The Chinese Organ Systems
According to the Chinese system of medicine, the ginseng is a wonder herb and has a remarkable medicinal action unparalleled by other herbs, the Chinese believe that while most of the other herbal tonics may benefit a few organs in the body, the ginseng is unique in having a beneficial action on most of the organs in the human body, leaving virtually no organ untouched by its beneficial effects.
Organs east and west
When they are translated into the English language, many of the names for organs in the Chinese medicine organ systems tend to have similar names which are roughly comparable to the names for organs in the Western medical physical organs system – this can be confusing, because of a unique difference in the view point of the Chinese medical system. Functioning terms for the organ systems and their relationships that often have very little to do with the names of Western counterparts exist in the Chinese system of medicine, this is due to the culture in which the Chinese medical system has evolved, unlike Western medicine, the Chinese system of medicine though older had several taboos and one of this was the a negative view of cutting open the physical body for examination – on the other hand anatomical observation is the very bulwark of Western medicine. For example, in the ancient Chinese system of medicine, the Heart or xin, can be said to name the physical cardiac heart, it is also used for the force of the pulse or the blood propulsion system inside the body, it is used to refer to the tongue, it is also a reference to the facial complexion of a human being, and also indicates the presence of a conscious mind in a body.
Thus a herbal medicine designated for the heart in the ancient Chinese system of medication may be relevant for many parts of the body and can be used in treating multiple illnesses, not only is the physical heart disease treatable using the Chinese herbal or acupuncture treatments, but some other conditions such as forgetfulness, the affectation of excessive dreaming or disorders of the consciousness and insomnia, sleeplessness etc. can also be treated using the Chinese heart system remedy. A direct cause and effect relationship between the cardiac system and the conscious mind is never implied in the ancient Chinese system of medication, though the reorganization of a connection between the conscious mind and the heart can be arrived at even in the Western system of modern medicine – the mind does affect the functioning of the physical heart in many ways. The definition of the organ systems in the Chinese system of medicine occurred over many centuries, and is an event related to the Chinese development of a functional definition of chi, these systems were developed from the observed functional relationships that occur in the human body and its relation to the psyche.
One or several organs in a patient may undergo a manifestation of an overall chi deficiency at any given time. The standard treatment of an overall chi deficiency in any affected organ is usually conducted by giving the patient some ginseng or any one of its herbal substitutes – this formula is the usual treatment methodology followed by the majority of Chinese physicians. Self medication using the ginseng or the other herbs is not suggested especially in patients suffering from a physically manifesting disease, or from any severe conditions which are potentially lethal – these herbs must only be used under the direction of professional Chinese system physicians.
There is great complexity involved in any imbalance affecting the chi in the organs. The complexity of the chi deficiency disorder can be understood in this way: when an improper flow of the chi is detected in a body, it may really mean that the chi is deficient in one organ system, while present in excessive amounts in another organ system. The discomfort of the patient and the symptoms will not go ways, by taking ginseng or herbal tonics in such cases, as there is a chance of increasing the excess chi in the other unknown organ while correcting the chi in one deficient organ – self medication of the herbs and ginseng is not advised for this reason. The proper balance of the chi in various organs can be assured by consulting with a trained acupuncturist, depending on the particular body type and the physical condition of the patient, such a professional will also prescribe the appropriate herbal formulas to be used to correct the deficiency in chi.
The five viscera
The idea of the five viscera initially appears in the oldest Chinese herbal treatise called “The Divine Husbandman’s Classic”; it is a compendium of medicine and the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine going back centuries. This treatise suggests steps by which the Asian ginseng can be used in “repairing the five viscera” present in all human bodies. This concept of five primary viscera is present in many Asian systems of medicine, while a total of twelve organ systems are recognized in oriental medicine, five of them are considered to be of prime importance and of greater value in healing. These organs are all internal and include the most vital organs like the Spleen and the Liver, the Heart and the Lung and the Kidney – these five organs are considered to be the five primary viscera said to be acted on by the ginseng in correcting deficiency in the chi. The physical organ is not the only aspect considered in the Chinese concept of an organ system – it is important to remember that the ancient Chinese understanding of these organs were on the physical as well as holistic level. They believed that the entire body of a person was influenced in one way or another by each of these individual organs and that each had its primary pattern or influence on different aspects of the human physiology.
