Learning & Resource Center Articles
Essential Nutrients for Longevity
By: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM
The nutritional evaluation of food and herbs differs between Western medicine and acupuncture and Oriental medicine. These traditions developed separately from each other and from very different ideologies. The foundation for Western medicine rests upon the scientific method, while Traditional Chinese Medicine and Oriental medicine developed at least 3,000 years ago through empirical observation. Currently however, both traditions use the Western medical model as the professional standard. Both rely on peer-reviewed, scientific studies to validate their science.
Nourish the Spleen to Live a Long, Healthy Life
As you age, you need to adjust your diet to accommodate the changing nutritional needs of your body. According to acupuncture and Oriental medicine, the most important organ associated with the assimilation of nutrients is the spleen. If the spleen performs well, then the rest of the body receives the nutrition it needs to thrive. If the spleen under-performs, then the rest of the body and mind suffers. All functions of the body ultimately rely on the spleen, so take extra care to nourish your spleen as you age. Proper nutrition and eating habits are essential in the pursuit of a long and healthy life.
Signs that the spleen is deficient include lack of appetite, bloating after eating and indigestion. You may be eating good food, but if it passes through you without proper digestion (i.e., diarrhea), then you know your body is not absorbing the nutrients.
Improving Absorption of Nutrients
If you experience bowel movements that appear greasy, or you see undigested food particles in your stool, or stool that floats, these are signs of poor absorption or a spleen imbalance. If this is the case, supplemental digestive enzymes such as papain (derived from papaya) and bromelaine (derived from pineapple) may help correct the problem and reduce these symptoms.
Another consideration for improving nutrient absorption is the use of probiotics. After an infection, use of antibiotics, or damage to the intestinal lining, the "friendly bacteria" population in your gut declines. When the friendly bacteria declines, the digestive system gets out of balance, making you more susceptible to infections and other health problems. Microorganisms known as probiotics will benefit the digestive system by restoring balance. Acting in a similar manner to digestive enzymes, probiotics assist in the breaking down of food into smaller particles that are more easily absorbed by your body. The best natural source of probiotics is yogurt with live active cultures.
While the occasional bout of diarrhea may not adversely affect your body in the long term, chronic indigestion and digestive troubles can cause a host of problems, with malnutrition being a serious threat.
Nourishment for Other Vital Functions
The spleen also performs other vital functions. For instance, according to acupuncture and Oriental medicine, the spleen is the start of blood production. This refers to the spleen's ability to transform food into a finer essence that is then transported elsewhere in the body for transformation into blood.
An impaired spleen can lower the quality of blood. In this case, iron-deficiency (anemia) may result. Hallmark signs of anemia include weakness and dizziness. If this occurs, iron supplements may be necessary. Iron, however, is difficult for the body to absorb, even with a healthy spleen. Taking vitamin C with iron can help. Foods rich in iron include beef, poultry, beans, pork, dark, green leafy vegetables and some dried fruits, such as apricots. Foods high in vitamin C include kiwi, citrus fruits, mango and papaya.
To help ensure a long and healthy life, you should view every meal as an opportunity to support the health of your spleen through healthy food choices that include essential nutrients. As Hippocrates put it so well "let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." A whole lifetime of eating well could mean a longer lifetime.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.