NATURAL FACULTY: AUXILIARY ORGANS OF DIGESTION
Noble Organs of Digestion and Metabolism
In modern medicine, the digestive organs that don't form part of the digestive tract are called auxiliary organs of digestion. Their chief role in the digestive process is seen to be the secretion of bile and other digestive juices into the GI tract.
In Greek Medicine, the digestive tract isn't seen to be the center of the digestive system. Rather, the GI tract is seen to be a long chain of afferent attendant vessels whose sole collective function is to provide the liver with the raw nutrients it needs to generate the Four Humors in the Second Digestion, which is the heart of digestion and metabolism in the human organism.
And so, far from being mere auxiliary organs, the liver, the principal organ of the Natural Faculty, and its various associated organs that store and process the humors in various ways, are all considered to be noble organs in Greek Medicine. These organs, and their basic roles and functions, are as follows:
Liver: Principal organ of the Natural Faculty; generates the Four Humors in the Second Digestion.
Gall Bladder: The liver's assistant; storage receptacle for yellow bile.
Spleen: Storage receptacle for black bile; filters and purifies the blood and lymph; regulates and supports digestion, metabolism and immunity.
Pancreas: Closely associated with the spleen as an important supporter and regulator of digestion and metabolism.
As the principal organ of the Natural Faculty, the liver generates the Four Humors, which are the main agents of nutrition and metabolism in the organism. Since the liver's generation of the Four Humors in the Second Digestion is so important and central, all other organs of the Natural Faculty ultimately exist to support and serve the liver.
Since the most important and bounteous humor that the liver produces is blood, it is predominantly Hot, Wet and Sanguine in temperament. Like the spleen, the liver can also function as a storage vessel for surplus blood. In the healthy liver, blood predominates, but in disorders and imbalances of the liver, other humors, like phlegm or black or yellow bile, can get excessive, or aggravated. Since the liver generates the humors, it is profoundly affected by excesses, deficiencies, or other aggravations of any of the Four Humors.
The liver lies in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen underneath the lower ribs, on the right side. Swelling or congestion of the liver, from any humoral excess, will cause fullness and distension underneath the lower ribs, particularly on the right side. In extreme cases, an enlarged liver will actually protrude as a painful and tender mass from underneath the ribs into the abdominal cavity.
As an auxiliary organ of digestion, the liver's main digestive secretion is bile, or yellow bile. Besides being a vehicle for the absorption and elimination of fats and cholesterol, bile stimulates intestinal peristalsis and the defecation reflex, and colors the stools brown. If the stools are unduly light or pale in color, the bile flow from the liver and gall bladder is obstructed or insufficient.
The liver's bile flow is also one of the main vehicles for the general detoxification of the organism. Bile eliminates heavier, or fat soluble wastes from the body. Unfortunately, modern dietary abuses, like excessive meat consumption and oily, greasy, fried foods, aggravate, obstruct or congest the bile, causing jaundice, biliousness, and fatty degenerative changes in the liver. Toxic or rancid fats produce morbid, charred, or oxidated forms of yellow and black bile.
The liver is a Hot organ, second only to the heart in heat. It generates the Metabolic Heat, which it derives from the Innate Heat of the Vital Faculty, which it uses to concoct the Four Humors. And so, the liver is very prone to excesses of heat and choler, which can vary in acuteness and severity according to the constitution of the individual and the nature of the disorder. The symptoms involved can include headache, migraines, dizziness, vertigo, anger, irritability, red sore eyes, giddiness and nausea.
If bile congests the liver and backs up into the blood, a condition called jaundice develops. The key symptoms are an abnormal yellowing of the eyes and complexion, pain fullness and distension under the ribs, poor appetite, indigestion and malaise. Greek Medicine distinguishes two types of jaundice. Yellow jaundice is caused by a congestion of yellow bile; the complexion is a bright yellow, and the symptoms tend to be hotter and more vehement. Black jaundice is caused by a congestion of black bile; the complexion is a dark or dull yellow, and the symptoms tend to be more passive and indolent.
A torpid liver is one that's swollen and congested with excess phlegm or dampness. Liver metabolism and the generation and flow of the humors through the liver becomes slow and sluggish. Congestion of the liver produces backup or reflux congestion in the hepatic portal system, and in the bowels and gastrointestinal tract.
The liver can also be torpid and congested with excess blood. In the initial stages, this may resemble the general sluggishness of phlegm congestion, but as the blood congestion gets more severe, it will develop into full-blown blood stasis, with additional signs and symptoms, like a sharp pain under the ribs, spider angiomas in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, and a purple or violet speckled tongue body.
