The five elements: Earth

Last time, I discussed the Five Element System in Chinese medicine and how it plays a role in overall health issues.  It is a system that we would do well to become acquainted with as it can help us promote well health for both ourselves and our pets.

Earth, like each of the five elements, is part of a circular flow of direction and influence that an element has on the others.  The flow of influence is clockwise and each element acts as both a mother of an element and a child of another element.  The mother element must be in balance in order to control the function of the child element.  Fire, as discussed in the last blog, is the mother of Earth, so in order for the Earth element to be in balance, it requires the Fire element to do its job, and that requires its balance as well.

The earth element is the grounded element that is comfortable and hard to shake out of its comfort zone.  Earth is the contented Golden Retriever who spends his time taking naps and doesn’t mind if the kids or grandkids pull his ears or tail.  She is the orange tabby cat that struggles with her weight and lounges on the window seal, trying to stay warm.

I had a partner at one of my veterinary hospitals who was a typical Earth element.  He was always quiet, relaxed and never out of control.  Whenever things got chaotic, we called on him to take over, and his calm, confident demeanor was just what was needed to ground things and get them back in order.

Earth energy is the time of late summer, when the body prepares itself to move from the conversion of the yang-influence of the hot summer to the yin-influence of the fall.  It is a time for preparation for the harvest.  The yin organ in control of earth element is the spleen.  This is a bit of a misnomer as the Chinese did not use the same terminology 2000 years ago as we do today.  Western medicine identifies the spleen as the organ associated with the blood system that has a role in immunity.  The Chinese spleen is responsible for gastrointestinal function, so to avoid confusion, while paying respect to the traditional Chinese medicine theory, I call it spleen/pancreas.  The yang organ for Earth is the stomach.

Earth has several vital functions for our health.  Its primary job is to convert nutrients into energy; both qi and blood.  Without a balanced spleen/pancreas, we become sluggish and lose interest in participating in life.  Pets that have spleen imbalance will show symptoms associated with GI dysfunction such as diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss or gain.  Dogs and cats with inflammatory bowel disease, GERDS, pancreatitis and diabetes have spleen imbalances.

The emotion manifested by Earth energy is worry or pensiveness.  The spleen, when imbalanced, creates prolonged worrying and will often manifest in the physical body as ulcers in the upper GI system.  Many of you have probably noticed Earth pets pacing the floor when there is tension in the home environment.  Spleen imbalance will lead to dampness in the physical body and in time the dampness becomes hot.  This might manifest as recurring ear infections, skin infections, urinary tract infections and anal sac problems.

Since Earth controls nutrient conversion to vital energy, it is imperative that we feed our pet the correct diet.  Pets fed heat-processed pet food that is highly processed will have a constant stress on the spleen and in time will become imbalanced, creating symptoms associated with the GI system.  Almost all pets that develop allergies have spleen imbalances due to improper diet.  The same holds true for diabetes, both in pets and humans.

The spleen is also responsible for producing blood as well as muscle and limb support.  Imbalanced spleen from poor nutrition will cause muscle weakness, flabby muscles, distended abdomen, greasy hair coats and low red cell counts.

As the spleen is the mother for Metal element, when imbalanced, it will also affect the lungs.  Dampness, due to spleen imbalance, will often cause damp respiratory system manifesting as retching, coughing up phlegm or a runny nose.  Asthma in pets is often caused by imbalanced spleen influencing the lungs.  Correcting the diet will often eliminate the need for harsh drugs often used to treat asthma in both cats and dogs.

Earth element pets like to stay warm, so we avoid feeding food that cools.  The balanced Earth dog and cat needs meat that is warming like lean-beef, chicken or lamb.  If the pet seeks warmth by staying close to the heater or fireplace, or likes to bundle up under the blanket, always warm its food before feeding.  Even if feeding raw, adding warm water to the diet will help the spleen and its function.

Here in the US there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in both people and pets.  Both diseases are symptoms of spleen imbalance and the underlying root imbalance is due to inappropriate diet.  Focus on preventing spleen imbalance by feeding a balanced, fresh diet using wholesome food.  Avoid processed food, sugar and starches as these stress the spleen and create imbalance, leading to disease.  Keep the environmental energy healthy and remember if you have an Earth element pet and you are a constant worrier, your energy will influence your pet’s energy and in time create imbalance and physical disease.

Next time we will look at the Metal element and why it is important in the cycle of creation……