Spleen Qi Deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, conceives of the human body as a set of inter-related systems which work together in harmony. Problems in one part of the body may be the result of injury to a different part of the body or to the flow of energy (qi) through the entire body.

Traditional Chinese treatment of disorders involves the use of complex prescriptions made up of multiple herbs.

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What Is Qi?

In Chinese philosophy, qi is the life force that flows through all things. Everything in the universe derives from qi. When qi flows properly, all things are in harmony and function correctly; when qi is blocked, problems arise.

Within the human body, says this philosophy, qi flows through the organs maintaining health and balance. It is thought to provide the energy needed for our bodies to function, support body temperature, maintain the structure and strength of our organs, and keep our metabolism constant.

In order to do all of these things properly, qi must flow through our bodies. Where there are blockages and ai cannot flow, we experience health problems.

What Is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

Spleen qi refers not only to the actual organ called the spleen but to the entire digestive system and aspects of the circulatory system.

Ordinarily, when the spleen qi is flowing properly, the digestive system also functions properly. Blood and all the fluids of the digestive system move smoothly, and there are no backups or sagging of the organs.

When the Qi is blocked, however, a number of symptoms can develop. Many of these symptoms relate to appetite and weight; others to fatigue and pale skin.


According to Chinese Traditional Medicine, the spleen prefers a dry environment. Thus, dampness can cause issues with the spleen qi. For example, living in a damp climate or eating cold or raw foods can cause spleen qi deficiency.


In TCM, the symptoms ascribed to spleen qi deficiency include:

  • Weakness, lethargy
  • Pale, bright face
  • Shallow breathing
  • Low, soft voice
  • Little desire to speak
  • Poor appetite
  • Prolonged headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loose stools
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Tired eyes
  • Dislike cold greasy foods
  • Headache after exertion
  • Symptoms are worse in the morning
  • Abdominal discomfort which feels better when pressure is applied
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating and gas
  • Weak limbs

Tongue Appearance

Pale or normal tongue with a thin, white coat. May have swollen sides and teethmarks.


Pulse is generally slow or weak.

Related Conditions

In TCM, these conditions may be related to having a spleen qi deficiency:

  • Dyspepsia
  • Hepatitis
  • Anemia


These are just some of the herbs that are believed to help spleen qi deficiency:

  • Codonopsis
  • Red ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Jujube dates
  • Atractylodes rhizome
  • Licorice
  • Chinese yam
  • Pseudostellaria root

In TCM, these foods are said to strengthen the spleen:

  • Beef
  • Root vegetables
  • Warm foods
  • Soups
  • Warming spices, such as black pepper, ginger, cumin

Of course, if you experience symptoms such as those described above, it is important to visit a physician to develop a proper course of treatment. While herbal remedies may be helpful for mild discomfort, issues such as ulcers, anemia, and hepatitis are very serious and can even be life-threatening if not medically managed.

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  1. Greenwood MT. Dysbiosis, spleen qi, phlegm, and complex difficulties. Med Acupunct. 2017;29(3):128–137. doi:10.1089/acu.2017.1226

Additional Reading
  • Kaptchuk TJ. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. Chicago: Contemporary (McGraw-Hill) 2000.

  • Lu, H. Chinese Natural Cures, New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 1994.