The Internal Organs
The concept of internal organs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) encompasses five viscera and six bowels. The five viscera are the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. According to The Yellow Emperor's Classics of Internal Medicine, each of these organs has a specific function and is associated with certain body parts. The six bowels include the gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine, bladder, and triple burning space. They are considered to be responsible for the digestion, absorption, and excretion of food and waste. In TCM, the health of internal organs is closely related to external appearances, such as the hair or lips, and their overall function is essential for maintaining a person's well-being.
The heart is considered the master of the human body in traditional Chinese medicine. It coordinates the functions of other internal organs and controls various activities of the body. The pericardium is the external defense of the heart, and when it is under attack, it may give rise to symptoms such as high fever and coma. The heart is also considered the master of the spirits and is responsible for mental conditions, consciousness, and thought. When the heart is diseased, it can give rise to symptoms such as insomnia and forgetfulness. The heart is the master of the blood vessels, and its glory is manifested in a person's complexion. The Chinese believe that when energy circulates smoothly, blood will also circulate smoothly, resulting in a shiny and reddish complexion. Conversely, when the heart is suffering from blood deficiency, the complexion will be pale. The tongue is considered the outlet of the heart, and a disease of the heart can manifest in the tongue. Therefore, the heart and the tongue are closely related, and the heart extends its energy to the tongue.
The Small Intestine
The small intestine is responsible for receiving water and grains from the stomach, digesting them, and differentiating clear energy from turbid energy. Clear energy is absorbed and transmitted to various parts of the body, while turbid energy is excreted by the large intestine and bladder. The small intestine and heart are connected through meridians and have a yin-yang relationship with each other. When excess fire in the heart meridian is passed down to the small intestine, it can cause symptoms such as short streams of reddish urine and burning sensations in the urethra. Blood deficiency and yin deficiency of the heart can cause symptoms such as palpitations, depression, and insomnia. Blood deficiency of the heart is characterized by a pale complexion, pale tongue, and a deep and fine pulse, while yin deficiency of the heart is characterized by fever, night sweats, and a red tongue. Energy deficiency and yang deficiency of the heart can cause heart disease, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat. Heart energy deficiency is characterized by excessive perspiration, congestion in the region before the heart, and a fine and weak or clotting and slowing pulse, while heart yang deficiency is characterized by cold sensations and cold limbs. Heart yang deficiency prolapse can cause severe perspiration, coma, extremely cold limbs, and a disappearing pulse. Treatment for heart energy deficiency involves toning up heart energy, while treatment for heart yang deficiency involves warming up heart yang. Treatment for heart yang deficiency prolapse involves restoring yang and fixing the prolapse.
The liver is a vital organ responsible for storing and regulating blood throughout the body, as well as controlling the flexing and extending of joints and muscles. When the liver is inhibited by emotions such as anger, it can cause emotional problems and disturbances. The liver has its outlets in the eyes and forms a yin-yang relationship with the gallbladder. The liver is responsible for controlling the activities of tendons, and when blood deficiency occurs, tendons can suffer from malnutrition, resulting in difficulty in joint extension and flexing, numbness, spasms, and other related symptoms. Additionally, the liver is closely related to the eyes, and when blood deficiency occurs, it can cause dry eyes, blurred vision, or night blindness. The liver and the gallbladder are related to each other like brother and sister in traditional Chinese medicine.
The gallbladder is a part of the six bowels and is attached to the liver below the ribs. It differs from other bowels in that its bile is pure. When the gallbladder is diseased, symptoms such as pain in the ribs, bitter taste in the mouth, vomiting of bitter water, and jaundice may occur. As the gallbladder and the liver form a yin-yang relationship with each other, diseases of the gallbladder are often treated by reference to the liver. Liver and gallbladder dampness-heat is a syndrome that can cause yellowish appearance of eyeball sclera, pain in ribs, scant urine in reddish-yellow color, fever, thirst, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, abdominal swelling, yellowish and greasy coating of the tongue, and wiry and rapid pulse. To treat this syndrome, it is necessary to clear the heat, benefit the dampness, benefit the gallbladder, and reduce the yellowish appearance.
