Extract from Dr Zhai’s book
When a TCM practitioner begins a diagnosis he or she will use ‘organ phenomenon’
theory to view the whole body, which encompasses the anatomy, physiology,
pathology, type identification and healing principles of the main organs. Organ
phenomenon theory is widely used in diagnosis and treatment and it associates the
properties of the organs and tissues with the Five Elements.
The five major solid organs of the body (Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys) are
classified as zang (yin). The Pericardium can also be considered to be a zang organ.
Each zang organ has a complementary fu (yang) organ and is associated with one of
the five senses (Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell). All of this makes up a complex
and integrated network in the body. This philosophy is central to the practice of
It is important to remember that the zang and fu organs are conceptual and bear
little relation to their anatomical counterparts; they include spiritual and emotional
components as well as physical.
THE ZANG ORGANS
The zang organs are considered to be yin and are divided into:
• Greater yin (Taiyin) – Lungs, Spleen
• Lesser yin (Shaoyin) – Heart, Kidneys
• Absolute yin (Jueyin) – Liver, Pericardium
Each of the zang organs has a specifi c function that relates to the other organs and
tissues of the body. Using the diagnostic tools (see pages 31–33), your practitioner will
identify how well each of your organs is performing. As always in TCM, the aim is to
restore balance and harmony wherever they have been lost in the body.
The Heart governs the Blood and vessels. The Heart circulates Blood constantly
inside the vessels to supply nutrition to the whole body. If the Heart qi and Blood are
sufficient, the heartbeat is regular, the pulse is harmonious and forceful, and the facial
complexion is pink and lustrous. If the Heart qi and Blood are deficient, the Blood
stagnates, which will present itself in a purple facial complexion, chills in the four
limbs, restlessness, palpitations, insomnia and sleep that is disturbed by dreams. In
pregnancy, this links to bleeding during pregnancy and therefore Blood deficiency.
Together with the Spleen, Kidneys, Intestines and Urinary Bladder, the Lungs are
responsible for regulating the metabolism of water in the human body. The role of the
Lungs in the metabolism of water can be described as clearing and regulating the
waterways by conveying water downwards to the Urinary Bladder where it is excreted
and distributing fluids throughout the body, particularly to the skin. If the Lungs fail to
disperse fluids properly, a person may feel puffy or have difficulty urinating. This is due
to Phlegm-Damp. During pregnancy, this commonly shows in the form of swollen legs.
The Kidneys are the foundation of the other organs; they store the ‘essence’ and
govern growth, development and reproduction. The qi stored in the Kidneys is derived
from the reproductive essence inherited from the parents, which is the primitive
substance needed for the development of the embryo.
From childhood, the essence in the Kidneys gradually develops and reaches its
fullness in puberty when reproductive function reaches maturity and men are able to
produce sperm and women are able to ovulate. The Kidneys play a major role in the
urinary and reproductive systems, as well as in parts of the endocrine and nervous
systems, more specifically in egg and sperm production.
If the essence-storing function of the Kidneys is impaired, growth, development and
reproductive ability will be affected, possibly leading to infertility. The yin and yang of
the Kidneys are mutually interdependent and keep the dynamic balance inside the
human body. If this balance is disturbed, certain symptoms can develop such as night
sweats, cold limbs, breathlessness, exhaustion, frequent urination, impotence and
premature ejaculation in men, and infertility in women.
A pattern of early miscarriages usually has a genetic root and is linked to chromosomal
make-up. In TCM, premature birth is thought to contribute to weakness in the Kidneys
(which is related to our constitution at birth).
The Liver governs the free, uninterrupted flow of vital energy within the human body.
In TCM, this key organ is considered to have the same functions and roles as those
in Western medicine. The Liver also maintains and stores blood, which is regarded as
‘reproductive essence’. It regulates the amount of blood which the various parts of the
body need, and therefore has a great influence over menstrual cycles in women, as
well as the Kidney’s essence.
The Liver is also responsible for promoting a well-balanced circulation of the qi energy
in the body. This influences the metabolism or dispersion of body fluids. It is this
harmonious balance between the Liver and the Kidneys that is believed to play a very
important part in assisting successful ovulation and consequent conception.
Generally speaking, the Liver yin should control the Liver yang to prevent it from
being hyperactive. If the Liver yin becomes insufficient and fails to restrain the Liver
yang, the Liver yang’s hyperactivity then most commonly causes premenstrual
tension, short temper and headaches. On the other hand, when the Liver qi is
suppressed, symptoms such as depression, sadness, sore breasts and diarrhoea
In relation to pregnancy, if the Liver yang is overactive it may cause severe morning
sickness, or high blood pressure during the later stages of pregnancy.
Blood and qi energy originate from the Spleen, and are the foundation for life after
birth. The Spleen governs transportation and transformation and provides the
necessary nourishment for healthy growth that transform qi and Blood. The functions
of the Spleen include digestion, absorption and distribution. Therefore, when there
are problems with the Spleen, there will be an accumulation of Damp and Phlegm
due to fluid retention. This can sometimes lead to obstructions within the abdomen
and problems such as abdominal distension, diarrhoea and nutritional disturbance. It
can also result in poor blood flow in the reproductive system, tubal obstructions and
endometriosis. Consequently, the healthy development of the egg or sperm will be
hindered. In pregnancy, problems with the Spleen may lead to malnourishment of the
foetus during development.
The Pericardium displays many of the same functions as the Heart. In TCM it is usually
only referred to in the case of infectious diseases caused by external Heat.
THE FU ORGANS
The fu organs are yang and are divided into:
• Greater yang (Taiyang) – Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder
• Lesser yang (Shaoyang) – Triple Burner, Gall Bladder
• Yang Brightness (Yangming) – Large Intestine, Stomach
The Fu organs are considered to be hollow vessels which can receive or expel the
nutrients, energy or waste generated by the zang organs. Each of the fu organs is
paired with a corresponding zang organ.
The Small Intestine
The Small Intestine is paired with the Heart. It receives and stores water and food.
The Urinary Bladder
The Urinary Bladder is paired with the Kidneys and stores and excretes urine.
Problems with Kidney qi will show up in urinary problems.
The Triple Burner
The Triple Burner (San Jiao) is paired with the Pericardium, which encases the Heart.
• The Upper Burner, located above the diaphragm, assists the functions of the Heart
• The Middle Burner, located between the diaphragm and the navel, assists the
functions of the Stomach and Spleen.
• The Lower Burner, located below the navel, assists the functions of the Kidneys
and Urinary Bladder.
The Gall Bladder
The Gall Bladder stores and excretes bile. It is paired with the Liver. Together they
control the Blood and our qi levels.
The Large Intestine
The Large Intestine is paired with the Lungs and deals with the body’s solid waste.
The Large Intestine’s ability to absorb water affects whether we suffer loose bowels
(too little absorption) or constipation (too much absorption.)
The Stomach is paired with the Spleen. If Stomach qi is weak, food stagnates and digestive problems will develop.