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TCM Introduction 101: Understanding The Five Organ Theory


Among all the TCM theories, the most important one is none other than the Five Organ Theory. In this article, we are going to take a deeper look into this Five Organ Theory and understand how it is being applied to real medical problems we faced. 

TCM perspective of “Heart”:

1)  In the five elements, “Heart” belongs to “Fire”

2) “Heart” is like the “lord” organ, responsible for the spiritual, mental and conscious aspects of our mind and body. It is in charge of the other internal organs, important as the root of life. The other internal organs have to rely on the directions of “Heart” to carry out the vital life processes. If the Qi of “Heart” is sufficient, the vascular blood flow will be smooth, leading to improvements in one’s energy levels and mental capabilities.

3)  “Heart” directs movement of blood in blood vessels, and the effects can be reflected on our face. The normal beating of “Heart”, dependent on the “Heart” Qi allows for the efficient distribution of nutrients around the body. If the “Heart” Qi is strong, one will have a radiant look on his or her face. While on the other hand, if the “Heart” Qi is weak, blood flow in the body will be obstructed, leading to a pale complexion.

4)   The sensory organ, tongue belongs under the “Heart” system. TCM describes tongue as the seedling of “Heart”. When the “Heart” fire is too strong i.e. too heaty, the tip of the tongue will appear as bright red and at times, ulcers might even form on it. And when the “Heart” Yang Qi is deficient; the tongue body may appear pale and plump.  

5)   The feeling of happiness also falls under the “Heart” system. When one is happy, the “Heart” Qi flow is smooth, which is beneficial to the physiological abilities of the “Heart” and blood circulation.

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TCM perspective of “Lung”:

1)  In the five elements, “Lung” belongs to “Metal”.

2)  TCM regards “Lung” as the “premier” organ which works in tandem with the “lord” organ — the “Heart”. Like the “Heart”, the “Lung” governs the rest of the body through the consistent and rhythmic distribution of Qi. Together with the “Heart”, both Qi and blood is supplied to the rest of the body through the breathing actions of the “Lung”.

3)  “Lung” is responsible for both our breaths and the regulation of Qi of the other organs within the body. The Vital Qi is formed in the “Lung” when air from the external atmosphere interacts and combines with nutrient and water essences. This Vital Qi helps to maintain the regular breathing of the “Lung” system and promotes the flow of blood within.  

4) The growth of our skin and skin surface hair is dependent on the proper functioning of the “Lung” system. If the “Lung” system is healthy, we should observe well-nourished skin and even dense smooth hair on the skin surface. However, when the “Lung” system is weak, our skin may appear dry and dark with sparse hair growth.    

5)  Our nose is the sensory organ which falls under the “Lung” system. The use of our nose includes the filtering of our breaths, sense of smell and aid in producing voice. Any problems to the “Lung” system can easily lead to nose-related conditions like blocked nose, sinusitis, loss of sense of smell etc. 

6)  The feeling of grief belongs under the “Lung” system. One who has a weaker “Lung” system, is less adaptable to changes and more susceptible to feeling sad and worry. And when one is overly-grieved, the sad thoughts and crying can also deplete his or her “Lung” Qi.

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TCM perspective of “Spleen”:

1)  In the five elements, “Spleen” belongs to “Earth”.

2)  “Spleen” is the “warehouse” organ, in charge of managing the nutrient resources of the body. While “Stomach” absorbs the food, “Spleen” stores and distributes the assimilated nutrients around the body. If the function of “Spleen” is affected, the digestive system of the body will be impaired. It may cause symptoms like bloatedness, diarrhea and constipation etc.

3)  “Spleen” directs the proper flow of blood in our body. A weakness in “Spleen”Qi can result in the deficiency of blood, resulting in conditions including dizziness and paleness in complexion.

4)  “Spleen” helps control the growth of muscles of our body, by supplying the necessary nutrients to parts around the body. Whether the “Spleen” is functioning well can be noted from the state of our lips. As stated above about “Spleen” being responsible for directing of blood flow, pale lips may be reflecting a deficiency in “Spleen” Qi. 