The spleen plays a crucial role in the digestion process. After the stomach receives and digests food, the spleen digests it for a second time, sending it to the lungs to be transmitted throughout the body. The spleen is closely related to the production of "true energy," which is created when digested food is mixed with the energy of the air inhaled by the lungs. When a person suffers from energy deficiency accompanied by spleen deficiency, the function of the spleen in producing energy may have already been impaired and should be treated first. The spleen also governs the circulation of blood in the body and prevents it from overflowing outside the blood vessels. If the spleen's function of governing the blood is impaired, various types of bleeding may occur. The spleen is also responsible for elevating and transporting pure energy and substances upward to the lungs and other organs. If the spleen fails to elevate and caves in, symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic diarrhea, prolapse of the anus or uterus, and falling of other organs may occur. The spleen likes dryness and dislikes dampness. When the spleen is troubled by dampness, symptoms such as heavy sensations in the head, feeling as if the whole body is sinking down, and discharge of watery stools may occur. To treat this condition, it is necessary to dry up the dampness and strengthen the spleen using relatively warm and dry herbs.
The stomach is responsible for receiving and digesting food, and also pushing down substances. When the stomach energy moves downward, water and grains also move downward, aiding in digestion, absorption, and excretion. If the energy moves upward, it can cause symptoms like belching, hiccups, nausea, and vomiting.
The stomach likes dampness and dislikes dryness, and is susceptible to the hot stomach syndrome caused by heat. This can result in dry mouth and tongue, thirst, and a desire for cold drinks. To treat this syndrome, it is necessary to nourish the yin of the stomach and produce fluids.
The spleen and the stomach have a yin-yang relationship, with the spleen being a yin viscus and the stomach being a yang bowel. They rely on each other to control digestion and absorption, with the spleen in charge of elevation and liking dryness, while the stomach is in charge of downward movements and likes dampness.
Energy deficiency of both the spleen and the stomach is a syndrome that can occur in various conditions, such as ulcers, chronic gastritis, and cirrhosis of the liver. Symptoms can include poor appetite, belching, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal swelling. To treat this syndrome, it is necessary to strengthen the spleen and harmonize the stomach.
Yang deficiency of both the spleen and stomach is another common syndrome that can result in symptoms such as abdominal pain, love of heat, poor appetite, and fatigue. To treat this, it is necessary to warm and tone up both the spleen and the stomach.
Stomach-fire syndrome may occur during high-fever stages of various diseases and can result in symptoms like thirst, periodic stomachache, and burning sensations. To treat this syndrome, it is necessary to clear and sedate stomach-fire.
Stomach yin deficiency can occur in conditions like chronic gastritis, indigestion, and diabetes. Symptoms can include dry mouth, lack of appetite, and burning pain in the stomach. To treat this syndrome, it is necessary to nourish the yin of the stomach and clear the heat.
The lungs are a vital organ located in the thoracic cavity and play a crucial role in the respiratory system. They are a yin viscus and are paired with the large intestine, which is a yang bowel. The lungs are responsible for controlling the respiratory energy, which is the energy of air. If the lungs fail to control the respiratory energy properly, it can result in coughing, asthma, or difficulty breathing.
Once food is digested in the stomach and spleen, it is mixed with the clear energy of the lungs to create the essential components of true energy. If the lungs fail to distribute true energy properly, it can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, excessive perspiration, and other signs of energy deficiency.
The lungs need to expand properly so that air can flow through the nose and mouth easily. Failure to expand can cause congestion in the chest, coughing, or asthma. The lungs also need to push energy downward, and failure to do so can lead to coughing, asthma, scant urine, or edema.
The lungs play an important role in regulating the body's fluids and are capable of sending fluids downward to the kidneys, which then pass them to the bladder for excretion. When a pathogenic energy attacks the lungs, it can cause symptoms such as diminished urination and edema.
The lungs are also responsible for voice production and closely related to the functions of the voice. When the lungs have sufficient energy, the voice will be strong, but when the lungs are deficient in energy, the voice will be weak. Cold and wind can attack the lungs, leading to congestion and hoarseness or loss of voice.
The lungs are also responsible for the health of the skin and hair. When the energy of the lungs is sufficient, the skin and hair will be well-nourished and healthy. However, if the energy of the lungs is deficient, the outer regions of the body will not be properly guarded, leading to excessive perspiration and vulnerability to illness.
The lungs work together with the heart in controlling energy flow and blood circulation. They also have a yin-yang relationship with the large intestine. Lung diseases can often be treated by toning up spleen energy, and coughs and asthma due to excessive heat in the lungs can be treated by clearing up sputum heat through the large intestine. Constipation may also be relieved by strengthening the energy of the lungs.
The Large Intestine
The large intestine is responsible for the final stages of digestion and the excretion of waste from the body. When the large intestine is deficient, it can lead to constipation, while excess can lead to diarrhea. Dampness-heat in the large intestine is a common condition that can be observed in cases of acute bacillary dysentery, chronic dysentery, and amebic dysentery. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, tenesmus, diarrhea with pus and blood, burning sensations in the anus, short streams of reddish urine, fever, yellowish and greasy coating of the tongue, and a rapid pulse. In severe cases, it can even cause fainting and coma. The treatment for this syndrome involves clearing up the heat and transforming the dampness in the large intestine.
