The Five Elements

The five elements are a concept in ancient Chinese philosophy that refers to the nature of materials and their interrelationships. This concept was later incorporated into Chinese medical philosophy for clinical applications. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

In Chinese medical philosophy, the five-elements theory consists of four laws that govern the relationships among the five materials. According to this theory, the five key organs are the viscera, and the four laws are applied to them. The correspondence between the five elements and the five viscera is as follows: wood corresponds to the liver, tendons, and eyes; fire corresponds to the heart, blood vessels, and tongue; earth corresponds to the spleen, flesh, and mouth; metal corresponds to the lungs, skin, hair, and nose; and water corresponds to the kidneys, bones, and ears.

The laws of production and control are used to illustrate the interrelationships among the viscera. For example, the liver controls the spleen (which is called wood controlling earth), the spleen produces the lungs (which is called earth producing metal), and the lungs control the liver (which is called metal controlling wood). Therefore, patterns of relationship exist among the five viscera according to the laws.

The laws of attack and resisting control are used to describe pathological changes and methods of treatment. For instance, liver disease affects the spleen, which is called wood attacking earth and should be treated by inhibiting wood and supporting earth. When treating lungs energy deficiency syndrome, it is necessary to strengthen the spleen and tone up the lungs, which is called developing earth to produce metal.

The five-elements theory is based on clinical experiences and is useful in clinical practice. The four laws of the five-elements theory provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the interrelationships among the five viscera and their pathologies. By understanding these laws, practitioners can make better diagnoses and develop more effective treatment plans for their patients.