5)  Our mouth is part of the “Spleen” system. A poor “Spleen” system is shown by a lack of appetite or loss of taste, while one with a strong “Spleen” system shows good appetite.

6) The feeling of longing and thinking belongs under the “Spleen” system. In other words, the “Spleen” regulates and stabilizes our inner emotions. However, if we tend to overthink and worry excessively, our Qi and “Spleen” system will be compromised and cause distress to our body.

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TCM perspective of “Liver”:

1)  In the five elements, “Liver” belongs to “Wood”

2)  TCM regards the “Liver” as the “general” among other organs. It is responsible for strategizing and the utilisation of resources. In event of danger or stress, the “Liver” will direct movement of Qi and resources to parts where the body needs most. 

3)  As mentioned, “Liver” is responsible for the regulation of Qi within the body. The proper regulation of Qi allows for the healthy functioning of our circulatory, digestive and metabolic processes. On the other hand, if the regulatory effects of “Liver” become suppressed due to various body conditions, the flow of Qi and blood within will be impeded as well, giving rise to uncomfortable symptoms 

4) The physical state of the “Liver” can be reflected on the tendons and nails. The strength and flexibility of our tendons depend on the nourishment of “Liver” blood.   Tremors and cramps are often seen as dysfunctions relating to the “Liver”. Similarly, the colour and texture of nails are also indicative of “Liver” dysfunctions. A dry, rough and pale coloration of the nails are signs of the “Liver” Yin deficiency.

5)   Our eyes are the sensory organs which fall under the “Liver” system. A “Liver” fire or heaty “Liver” can cause us to have sore, painful or red eyes while a deficiency in “Liver” Yin can cause us to have dry eyes with poor or blurry vision.

6)  The “Liver” is also thought to regulate emotions. Conversely, this also means that emotions tend to exert the largest effects on “Liver”. While it is perfectly normal to vent out frustrations at times, excessive anger can disrupt the regulation of Qi by the liver, resulting in Qi stagnation in our body.

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TCM perspective of “Kidney”:

1)  In the five elements, “Kidney” belongs to “Water”.

2)  “Kidney” is like the “effector” organ, responsible for the growth and development of our bones and marrow. “Kidney” is also in charge of the body’s puberty and reproductive functions. If the “Kidney” Qi is strong, the body will develop strong bones and muscle, allowing one to be fit and agile. His or her reproductive functions will be normal. As marrow includes both bone and brain marrow, it is believed that one’s physique and intelligence are linked to the “Kidney” organic functions.

3)  “Kidney” is known to be the main regulator of the flow of water within the body, including the distribution and excretion of the excess water. Water first enters the digestive tract after intake of food and drinks, then is passed on to the “Kidney” to carry out the metabolic processes and to ensure the balance of water in the body.

4)  The “Kidney” system contains the essence of our body and this is reflected by the condition of our hair. In fact, “Kidney” not only stores but also provides the essence for other key organs of our body. The growth and puberty of the young and body maintenance of adults heavily rely on “Kidney” Qi. A lack of it may cause one to age prematurely and have weak bones.

5)   Our ears (sensory organs), reproductive and excretory organs all belong under the “Kidney” system. Thus, the sharpness of our hearing depends on whether our “Kidney” essences are sufficient. Deficiency in “Kidney” essence will lead to weak hearing and even deafness. Similarly, the proper functioning of our excretory and reproductive organs also requires ample “Kidney” Qi and essence. Weakness in the “Kidney” function will cause conditions like infertility, impotence and urinary problems etc.

6)  The feeling of fear falls under the “Kidney” system. Feeling afraid or fearful is a normal physiological response to the external environment. However, excessive fear will harm the essences of the organs and cause the failure of “Kidney” Qi to be evenly distributed to the rest of the body, resulting in the malfunctioning of other organs.