Melancholic conditions of the liver, or aggravations of black bile, involve black jaundice, neurovegetative dystonia, anorexia, indigestion and portal hypertension. Aggravated melancholy gets under the ribs, producing distension in the hypochondriac area. A nervous, colicky stomach and digestion is also part of the clinical picture, since the liver generates the Natural Force and sends a large portion of it to the stomach; its smooth, orderly flow can be disrupted by excesses and aggravations of black bile. Aggravations of black bile in the liver and hepatic portal system can also compromise the generation of the humors and the overall metabolism and nutrition of the organism.
Reflex Relationships of the Liver to Other Organs
Because the liver is such an important organ, it naturally has many close reflex relationships with other organs. Being the principal organ of the Natural Faculty, the closest and most important relationships it has are with the other organs of digestion and metabolism.
All the organs of the digestive tract, or Alimentary Canal, are afferent attendant vessels and subsidiary organs to the liver. Their main function is to produce chyle, whose nutrients are extracted and sent to the liver for processing into the Four Humors. For details on these relationships, see the preceding page.
The veins of the hepatic portal system carry these nutrients to the liver for humor generation. The veinous blood of the Inferior Vena Cava picks up the humor-enriched blood and sends it to the heart, where all the humors are activated, vitalized and made more bioavailable to the organs and tissues. So many veins are so important to the liver that Greek Medicine says that the veins serve the liver and the Natural Faculty.
The liver and the heart are both important sources of body heat in the organism: the heart generates the Innate Heat of cellular metabolism, whereas the liver generates the Metabolic Heat of digestive metabolism. The liver nourishes the blood and its humors, whereas the heart circulates them. The heart rules the arteries, and the liver rules the veins.
The liver sits right under the diaphragm, the main muscle of respiration, on the right side. And so, the liver can affect the lungs; if the liver is toxic or congested, it will impinge on the diaphragm and inhibit the fulness of breathing.
The gall bladder is an efferent attendant vessel and the receptacle for excess yellow bile, to be used as needed in the digestive process. Similarly, the spleen is the receptacle for excess black bile, to be used as needed. Without the gall bladder and the spleen to act as receptacles for these effete humors, they would flood and poison the organism. The spleen also helps the liver in its detoxification function and, like the liver, also stores excess blood.
As unusable byproducts of humor generation in the digestive process, the liver sorts out the urinary humors and sends them to the kidneys to be eliminated via the urine. In modern medicine, the liver produces urea, a byproduct of protein metabolism, which is sent to the kidneys to be eliminated via the urine.
The liver, as a storage receptacle for excess blood, has a special relationship with the uterus and female reproductive system, which excretes blood every month in the menstrual cycle. The liver, which generates the blood and all its humors, profoundly affects the female reproductive system and menstrual cycle, which also act as vehicles for eliminating superfluous, excessive or morbid humors.
To be healthy, every part of the body needs to be adequately fed and nourished. Since the liver is the central "kitchen" that feeds the whole organism, there's no part of the body that isn't affected by the liver.
The spleen opposes the liver on the left side, just lateral to the stomach, underneath the lower ribs. Although the liver is quite Hot and Wet, the spleen is cooler and dryer, being only moderately warm and moist. In addition to hotter vascular tissue, the spleen contains a lot of lymphatic tissue, which makes its temperament cooler.
In traditional Greek Medicine, the spleen is mainly a storage receptacle for black bile, to be used as needed. Strategically located just lateral to the stomach and superior to the descending colon and splenic flexure, the spleen is important in the functioning of both organs: Subtle vapors of black bile from the spleen pass through the stomach walls and stimulate the gastric secretions, awakening the appetite. Similarly, black bile from the spleen solidifies the stool in the descending colon through its cooling, drying astringent action.
The spleen is also an important filter and purifier of the two most important humors in the overall nutrition and metabolism of the organism: blood and lymph. The spleen does this through a process of digestion (Natural Faculty) and through the chelating action of black bile. And so, morbid microbes and particulate debris (Earth element) are removed from the Sanguine and Phlegmatic humors.
With these two important humors purified, digestion, metabolism and the assimilation of nutrients is a lot better and more efficient. By purifying the blood and lymph, the spleen also aids immunity and the vital functions.
Like the liver, the spleen is also a storage vessel for surplus blood. It's also a recycler for the Sanguine humor, breaking down old, worn out red blood cells. In a Melancholic vein, the spleen also recycles old blood platelets, which are responsible for blood clotting, which pertains to the function of black bile.
Some authorities on Greek Medicine say that black bile, the last humor to arise, isn't generated in the liver, but rather in the spleen. Since normal black bile is considered to be a sediment of blood, or the Sanguine humor, its generation could fit right in with the spleen's function of decomposing and recycling old red blood cells and platelets.
