Are There Foods You Should Avoid?

An enlarged spleen, which is referred to as splenomegaly in the medical field, is when the spleen becomes enlarged in size or weight (1).

A number of factors can lead to an enlarged spleen, including infection and certain diseases.

Although there’s not a lot of research on the topic, certain dietary changes may be suitable if you have an enlarged spleen or want to avoid medical conditions linked to the condition.

This article explores the connection between your diet and your risk of an enlarged spleen. It also lets you know whether people with an enlarged spleen should follow a particular diet.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an enlarged spleen or simply want to learn more about the condition, read on to learn what your spleen does and what happens if it grows in size or weight.

What is a spleen?

The spleen is an organ located in the upper left part of your abdomen. It plays several important roles in your body.

It’s the largest organ in the lymphatic system, which is a collection of fluid, vessels, and cells. This system maintains your body’s fluid balance, facilitates the absorption of fats, and regulates your immune responses (2, 3).

Furthermore, the lymphatic system protects against infection, acts as a storage site for blood, and filters your blood, thereby removing old and damaged blood cells and foreign material (4).

What is an enlarged spleen?

A healthy adult spleen weighs around 0.15–0.44 pounds (70–200 grams).

A weight of 0.88–1.1 pounds (400–500 grams) is referred to as splenomegaly. If your spleen weighs more than 2.2 pounds (1 kg), it’s referred to as massive splenomegaly (1).

Splenomegaly can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). For example, the spleen can become acutely enlarged due to infection or trauma, while chronic illnesses like cancer can lead to a chronically enlarged spleen.

Here’s a list of possible causes of an enlarged spleen:

  • trauma
  • heart failure
  • certain cancers
  • infections like mononucleosis
  • autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • abscesses

Symptoms and dangers of an enlarged spleen

Splenomegaly is relatively rare, affecting around 2% of the U.S. population. Depending on the cause, symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, feeling full quickly, and fever (1).

An enlarged spleen increases the risk of splenic rupture, which is when the surface of the spleen ruptures. This can cause internal bleeding. It’s a dangerous condition that can be life threatening (5).

Having an enlarged spleen can also cause complications like an increased infection risk and anemia. Anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells, which can indicate your organs aren’t getting enough oxygen.

Because an enlarged spleen is often caused by an underlying health condition, treatment typically involves identifying and treating the underlying condition rather than the enlarged spleen itself (1).

Summary

The spleen is an organ that’s part of your lymphatic system. It filters your blood and protects against infection. Infection and disease are the most common causes of an enlarged spleen.

Currently, no human studies have directly investigated the possible connection between diet and the risk of splenomegaly.

Underlying health issues and enlarged spleen

An unhealthy diet is not a known cause of splenomegaly. Still, your diet and lifestyle can increase your risk of other medical conditions that may cause an enlarged spleen.

For example, excessive drinking can cause cirrhosis, a liver condition that can lead to an enlarged spleen.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is characterized by excess fat stored in the liver, has also been linked to splenomegaly.

Risk factors for NAFLD include obesity, diabetes, high blood fat levels, and metabolic syndrome — all of which can be caused or exacerbated by your diet and lifestyle (6, 7, 8, 9).

Splenomegaly can also be caused by congestive heart failure and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both of these conditions have been associated with certain dietary patterns, including a Western diet high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar (10, 11, 12, 13).

More human research is needed

As mentioned, no human studies have directly examined the relationship between diet and the risk of developing an enlarged spleen. However, there is limited rodent research on the topic.

For example, a 2018 study found that feeding mice a diet high in fat and added sugar for 12 weeks led to obesity, high blood sugar, elevated inflammatory markers, and spleens that were 50% larger than those of mice fed a standard diet (14).

Following the 12 weeks, spleen weight was reduced again through exercise and treatment with genistein. Genistein is an isoflavone plant compound found in certain foods, including soybeans, lupins, and fava beans (14).

Although this promisingly indicates that lifestyle interventions can help reduce the size of enlarged spleens, human research is needed to better understand how your diet can affect your spleen’s health.

Summary

Research on how your diet may affect your spleen’s health and size is scarce. While it’s clear that your diet and lifestyle can increase your risk of conditions that may cause splenomegaly, more research is needed.

While it’s unclear how your diet directly affects your spleen, it’s well known that your diet significantly affects your overall health.

Your diet, overall health, and spleen health

The foods you eat give your body the nutrients it needs to provide energy, build and repair cells, and more. As such, your dietary choices can affect every part of your body, including your spleen.

Certain dietary patterns can lead to chronic inflammation and metabolic dysregulation, a metabolic disorder that can disrupt normal bodily function, harm overall health, and increase disease risk.

For example, a diet high in ultra-processed foods like fast food, soda, and packaged snack foods can increase the risk of conditions associated with an enlarged spleen, such as NAFLD or obesity (15, 16, 17).

Conversely, following a nutrient-dense diet high in anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables and fruits lowers your risk of developing RA, NAFLD, and other conditions associated with the development of an enlarged spleen (18, 19, 20, 21).

Foods to eat and avoid

There are no current recommendations on specific dietary interventions that may reduce the risk of developing an enlarged spleen.

Still, eating a diet that includes plenty of the following foods is likely to improve your overall health and protect against disease:

  • Fruits: berries, citrus fruits, cherries, bananas, apples
  • Vegetables: spinach, broccoli, asparagus, peppers
  • Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, butternut squash
  • Whole grains: oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley
  • Healthy fats: olive oil, avocados, full fat yogurt, unsweetened coconut
  • Legumes: black beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Seeds, nuts, and nut butters: cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds
  • Animal proteins: fish, shellfish, chicken, eggs, turkey
  • Spices and herbs: basil, turmeric, thyme, oregano

Additionally, limiting or cutting out the foods and drinks below can help protect against the development of diseases, including conditions linked to an enlarged spleen:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, milkshakes, iced tea, energy drinks
  • Fast food: french fries, burgers, pizzas, tacos, hot dogs, nuggets
  • Sweets: candy, sugary baked goods, ice cream
  • Ultra-processed snack foods: chips, crackers, pretzels
  • Processed meat products: bacon, salami, tinned ham, sausages

Specific dietary changes for certain medical conditions

For those who have splenomegaly, nutrition interventions will likely vary depending on the underlying condition.

For example, if you’re experiencing splenomegaly resulting from NAFLD, you’ll need to adopt a diet that can improve your liver health. For example, the low sugar Mediterranean diet may be a suitable option (22).

On the other hand, if your enlarged spleen is caused by another condition, such as cancer, heart failure, cirrhosis, autoimmune disease, or a virus, you’ll likely require completely different dietary interventions.

Ultimately, if you have an enlarged spleen, it’s important to work with your doctor, who can determine which dietary pattern may best treat the underlying cause of your splenomegaly and prevent any complications.

Summary

Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet may reduce your risk of developing health conditions associated with an enlarged spleen. If you have splenomegaly, work with your doctor to find a dietary pattern that works for your specific needs.

Splenomegaly is when the spleen becomes enlarged in weight or size.

Certain medical conditions, including cirrhosis, fatty liver, viruses, and heart failure, may increase your risk of developing it.

Although some dietary patterns can reduce the risk of medical conditions associated with splenomegaly, the more specific correlations between diet and an enlarged spleen remain unknown.

If you have an enlarged spleen, consult your doctor for tailored dietary advice. Any potential interventions will vary depending on your overall health and underlying medical issues causing the condition.

Janelle B. Smith

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