The kidneys are also closely related to the ears. In Chinese medicine, the ears are considered the "opening" of the kidneys. Therefore, if the kidneys are diseased, symptoms such as tinnitus, deafness, and ear discharge may occur. Similarly, if there is an excess of heat in the kidneys, it may lead to ear problems such as redness and swelling of the ears.
Furthermore, the kidneys are responsible for the production of bone marrow, which is related to the production of blood. In TCM, the kidneys are seen as the source of the body's vitality, as they produce the body's most essential substances: Jing, Qi, and Shen. Jing is the essence that gives us life and vitality, Qi is the energy that drives all physiological functions, and Shen is the spirit that governs mental and emotional well-being. If the kidneys are deficient, it can lead to problems with fertility, sexual function, and overall vitality.
In addition to their role in reproduction, growth, and maintaining the metabolic balance of water, the kidneys are also involved in the regulation of blood pressure. The kidneys produce a hormone called renin, which helps to regulate blood pressure by controlling the amount of salt and water in the body. Therefore, problems with the kidneys can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.
Additionally, in traditional Chinese medicine, the bladder is seen as a yang organ and is closely related to the kidneys, which are considered a yin organ. The bladder meridian runs through the entire body, connecting to various organs and body parts, including the eyes, ears, head, and lower back. This is why bladder disorders can sometimes manifest as symptoms in other parts of the body. The bladder is also related to the emotion of fear. In TCM, emotions are believed to have an impact on physical health, and prolonged or intense fear can weaken the bladder energy and lead to urinary disorders. Treatment for bladder disorders may include addressing underlying emotional imbalances through techniques such as acupuncture or herbal medicine.
In addition to its role in urination, the bladder is also considered to be an important part of the body's defensive energy, known as Wei Qi. The bladder meridian has points that are believed to stimulate and strengthen the immune system, helping to protect the body from external pathogens and prevent illness.
The pericardium serves as both a protector and messenger of the heart. It is responsible for some symptoms of the heart, such as dizziness and delirium, which are also considered symptoms of the pericardium. The heart controls the spirits and is the master of the five viscera and six bowels. While a direct attack on the heart can be fatal due to its impact on the spirits, it is rare because any pathogenic energy must first attack the pericardium.
The Triple Burning Space
The triple burning space refers to the three cavities in the human body - the thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity, and pelvic cavity - and is responsible for heating up the body. It is not an organ itself but rather a cavity-like space. According to The Yellow Emperor's Classics of Internal Medicine, the triple burning space is like an irrigation official who builds waterways, but it works in cooperation with other internal organs such as the kidneys, bladder, and lungs.
Disorders in the triple burning space can result in various urinary symptoms, including suppression of urination, dripping of urine, and edema. Excess disease in the triple burning space can lead to anuria, while deficiency disease can cause enuresis. Symptoms of triple burning space diseases include congested abdomen, anuria, and retention of urine leading to swelling.
Heat in the upper burning space can cause cough and pulmonary tuberculosis, while excessive heat in this area can cause perspiration on the forehead, abdominal swelling, and dry mouth. Coldness in the upper burning space can result in an inability to eat, vomiting of acid, chest and back pain, and dry, sore throat. Heat in the middle burning space can lead to symptoms such as constipation, abdominal swelling, and cough. Deficiency and coldness in the middle burning space can cause incessant diarrhea, indigestion, and intestinal swelling and rumbling. Deficiency and coldness in the lower burning space can lead to enuresis, incontinence of urination, and diarrhea, while excessive heat can cause blood in urine, urination difficulty, suppression of urination, and difficult bowel movements.
The Brain, Marrow, and Womb
The odd and constant organs, including the brain, marrow, and womb, have unique functions and interconnections with one another. Along with bone, vessels, and the gallbladder, these organs occupy a distinct position in the body's anatomy. The brain, situated at the top of the six odd and constant organs, is responsible for all mental activities and referred to as "the organ of original spirit." The pathways of the marrow extend from the brain to the coccyx and sacrum, resembling the central nervous system in Western medicine. The brain and marrow are closely linked to the kidneys, which control bones that generate marrow. The brain is the "sea of marrow," and when the kidneys have abundant pure energy, the brain will have a sufficient supply of marrow, leading to high spirits and energy. In women, the womb, or uterus, plays a crucial role in menstruation and nourishing the embryo and fetus, and its function is partially dependent on the kidneys' fullness of pure energy.