- The spleen
- A good understanding of the Spleen and its function is an essential factor into how the Chinese use ginseng and the other chi tonics to affect the body. The spleen has its own unique organ chi, which can simply be called the -“Spleen chi”- this chi acts the role of a power supplier to this organ and maintains its functional state. Many of the function of the spleen that has very far reaching effects in the human body are driven by this particular Spleen chi present in the organ. Thus food is transformed by the Spleen chi in the spleen to make the chi and the blood in the spleen. Blood is formed when the spleen chi transmuted food essence is transported up into the lungs of the person, where the chi derived from the air is added to produce the blood in the body. The muscles and the flesh of the person also eventually receive the generated chi and blood that is transported away by the Spleen chi from the spleen. Blood is also kept in the proper channels by the Spleen chi, and this organ chi essentially maintains blood in the body of the person.
A large variety of physical disorders can start affecting the person, when the spleen chi itself become deficient in the spleen of the person, and is unable to function properly. The person affected by a deficiency of the spleen chi will then be affected by disorders such as blood deficiency, or even chronic fatigue and the general chi levels in the body itself may drop off to very low levels. Other symptoms affecting such a person can include abdominal bloating and diarrhea and the weakening of the digestive system in general over a period of time. The person may suffer from emaciation and then can turn very thin, as all the muscles may become weakened and strength fades. Different disorders such as bleeding disorders and heavy menstrual bleeding in women may also become apparent in the body. Chinese doctors understand these symptoms and treat them all in a holistic way using herbal treatments and acupuncture to the spleen, even though the sheer variety of the physical symptoms makes no sense and have no apparent relationships to each other and will be useless for purposes of treatment or diagnosis in the Western medicine. The holistic treatment envisaged for such disorders by the Chinese physicians also typically include appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes over a long period of time to bring back the chi in alignment within the body of the patient.
Poor eating habits and a bad diet are the main factors which can disrupt the functioning of the Spleen chi in people. All of the symptoms mentioned above and the disruption of the spleen chi can be due to eating very low quality food over a long period of time, consuming a lot of oily, and heavy or greasy meals, and the hurried eating of meals or even from the repeated taking of meals at the wrong time of the day. At the same time, some types of food allergies, or a diet disagreeable to the constitution of the individual’s constitution can also trigger the spleen chi disruption. A vicious cycle of disruption of the chi can begin, once the Spleen chi of the person has become deficient at any time. Lesser and lesser chi is produced by the spleen of the person, and soon the entire body and the spleen suffer from a generalized chi deficiency which begins to take its toll on the body of the person, as this goes on, even less chi remains available to the Spleen chi to do its work and maintain proper functioning of the organ. The recognition of such deficiency cycles is the reason that many natural healing systems and the Chinese system of medicine lay a very emphasis on maintaining a proper diet and digestion to remain healthy.
The power supply to the spleen chi is beneficially affected by the Asian ginsengs, and the herb functions as a unique herbal tonic to revive the Spleen chi – this is one of the major roles of the ginseng in Asian medicine. The chi generating potential and ability of the spleen is toned up and fine tuned by the ginseng, at the same time the herb also directly affects the overall chi present in the body of the person. The major requirement for the ginseng to act on the spleen chi in a beneficial way is for the person to have a fully functional and very efficient digestive system. To ensure the fine tuned functioning and efficiency of the digestive process, the standard Chinese medicine practice, is to include many of the digestive herbs in the ginseng remedy, these digestion stimulating herbs include the poria, the licorice, the jujube dates, and the common ginger. As far as stimulating and acting on the spleen chi is concerned, some of the other Chinese herbs, like the atractylodes, are considered to be better spleen chi tonics than the Asian ginseng itself, the reason these herbs are not used in this role is because of their lack of beneficial effects on the other organ systems and due to the absence of the wide ranging beneficial effects possessed by the Asian ginseng on the overall chi in the body.