Because the spleen's normal or inherent temperament isn't as hot as that of the liver, it isn't as prone to disorders of excess heat and choler. The spleen's cooler temperament, plus its function of filtering and purifying the moist, flourishing Phlegmatic and Sanguine humors, makes it more prone to accumulations of excess dampness and moisture.
Because the spleen is the storage receptacle for black bile, it is particularly vulnerable to excesses and aggravations of that humor. This can cause poor appetite, anorexia, malaise, black jaundice, a colicky, spasmodic digestive tract, giddiness, nausea and vomiting (also from heat and choler in the spleen), and even intestinal blockage if the black bile aggravation is severe or acute enough.
The Retentive Virtue of the black bile stored in the spleen works to hold things in, to make sure that things stay in their proper places. A weakness of the spleen and its black bile can manifest as easy or excessive bleeding, bruising or hemorrhaging; excessive menstruation, threatened miscarriage or difficulty holding a pregnancy to full term; or prolapse of the anus, rectum, stomach, uterus or other organs.
The gall bladder is the liver's attendant vessel, in that it is the storage receptacle for yellow bile, which is produced by the liver. The gall bladder stores the bile to be used as needed. If an apple is eaten, not much bile is needed, but if some greasy fried food is eaten, a lot of bile will be needed all at once; and so, the gall bladder dumps it into the digestive tract.
A lot of surgery-prone doctors make the case that the gall bladder is a vestigial organ, and not very necessary or important. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Without a gall bladder, one cannot have normal, optimal digestion and metabolism of fats.
The liver produces bile slowly, gradually and constantly, and then excretes it down the common bile duct to the gall bladder, which takes in the yellow bile via its Attractive Virtue. The gall bladder is fed on fats and bile, and its nature is very bilious. A natural, balanced, high quality fat intake will produce healthy bile and a healthy gall bladder.
Conversely, toxic or rancid fats, or excessive cholesterol and animal fats, will produce toxic, morbid, charred forms of yellow and black bile that will damage and sicken the gall bladder. Excessive heat in the bile will lead to ulcerous and inflammatory conditions of the gall bladder; bile that's too hot can also get too dry, leading to gall stones. Morbid admixtures of toxic black bile in the bile can also harden it into gall stones, or lead to nervous, colicky, spasmodic conditions of the gall bladder.
Unfortunately, the gall bladder is the organ that suffers most from the bilious abuses of the modern fast food diet. A chronically abused gall bladder can be like a ticking time bomb that could erupt into a surgical crisis quite suddenly. This is a common argument, albeit a negative one, for surgical removal of the gall bladder as a form of "preventive mdicine".
The gall bladder and the common bile duct empty into the duodenum. If the gall bladder is congested, colicky or spasmodic, these conditions are easily transferred to the duodenum, stomach or small intestine. Nervous, colicky or spasmodic conditions of the gall bladder can affect the entire digestive tract by reflex and/or reflux action.
In Greek Medicine and other traditional medical systems, the pancreas and its functions get lumped together with those of the spleen. Anatomically, these two adjacent organs look quite similar, and both cradle the stomach, a major digestive organ. Because they cradle the stomach, traditional medical theorists reasoned that they are important regulators of digestion, assimilation and metabolism.
Nevertheless, it is possible to look at what modern medicine has discovered about the pancreas and its functions from the holistic perspective of Greek Medicine. Here, we find that the pancreas is an important balancer and regulator of many aspects of digestion and metabolism.This central role in the digestive and metabolic process makes the pancreas the endocrine gland associated with the Gastric Center, or chakra, seat of the Appetitive Soul, whose concern is feeding the body.
The pancreas has both exocrine secretions that balance and regulate digestion, as well as endocrine secretions that balance and regulate metabolism. These are the two complementary sides of the Natural Faculty and its functioning.
Besides containing several important digestive enzymes, the exocrine digestive secretions of the pancreas balance the pH of the lower digestive tract, buffering the stomach acids to create a mild, Sanguine environment that makes nutrient assimilation possible.
The endocrine secretions of the pancreas, insulin and glucagon, balance and regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates, the main food and energy currency of the organism. This supply and demand for, craving and need of, power and energy, is the core psychosomatic function of the pancreas' Gastric Center, or chakra. This energy supply and demand function of the pancreas involves not just the digestive metabolism of the Natural Faculty, but also the cellular metabolism of the Vital Faculty.
The pancreas shares pretty much the same natue, temperament and predispositions as does the spleen; their basic functions also have quite a bit in common. And so, conditions that affect the spleen also often affect the pancreas as well. In balancing and regulating the digestion and metabolism of the whole organism, from a holistic perspective, the spleen and pancreas are twin organs that are generally treated together.