From natural supplements for the heart to meal plans that jumpstart the thyroid, there are plenty of ways to show our individual organs a little extra love. And while keeping each and every part of our bodies in working order is crucial to staying in tip-top health, there’s one tiny organ we unfortunately tend to neglect: the lonely spleen.
It may not be as well known as the kidney, liver, stomach, or any other number of organs, but the spleen plays just as important a role in keeping us alive and well. In fact, the spleen is the largest member of the immune system, meaning it’s at the forefront of the body’s daily battles with harmful diseases. That’s why we should all take time to nurture this little appendage whenever possible. After all, a healthy spleen is a healthy you.
What does the spleen do?
Before learning how to keep this forgotten organ happy, you should definitely first be aware of the tiny champ’s day-to-day functions. Although it varies in size depending on the individual, the typical spleen is three to five inches long. And if you’re wondering “Where is the spleen located?” know that it’s snugly tucked away in your upper left abdomen, where the rib cage protects it from harm.
Now, when it comes to the function of the spleen, consider it a gentle filter that keeps your blood clean. Old or damaged blood cells get stripped for parts within the organ, which then repurposes vitamins and nutrients, like iron, while discarding the bad bits. According to Medical News Today, the spleen also plays an important role in the immune response by detecting nasty bacteria and producing white blood cells to attack the invaders.
“Your spleen is often on the ‘front lines’ of your body,” the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh writes on its website. “In fact, your spleen is a busy organ – especially considering its small size.”
The Importance of Spleen Health
Because the spleen is such a crucial part of the immune system, it’s of utter importance to maintain its health. "The majority of functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as poor appetite, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and constipation result from a weak spleen organ system," says Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, MD, director of the clinical division of Baptist University's School of Chinese Medicine. Additionally, a poorly functioning organ can lead to viral infections that result in an enlarged spleen. Symptoms of an enlarged spleen include pain in the left abdomen that spreads to the shoulder, feeling full without eating much, fatigue, frequent infections, and easy bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Luckily, the upkeep of your spleen isn’t that strenuous — and you can actually guarantee that it’s in good working order by following a simple rule with your meals.
The "Yellow Rule" for Spleen Health
The food we eat can have major consequences on the tiny spleen. Traditional medicine (including the popular Ayurvedic medicine) “believed that a cold or damp environment, eating too many salty or sour foods, overexerting yourself, and poor digestion all make someone more susceptible to spleen and liver damage,” says Jillian Levy, CHHC, on the Dr. Axe health blog. To rebalance the spleen, Levy recommends a diet rich in plant foods that can provide enough hydration to help rid it of foreign matter.
“Try to avoid eating foods that place stress on your circulatory and immune systems,” Levy adds. “The more chemicals you obtain through the foods you eat, the more work your liver, spleen, and other organs have to do. Foods to limit or eliminate from your diet include: common allergens (like dairy products, gluten, soy, shellfish or nightshades, for example), low-quality animal products, sugary snacks, refined vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean), and processed foods that contain chemical sprays or toxins.”
But good spleen health isn’t just about getting rid of the bad; it’s also about introducing the good. Traditional medicine places a lot of stock on yellow food for spleen health, meaning a diet that follows a "yellow rule" and is rich in pumpkins, squash, yams, yellow lentils, corn, pineapple, and yellow peppers (among others) can go a long way in replenishing the little fighter’s stamina.
“Yellow foods are healing for the spleen,” says Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP. “This is good news, because there are many foods that are beneficial for this important organ.”
However, Dr. Suttie is quick to point out that a healthy diet alone won’t help restore the spleen. “We work long hours, often don’t eat properly and don’t get enough sleep,” she writes. "We eat at our desks, multitasking, which puts more of a burden on the spleen because it is responsible for taking in not only the food and drink we consume, but all the stimulus as well. This is why doing one thing at a time and doing it mindfully takes the load off the spleen.”
In other words, take some time off and give yourself a break. You deserve it, and your hard-working spleen does, too.