- The lung
- Asian ginseng is one of the tonics for efficient lung function in the Chinese system of medicine. One of the main roles of the Lung is to mix the chi derived from the food by the spleen chi with the chi derived external air. The surface of the body is also provided with a protective chi by the Lung, the organ circulates protective chi to the outside skin, in the Chinese system of medicine this external surface chi is believed to be responsible for immune responses on the skin surface and is also supposed to help control sweating in the skin of the person. The circulation of the chi in a rhythmic manner inside the body is assured by the rhythmic motion of the Lung. The dissemination of moisture throughout the entire body is another special role performed by the lung in a human body. The kidney also receives fluid pumped downward by the lungs according to the Chinese system of medicine.
According to the Chinese system of medicine, the lung chi is therefore the vital power which permits not only normal rate of breathing but also the dissemination of protective chi to the external skin surface and aids in the spreading out of moisture in the body, the Chinese believe that when deficiency in the lung chi occurs, the first impact is an impaired circulation of chi to the rest of the body, leading to the stagnation and deficiency of the chi in the rest of the body. Some of the other bad impacts of poor lung chi include excess perspiration without physical exertion, and a very poor resistance to infections such as colds and flu. Dryness in the patient’s skin may be another symptom of a deficient lung chi in the person. Other problems such as shortness of breath and a chronic cough may also develop and cause problems for the person. The chances of developing problems in the urinary system also exist.
The spleen as well as the lung is equally benefited by the Asian ginseng and this is its most significant effect as a chi tonic for the body, these two organs in the body are considered to be the two main partners in the generation of the majority of all chi in the body. These two organs can also be induced to produce chi by the codonopsis herb, which is a ginseng substitute at times used for this purpose in many parts of China, as its effect on the two organs is similar to the ginseng, this tonic herb is reckoned by some herbalist in China to be even more effective then the ginseng itself. The best lung tonic is the Chinese herb called the astragalus, the circulation of protective chi in the lung is strengthened by this herb and it is used in many herbal application in the Chinese herbal system.
- The heart
- The Asian ginseng is an unique remedy among herbs in that it affects the heart in many beneficial ways, these beneficial effects of the Asian ginseng are not inducible by the herbal tonics used to activate the Spleen and the Lung. The Heart as defined in the Chinese system of medicine refers to the circulatory arteries as well as to the physical pumping heart. Circulation of blood is of course the primary and essential function performed by the Heart in the human body. The Chinese in addition believe that the conscious mind is controlled by the pattern of the heart beat and this connection is believed to be useful in the treatment process. Irregular beats of the heart or cardiac palpitations can start affecting a person when the heart is not functioning properly. Other symptoms which can manifest themselves in the person include the presence of mental symptoms like persistent anxiety and restlessness, sleeplessness or insomnia, a clouded mind or even excessive dreaming. The Chinese system of medicine treats patients affected by the mental symptoms alone through treatment of the heart; this is carried out even when the usual physical symptoms affecting the heart do not arrive along with these changed mental states. Ginseng is said to have a very peculiar and soothing effect on the mental symptoms and as a rule most symptoms affecting the heart accompany deficiency syndromes in the body of the person.
- The liver
- The Liver in the five viscera system is not affected in a direct manner by the ginseng herb, the only way in which this organ is affected is due solely to the blood building property and the overall chi effect of the herb in the body of the person. The importance attributed to the Liver in the Chinese system of medicine is underlined by the fact, that is has been described as being “the general of the army” in one Chinese classical text of medicine. This is due to the fact that the liver possesses a direct influence on the circulating blood and in fact, directs the chi within the body, the Chinese attribute the liver with maintaining the orderly flow of emotions in a person. Emotional problems can occur when there is a liver dysfunction, so it is believed in Chinese system of medicine, an impaired operation of the liver, is supposed to disrupt the flow of blood as well as the chi, leading to the stagnation and erratically excessive accumulation of blood and chi in various areas of the body, this can lead to “stuck” emotions in the person.
- Liver problems and disharmony in its functioning therefore lead to common emotional manifestations such as persistent frustration, intense and sudden anger, and or sudden outbursts of rage by the affected individuals. The flow of emotions, the blood and the chi is thought to be smoothened out by the Liver – any disruption in the functioning of the organ is believed to lead to a disruption in all three factors controlled by the organ. Another major function of the Liver in the body, lies in its control and regulation of the digestive process as it regulates the flow of bile through the Gall Bladder and to the stomach, the liver also plays an important role in the transfer of blood flow to peripheral areas of the body during times of physical activity in a person, and it also returns this blood again to the internal organs when a person is resting.
