepper – helps in the production of white blood cells and removal of red blood cells.
- Basil – helps reduce inflammation.
- Turmeric – high in beta carotene, it helps tone the spleen, pancreas, and directly strengthens the immune system.
- Cilantro – helps regulate blood circulation.
- Parsley – affects the liver, spleen and the intestines.
- Cardamom – acts on the pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and the spleen.
- Cinnamon – a spice used in TCM as a general way to support the entire body. It can be used as a topping for almost anything.
Immune Support & The Spleen Supplements
For those of you who may need an extra immune system and boost and care to supplement the spleen, here are some choices that will do the trick:
- Omega-3 fish oils
- Burdock Root
- Digestive Enzymes
- Activated Charcoal
- Milk Thistle
What Else Can I Do Healthy Spleen?
Beyond Food and supplements, lifestyle can provide additional natural spleen support.
- Keep Moving. Activity is good for your whole body, but it is especially good for keeping fluids flowing to the organs that are part of the immune system & the spleen. When you move your body, it helps the organs filter waste and toxins so they are removed through the skin and the gut.
- Relax. Learn to relax and reduce stress. There are a lot of strategies for helping you relax and minimize the effect of stress. Meditation, breathing techniques, visual imagery, and yoga are commonly used to help reduce stress and induce relaxation.
- Massage. Detox the lymphatic system with a foam roller or massage therapy.
Immune System & The Spleen Wrap Up
Help your immune system and spleen to help keep you healthy. Now you understand the important role the spleen plays in supporting your entire immune system as well as your overall health and the natural ways you can keep the spleen in good shape.
The Immune system & spleen helps protect you from the germs that make you sick. Some ways to help keep your spleen healthy include: eating warm foods and consuming small, frequent meals over the course of the day. Stay active to keep your blood flowing. Learn how to relax and manage stress with various strategies and techniques like meditation, massage therapy, and breathing techniques.
Your body uses the force of an army to protect you, keep you safe and healthy. Of course, you want to enable your body to fight off colds, the flu, and other bugs that make you ill.
Your spleen is critical to your whole immune system. If you take care of your spleen it will take care of you.
Better yet, read next week’s blog for the third and final part of Immune Defense & Boost. Then, take the necessary steps to strengthen ALL the organs that make up your immune system.
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