Your spleen is a small and important organ that many of us don’t give much thought to. However, the spleen plays a crucial role in our immune systems by helping filter blood and produce white blood cells to help fight infection. Having a healthy spleen can help provide support in dealing with chronic illness as well as help prevent future disease. Learn more below about the spleen, some causes and symptoms of spleen issues, and how to improve your spleen health naturally.
What Does the Spleen Do?
The spleen sits on the upper left part of your abdomen, right behind your ribs and under your abdomen. The spleen is a specialized lymph node whose main function is to clean, filter and fight infections in the blood. filters blood by removing cellular waste and getting rid of old or damaged blood cells, makes white blood cells and antibodies that help you fight infection and helps maintain fluid levels in the body. As such, the spleen is affected by almost anything that goes wrong in the blood including abnormal blood cells, cancerous blood cells, and pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
When the spleen detects bacteria, viruses or other germs in your body, the spleen responds by producing white blood cells to fight infection. When someone is sick or receives an injury to the spleen, the spleen can swell and become enlarged, and thus not able to filter your blood as efficiently as it once did. An enlarged spleen is common in cases of infectious mononucleosis (mono) or Epstein Barr virus, as well as lyme -coinfections including Babesia and Bartonella.
While at first there may be no or few symptoms, untreated spleen issues can lead to pain and eventually a ruptured spleen. In cases of severe spleen disease or a ruptured spleen, the spleen can be removed through a surgery called splenectomy. You can live without a spleen as other organs in your body are able to take over most of the functions previously performed by your spleen. However, without a spleen, there is an increased risk of becoming sick or getting serious infections.
Causes of Spleen Issues
Here are a few things that may cause spleen problems:
-Bacterial and Lyme Co-infections: There tends to be connections between lyme co-infections (Bartonella, Babesia, Mycoplasma, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, etc.) with spleen issues
-Viral infections, such as mononucleosis
-Parasitic infections, such as toxoplasmosis
-Endocarditis (an infection of the heart’s valves)
-Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
-Sickle cell disease, in which the red blood cells are fragile and break easily
-A blow to the left upper abdomen or the left lower chest, such as might happen during sporting accidents, fistfights and car crashes
Symptoms of spleen issues include:
-Feeling discomfort or pain behind your left ribs
-Frequent, recurring infections
-Easy bleeding and bruising
-Indigestion or feeling uncomfortable when eating, especially after a large meal
-Pain that has spread from the abdomen to the left shoulder
-Spleen pain when taking deep breaths or moving around
-Symptoms of jaundice (including yellowing of the skin)
-In cases of ruptured spleen caused by accidents or blow to the abdomen, symptoms include pain behind your left ribs and tenderness, dizziness and a rapid heart rate (a sign of low blood pressure caused by blood loss)
How To Improve Spleen Function Naturally
Diagnosis of spleen issues usually involved a combination of blood tests for infections, ultrasound and/or CT scan and a hematology consultation. I always start with blood work to see if there are underlying health issues or other organs affected, which can help determine the cause as well as the treatment plan. Below are some of my general recommendations on how to improve spleen function.
What to Eat to Improve Spleen Function
What you eat can make a difference in your spleen health!
–Eat lots of antioxidant, vitamin and mineral rich foods: A healthy diet can benefit the entire body, including the spleen. Providing your body with nutrient rich foods helps the spleen work more efficiently to carry blood cells and nutrients to tissue, while also removing waste.
–Include lots of plant foods in your diet: In addition to providing lots of healthy nutrients, a diet high in plant foods helps provide enough hydrating water, which is important for helping the spleen rid itself and the body of excess fluids and foreign matter.
–Avoid raw or super cold foods. When the spleen is out of balance, excessive raw and cold foods can negatively impact the spleen. This is because the spleen does not function well in cold and or damp conditions, which therefore can negatively impact our ability to digest food properly.
–Avoid foods that place stress on your circulatory and immune systems. Some foods to limit or eliminate from your diet include common allergens (like dairy products, gluten, soy, shellfish or nightshades, for example), Additionally, you will also want to drastically limit or eliminate entirely low-quality animal products, sugary snacks, refined vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean) and processed foods that contain chemical sprays or toxins. The more chemicals you get from the foods you eat, the more work that your spleen, and other organs including the liver have to do.
Supplements for Spleen Health
Below are some supplements that I recommend to help maintain your spleen health naturally
Red Root—can help protect the spleen and lymphatic system
Cordyceps Mushroom— has been shown to help those with bacterial infections which lead to spleen issues
Lifestyle recommendations for Spleen Health
-Lower your stress levels -reducing stress can improve your overall health, including helping to decrease inflammation and lower infection risk. Try meditating, yoga, breath work, or anything else that can help you reduce your stress.
–Massage: The spleen governs the fascia and soft tissue in our body, so fascia work can help. Additionally, you may want to try other lymphatic support treatments including Gua Sha, ELT Therapy, Foam Rolling, Gua Sha, Massage, or Cupping.
Note: Make sure to check in with your doctor prior to using any supplement. Also, don’t just buy any ol’ supplements; ensure they are good quality, preferably from an online dispensary or specialty grocery store.
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