When using the ginseng and the other tonic herbs, a vital factor is to ensure that the Liver is functioning properly and efficiently. People who use ginseng in an improper manner are often affected by mental symptoms and side effects such as persistent and sudden anger, long term feelings of frustration, and persistent mental tension. When using chi and blood tonic herbal formulas, many beneficial herbs which act primarily in improving the functioning of the liver are often included so as to boost the effectiveness of the main chi remedies.
- The kidney
- To understand the full action of all the yin and yang tonic herbs used by herbalist requires a basic understanding of kidney functioning. For many physical symptoms such as sexual weakness, lower back pain, and premature aging, treatment usually consists of giving the patients herbs such as the astragalus, the codonopsis herb, the dong quai, the Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng, the he shou wu herb, the licorice root, or the bee derived royal jelly. The Asian ginseng has no direct affect on the function and the working of the kidney and medical texts suggest that there is almost no connection between the function of this organ and ginseng. However, traditionally the ginseng was also connected to the treatment of many types of kidney disorders, the kidney is indirectly affected by the ginseng in many ways. The herb has a traditional and long standing reputation as a sexual tonic herb, it is used to relieve excessive stress, and to enhance the rate of active metabolism – most of these factors and conditions are connected to the Kidney and thus the herb can be said to affect the organ in some ways. Formulas which are intended to strengthen and boost the performance of the kidney and increase its functioning often include ginseng, or one of its herbal substitutes, for this reason.
Traditionally, the vital function performed by the Kidney has been recognized and the organ has often been said to be the “seat” of life itself. The kidney performs many important roles in the body of a human, being responsible for the maintenance of the body and all the organ systems, the Kidney is also responsible for the regulation of reproductive organs in the body, it forms an essential component in the growth and maturation in the body. According to the Chinese system of medicine, the metabolic fire rising from the heat of the kidney rules over both the water balance in the body as well as the general metabolism of the body. Western medicine attributes these essential metabolic functions as being actions performed by the hypothalamus, the adrenal glands, and the pituitary glands. Reproductive disorders and water imbalances can easily affect individuals affected by a deficiency in Kidney function – such individuals may also suffer from coldness in the body due to disrupted renal functioning. According to the Chinese system of medicine, the respiration is controlled and regulated by the lungs and the Kidney working in tandem, due to this shortness of breath and a chronic cough can sometimes affect a person suffering from Kidney deficiency. Healthy bones and skeletal development in the body is another function controlled by the Kidneys. Therefore, Chinese medicine treats all kinds of bone disorders including the commonly occurring osteoporosis through the Kidney. Deafness and ringing in the ears or tinnitus is also treated through the kidneys as the Kidneys are also believed to control the ears and the hearing.
As kidney functioning begins to tone down and deteriorate towards the end of life, symptoms such as a weakened hearing, the loss of calcium from bone and frail bones, the graying of hair, the low metabolism in the body, and the persistent and easy vulnerability to cold and all other normal signs of aging are due to the declining kidney functioning in the body. Acupuncture treatments and tonic herbs intended to boost kidney functioning will be the first step taken by an oriental doctor in the treatment of persons in whom these signs appear early in life. Staying up late at night repeatedly, overindulgence in sexual activities and persistent overwork and exertion can all tax and eventually injure the Kidney, leading to debilitation of its functioning. The indirect effect of the Asian ginseng on the kidney is partly why the herb has a reputation as an effective anti-aging and endurance boosting herb in the herbal lore. A direct herbal tonic for improving the kidney fire is good quality steamed ginseng, the steamed herb has a red color and compared to the raw herb, tends to have greater heating powers – it is normally used to boost kidney functioning. Sexual restorative functions and longevity enhancing abilities are also attributed to many other herbal tonics, including the he shou wu – called the Fo Ti herb in the Western world – some of these herbs act directly on the kidney and can be used in combination with or in lieu of the ginsengs.